Editor: Kieran Yates
Design Director: Amad Ilyas
Designer: Tom Lloyd
Disclaimer: I worked with British Values editor Kieran Yates on Live Mag UK, a youth publication for 14 to 25 year olds from January 2014 to March 2015. Yates was the magazine’s mentor.
Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May is the perfect cover star for the first issue of British Values, a zine founded and edited by journalist Kieran Yates. Back in March of this year, before the Conservatives won the General Election and Prime Minister David Cameron returned to Number 10, May addressed what the Tories, among other political parties, see as an epidemic – Muslim extremism. She called for, specifically, Muslim communities to fight terrorism and respect ‘British values’. And, if anyone who identified as Muslim chose not to partake in the Tories scaremongering tactics, she had a few choice words for them, too:
“…to those people who do not want to join this new partnership, to those who choose consciously to reject our values and the basic principles of our society, the message is equally clear. The game is up. We will no longer tolerate your behaviour. We will expose your hateful beliefs for what they are.”
May’s staunch Islamophobic and anti-immigration beliefs trickle right on down to the core of the Conservative party. In this past election, immigration was one of the most widely spoken about topics, cropping up in TV debates and interviews all potential Prime Ministers’ from each major party (Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems, Ukip and the Greens) undertook. The message, regarding immigrants, was undoubtedly clear: If you don’t follow our rules, we don’t want you here.
Voices from immigrant backgrounds are non-existent in the British press. We hear and read about immigrants taking ‘our’ jobs, stealing ‘our’ benefits, and draining resources from the NHS, Britain’s public health service, with next-to-no facts presented. It’s all talk. The argument that immigrants contribute little value to British society when it comes down to the numbers has been disputed time and time again. Anti-immigration sentiments run too deep for people to notice now. This is the government’s newly charged political weapon. They have devised yet another way to single out certain people and their communities, driving a wedge further between the working class.
British Values is a print-only safe space for those long lost and misrepresented immigrant voices to be heard. Yates, whose grandparents travelled from India to Britain in the 60s, particularly focuses on experiences from South Asian writers, a reflection of her previous work documenting stories from her own community and those close to her. (She recently produced a poignant documentary for The Guardian, Muslim Drag Queens, which followed several young Muslim men performing on drag circuits and their relationships with their religion.)
In the issue’s first editor’s letter, Yates states the zine’s purpose is to “re-write the narrative of what ‘British values’ are, via our [immigrants] own stories.” Immigrant isn’t a dirty word, here, nor should it be. Instead, it is presented as one of ownership and pride. It takes unprecedented strength to travel to an unknown country, a place where you may not even speak the language, and attempt to a new life in foreign surroundings. Everything is confusing. Trying to find your identity in the midst of searching for acceptance from a society which doesn’t want you but parts of you is tough. That feeling is profoundly represented in the pages of British Values; the fear of not being accepted by your white, British classmates because you have a different packed lunch to them. The same fear of looking a certain way, or wearing a certain thing, or speaking with a certain accent that’s not from ‘around here’.
The zine frequently subverts the idea of what contributes towards feeling British and how that identity is formed. Yates says more than printed words could with the face of Bradford-born, proud Muslim and former One Direction member, Zayn Malik, pinned to the body of a naked white guy on page 3. Fetishizing South Asian women is explored in the feature ‘Confession of an Asian Babe’, where sex worker Priya writes about the affect her race has on sexual desire. Grime tracks are reviewed by Asian and Somali cab drivers. Interior Spesh, the first part to a regular segment in the zine, takes its first inside look into an Iranian home, with a-typical “freshie” staples.
These are the British voices I know. These are the people I grew up with. These voices are part of the country I grew up in. These voices are part of the city I grew up in, too. The Britain I love, from people and perspectives that continue to shape the country, is reflected in these pages. It’s a vibrant blender of different cultures and communities, where there isn’t just one ‘right’ way of living.
“British values, to me are, and have always been, about celebrating difference,” Yates states in the closing paragraph in her editor’s letter. And, if there is one thing that British Values wholeheartedly got across, it is that very sentiment. British culture is, and very well should be, a celebration of difference.