In my latest Bulletin piece I tackle institutional racism in my own industry
Racism – I tell you what it is, how it’s done and where you can get some. Plus how to install it in your car. Actually none of that is true…. well most of it’s not true. But there will be a bit of race in this discourse, and I don’t mean on the track… or the road for that matter.
Three facts – for you:
Number 1 – No I don’t own a Brown Car (though maybe I should get one just to mess with people’s minds)
Number 2 – Yes I’m the Brown Car Guy because I’m Brown and I’m a Car Guy. It isn’t racist, it’s a factually accurate descriptor!
And thirdly, for those of you who think it’s weird and proclaim ‘how would it look if I called myself the White Car Guy?!’ well okay, go ahead. You CAN call yourself the white car guy if you really want to, but you’d have as much chance of standing out in a crowd as white jelly bean in a box of tic-tacs!
On the other hand, I stand out like a Wookie at an Ewok’s orgy, like a number two at the north pole, and like Apu at a beauty pageant. ‘Thank you, come again!’
Oh you’re still here? Boy you have a high tolerance level for a brown people, which is great because not many do. Certainly not the UK’s automotive media industry I can tell you.
And that is weird, because we’re everywhere innit? I mean we run the corner shops, we hold your testicles and ask you to cough, and we make the nation’s favourite takeaway – authentic chicken tikka masala.
I say authentic, but there’s no such dish actually. It is a cholesterol-clad concoction of creamy oily lava with bits of chicken in it (that is chicken from the expired-and-marked-for-dog-food-only section of the meat wholesaler).
Anyway so-called chicken tikka masala was specifically designed here in Britain to give gorah people heart attacks, as a sort of revenge for the ‘no Indians and dogs’ sign that was so beloved of the Raj back in the day – ‘oh saheb you are so very very funny’, said no Pankhawallah ever.
Oh damn, that bit about the weaponised curry, I think I’ve just let slip a Jihadi secret, I wonder if the underground brotherhood will discombobulate me for that? So listen guys just keep that between us and stick to the chicken jalfrezi from now on. You’ll be fine, I promise… well mostly.
Let’s be honest though, these are all stereotypes of what we Asians do. And here’s another one – one that well… you see, as there’s too much manual labour involved for me to be a shop keeper, and I’m too squeamish to be a doctor, and any restaurant I opened would soon shut from being proclaimed the epicentre of a deadly bout of food poisoning within a week of opening, there’s only one other desi-typical job that I’d be that close to considering.
Minicab driver or Uber Captain, innit?
So if you don’t head over to my Patreon.com/ShahzadSheikh account and support me right now – you’ll probably soon find me on your hailing app!
I’d better practice: ‘Sir, too much traffic today… and please be giving me a five-star rating huh?’
Oh and while you’re at it, hit the Like button below. Do it now. Listen I’m not going to carry on till you do. I mean you’ve gotta ‘like’ this video if you’ve watched it this far right, so just go ahead and hit the thumbs-up button below.
Did it? Okay chalo… where were we? Han, Uber drivers and Mini Cabbers, we Desis drive a lot innit?
In fact according to government statistics, Asian car ownership in Britain is close to 80% – second only to Caucasian car owners at 83%. Then there’s mixed ethnicity at 69%, and ‘others’ are 66% – ‘others’! Oooo ‘others’ scary!
Actually I don’t even know what those two categories mean, but I think they cover everyone else (you know Chinese, Arabs etc..) apart from black communities which are at around 60% for car ownership – actually it’s more likely 80% of them also have access to cars, it’s just that no official records of the extra 20% exist, because they’re all stolen innit?
No, no, no! C’mon. That’s awful, that’s the worst kind of stereotype. The only reason I said that is because you were thinking it. It’s your fault, I’m just pandering to your myopic and prejudiced world view! Listen, I can say it, because I know it’s not true and I’m just joking. The same way Will Smith used it as a running gag in two Men in Black movies.
Remember in MiB 2 when the black Mercedes pulls up with simulated white driver that then gets sucked into the steering wheel. Tommy Lee Jones ask if he comes as standard and Will Smith replies – ‘it used to be a black guy, but he kept getting pulled over.’ Then in MiB 3, Will Smith gets pulled over by a pair of cops, and neuralises them, the says: ‘keep in mind, just because you see a black man driving a car, does not mean he stole it!’ then pauses ‘OK, I did steal this one – but not because I’m black.’
Asians don’t usually steal cars either, they tend to buy them, or quite probably their dad buys it for them, but either way, how many could we be talking about? Well let’s work it out. There’s nearly four million Asians in the UK, so at 80% car ownership, we’re talking about 3.2 million cars.
It’s reasonable to say the average value of a car in the UK is about £15,000 – that would make the Asian car market alone worth £48 billion – that’s a lot of samosas, no kidding!
So with 40 million cars and vans in the country in total, that also means that Asian’s own 8% of all the cars! Wow. No wonder you can never find any parking in Southall on a Saturday innit?
Anyway by that logic – let’s look at the media industry that services car buyers, auto enthusiasts and drivers in general.
I went on the website for the Guild of Motoring Writers and counted their UK membership – there were 425 members, of those I could only see one ‘bruvva’ – Daljinder Nagra. Admittedly not all the entrants had pictures – so I can’t be 100% sure that he’s the only one – but it seemed that way.
Of course not all the car journalists and automotive content creators in the UK belong to the Guild of Motoring Writers – we don’t all go in for the secret handshakes, the masonic ritualistic sacrificing of Nissan Micras and guffawing at the gentlemen’s club wearing dinner jackets with a smoking pipe in one hand a glass of 200 year-old scotch in the other. Not my sort of thing really. I’ll take a Karak Chai and Kebab Roll instead any day.
I remember, it was probably about 20 years ago, that I was on some press trip out of the UK into someplace in Germany, definitely with a German car maker, for a new car launch.
As was often the custom at the end of the dinner that evening, hosted by the manufacturer, one of the journalists, nearly always a guild member, usually very senior, would stand up – or be propped up by his companions – I mean car journalists are always on a perpetual drinkathon at such events, it’s as if they are never able to procure any alcohol by themselves, so they endeavour to drink whatever the venue is completely dry – since the car company would be picking up the tab anyway. And they say drinking and driving doesn’t mix.
Anyway this old white car journo would get up and toast the host for putting on a ‘jolly good show’ and wishing them luck with their ‘spiffing new motor vehicle’.
On this occasion one doddering octogenarian stood up, raised his glass and opened his comments with ‘you know the last time I was here, we had just given the Jerrys a damn good hiding…’ – nervous laughter ensued, forced laughter on the part of the hosts, and the awkward moment was quickly forgotten as he continued with his speech.
It’s the only damn thing I remember about that whole event, that’s how memorable it really was. I was flabbergasted and appalled at the insensitivity and context of it.
And at the same time, in my head I was transported to some imaginary future press event in, say, the Indian subcontinent, and I visualised at the dinner, a guild member standing up and pronouncing ‘the last time I was in this gymkhana, the only Indians allowed in were the ones serving cocktails you know!’
Oh my God! I decided then I would never join the Guild of Motoring Has-Beens. And I never did.
Anyway… I digress. The point is there are probably at least the same number of car journos again outside of the Guild as there are in it, so let’s say there are about 1000 of us operating here in the UK.
Let’s talk about proportional representation then – since Asians own 8% of the country’s cars, surely it follows that at least 8% of the nation’s automotive content creators should also be us Desis right?
I know only of the BrownCarGuy – hey, that’s me! – and maybe one or two others? Okay let’s say I’m an ignorant idiot at worst and unaware at best, and make a grand assumption and proclamation that there are probably say 10 of us doing this gig.
But at 8% of a 1000, there should be 80 of us.
Factoring in those ‘Others’ and my brothers and sisters (although sadly not so many sisters across the board in this field – but that’s probably a whole other story), anyway my brothers and sisters in the Black, Arab and Chinese communities, as well as whatever mixed and the remaining ‘others’ are, and we could easily round that up to saying that there should be at least 100 BAME motoring journalists and content creators.
Hell – we should have our own damn guild! Imagine at the dinners: ‘The last time I was in Bradford, we came up with a fake dish, Chicken Tikka Masala, as a joke – I wonder if they still serve it here – oh… I see they do!’
If the mainstream automotive media serves car buyers through magazines, newspapers, websites and videos – what is it doing to make itself relevant to BAME communities – which are perhaps as much as 25% of total car owners in the UK?
The fact is that the motoring media industry almost entirely white – and most of it won’t even acknowledge highly experienced and accomplished professional Asian motoring journalists like me, never mind actually hiring us.
You know the other day someone said to me ‘I thought you were just some bloke into cars and liked posting pics and videos on social media and stuff – I had no idea you have had this long and illustrious career in actual motoring journalism…’
Saatiyanas. Okay I added the ‘long and illustrious’ bit, but still… saatiyanas.
And he continued: ‘…until I looked at your website – BrownCarGuy.com and read your bio and saw your portfolio…’ Okay Plug, plug, plug! Check the link and subscribe to my website now, and DM me if you need any automotive content. C’mon I had to get all that in at least once before the end of this, right?
And you know I’m serious, huh, about content requirements, please do get in touch, if it’s paid work that is. Hey content creator’s still gotta eat you know, and exposure doesn’t buy food.
The amazing thing is, the rather sad thing is, despite there only being a handful of us Asian car journos, there’s a ton of Desi media outlets here from newspapers to websites, and magazines to TV and radio channels, yet apart from a few (in fact I write for a couple of Asian outlets myself) most of them don’t use us any more than the traditional UK media outlets do.
‘Arey what does this pendu know about cars, why should I use him, when I can just get cheap agency content written by Mr John Smith, huh?’
That’s meant to be just a generic gorah writer you understand, not actually the car journo Jonny Smith, I’m not picking on the CarPervert as he’s known.
Although maybe I should do, because that tag name just conjures up undeletable images of him engaging in gruesome acts with cars, plus he’s all about the EVs. Though… on the other hand he does have a 68 Dodge Charger and that’s the second coolest car in the world after the Bullitt Mustang of course, so he gets a pass.
Man do I keep taking detours off this route or what?
But that’s because I’m Asian, innit? Ever tried to keep up with a post-biryani conversation as it starts off with ‘see, let me tell you one thing…’ jumps into the latest Bollywood block-buster, veers into cricket, and inevitably culminates in a political min-rant, all in one breath, with no discernible link between the three topics at all.
When you have an uncle like that in the room, just hand him a tall lassi and wait for the Korma Coma to kick in, when he’s out of it, we can go back to talking about cars again.
Anyway back to the bit about Asian car journalists not being used by most Asian publications. It’s bonkers. As a British Asian, I can address the European and Western perspective on cars because a) I’m from here, and b) I’ve been exposed to UK and American automotive media for… let’s just say at least four decades.
Plus I’ve lived in and covered the Middle East automotive scene extensively too, and besides I’m a Sheikh, so I must have some Arab DNA in me as well – though I’ve never actually checked… should I? Anyway I’m claiming it – ahlanwasahlan, fadal and moufimushkilah. See?
But how about vice-versa – i.e. for a non-Asian car journalist to cover cars for the Desi audience is absurd – I mean they can’t distinguish if a car stereo has enough base for Bhangra, nor will they check to see if a decorative tissue box holder will fit on the rear parcel shelf, or look for an eyelet under the front bumper to hang a lemon and seven chillies.
Which is done to ward off the evil eye and protect the car and its occupants you see, and no it’s not a substitute for a ball sack to gender assign the car as male because ‘my car must be a boy innit?’
‘Yes, but how big is its camshaft?!’ – sorry just channelling a bit of Goodness Gracious Me there (How big is his danda), and if you’ve never seen Goodness Gracious Me – Google ‘going out for an English,’ it’s brilliant! It’s an amazing example of reversing polarity on ethnic stereotyping. It’s like saying I won’t buy a car from a white person because the interiors always smell of ham, dog slaver and rough sex on the back seat – get a room yaar, oh and don’t leave used condoms in a press car – c’mon! Oh yeah, that happened.
Still, unfair to put it like that though isn’t it? Not all white people are the same. Not any people are all the same quite frankly.
Yet the number of times I’ve heard, endured or read online, comments about why you shouldn’t buy a car from a Paki, would sum up to create more hurt, pain, anger, anguish, fear and disillusionment than anything you could profess to complain about from any of my gentle gibes in this particular monologue.
Anyway, if you can’t handle spices, why’d you order a curry? But if you like a bit of flavour, remember, that while white might be alright, Brown is Profound!
I’m the Brown Car Guy, because I’m not trying to appease the status quo, I’m not trying to fit in, if anything I’m a disruptor – so I’m owning my Browness and celebrating diversity – it’s like that song from The Greatest Showman: ‘ I make no apologies – This Is Me!’
And ‘me’ works harder, better, more earnestly than most, and with far less resources, to serve you as best as I can with info and infotainment when it comes to the world of automotive. So make sure you are subscribing to all my channels!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think that was the doorbell, it must be my chicken tikka masala – and after that I’ve got to go see a guy about a brown car innit?!
Love me content? Sponsor me at Patreon.com/ShahzadSheikh from as little as $2 a month. Big Thanks to Mohamed Ali Humaid, Partha Srinivasan (parthans.com), Tom Conway-Gordon, Isaac Bouchard (bespokeautos.com), Reza Adil and Mohammed Qasim who are all already doing so. Join them now!