Sarah Dajani ‘26
The world is applauding Britain’s 1st leader of color Rishi Sunak, a child of Indian immigrants who emigrated with their own parents from East Africa. The timing of Sunak’s rise to power was particularly symbolic as it was 75 years after Britain’s colonial rule; yet, many are warning not to glorify the situation. His vision and the way in which he came to power are not really promising.
Despite being a twice migrant, Sunak promised to do “whatever it takes” to implement the, described as “cruel” by aid charity Oxfam, Rwanda policy which relocates ‘illegal’ immigrants to Rwanda for processing and settlement. His plan also includes a limit on annual refugee numbers and the withholding of aid from some of the world’s poorest countries if they refuse to take back failed asylum seekers. In fact, some think that the color of his skin will be used to pass on antipathetic laws that “almost amount to hatred” towards immigrants, without being criticized for it; this is why he had overwhelming support from Conservative members in the Parliament. Sunak is capable of actualizing the Conservative Party’s vision without being called out for it. He is also the reason the Western world is celebrating the United Kingdom ‘overcoming’ its dark past and having a person of color as their Prime Minister. However, Sunak did not come to power through democratic elections which tells us almost nothing about voter’s attitude towards candidates from minority groups. He’s also lost convincingly to “the most wholly inadequate Prime Minister” in the history of the UK Liz Truss. Sunak’s rise to power is a combination of a time that did not require voting and the UK seeking a reputation of progression and justice.
The ugly truth is that Sunak would not have made it to power if it were not for his radically ‘white’ approach. Indian immigrants coming from East Africa, where they almost acted as a “buffer between the natives and colonizers,” were comparatively wealthy, educated and well connected to British colonists. Sunak in particular has had an extremely privileged childhood. He attended Winchester College, one of the top 10 most expensive schools in the UK, which sends 12% of its students to Oxbridge. If you’re thinking, “what is the problem with that, this sounds like a great school?” think again.
“Britain is deeply elitist,” The Guardian reports. The article shows that the majority of the UK’s leaders have attended private schools. 71% of the senior judges, 44% of people on the Sunday Times Rich List, 43% of newspaper columnists, and 26% of BBC have been privately educated to name a few. One would say that those students must be qualified to get into the best universities, and they are. Twenty out of UK’s 53 Prime Ministers have been educated at Eton College, which also happens to be the only school that teaches rhetoric in the whole of Britain. The rise of the rich to power is done by providing exclusive opportunities to them. It might be true that the world has moved on from white supremacy because it is now run by money, but wealth is still predominantly white. The non-whites who become rich either struggle to fit in the world of money or make sure to behave as if they are white. Sunak is only an example of that, and he is making sure the exclusive system that privileged him remains closed to people like him. When Sunak ensures “to welcome the best and the brightest,” who have most likely led above-average lives in their country which, consequently, allowed them to be the “best,” he is contributing to a world that continues to benefit the privileged individual while leaving their native country dependent on its labor force that has moved to the Western world. Sunak brands himself ‘underdog’ in the Conservative leadership race while making sure the plans he makes for the UK are more radical than the white members of his party, gaining popularity using both his ethnicity and his “cruel” measures.
The UK is not exceptionally elitist; this is happening throughout the world. One’s path and future is determined by the school they attend which heavily depends on the family or guardian’s income. I definitely recognize the irony in Sunak’s rise to power years after Churchill claimed that “all Indian leaders will be of low caliber and men of straw;” nonetheless, it is worth considering whether the world is shifting the standard of ‘civilisation’ from the color of the skin to ‘accumulated wealth.’