It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…
This week’s post is not a deep dive into a Dickensian classic but the story that has inspired it feels like a work of fiction. A talented 18 year old races from qualifiers to US Open champion without dropping a set just months after a heart breaking withdrawal from the 4th round at Wimbledon. It is a script that I am sure will at some point be turned into a Netflix movie, but if it wasn’t based on truth, we’d say the whole premise was bordering on ludicrous.
However, this isn’t just a story about steely determination, years of dedication, focus, raw talent and self belief. It is also a tale of identity and, ever since that winning ace flashed past Leylah Fernandez on Saturday night, the narrative has been split between a fairy tale victory and British multiculturalism. The catalyst to the debate was probably Emma Raducanu’s meteoric rise to stardom being greeted with adulation and superlatives from ‘unexpected’ quarters. Chief among them all was Nigel “I wouldn’t want to live next door to a Romanian” Farage sending his congratulations to the newly crowned Queen of the US hard court. Many people have leapt onto the offensive to remind the former UKIP leader of his disparaging historical remarks about Romanian migrants and the hypocrisy at his change of heart given that Raducanu has a Romanian father, a Chinese mother, was born in Canada and moved to Bromley at the age of two.
Unsurprisingly, to some she is multilingual and in a brilliant PR move she thanked her Chinese supporters in fluent Mandarin. I am a massive fan of David Baddiel but his tweet in relation to this message surprised me somewhat. While it is certainly not the norm to speak more than language in the UK and as a nation we are lagging behind the rest of world (I am sad to report I’m a negative stat in this regard). We still have four out of ten people in the UK (38%) who can speak more than one language. The challenge is we don’t really celebrate that quality in ‘ordinary people’, some times it can even be viewed as a negative and treated with hostility. So when we get incredibly giddy about it in a high profile individual, especially when it is a language clearly shared with them from birth by a parent, it leaves me a little bemused.
Like many I was up late on Saturday, chewing furiously on my finger nails, as she sealed her victory. In my mind at that point was that fact that in January she was innocently tweeting about whether she would sit her A levels and the next making an unexpected run into week 2 at Wimbledon. Thoughts about her heritage hasdn’t really crossed my mind, so I’ll admit to being a bit caught out by the spark of debate and discussion that started almost instantaneously. Good Morning Britain presenter Adil Ray caused a stir celebrating her heritage as a symbol of modern Britain but also highlighting the issue that for many you are only really adopted as British when you are successful. Like Ray I love the fact that her Twitter bio simply says London, Toronto, Shenyang, Bucharest and agree with the questions that he raises in this article.
As the dust settles, I agree that this is an important discussion for us to have as a nation and the best I have read on the topic is this one by Alexandra Topping in The Guardian on the topic of multiculturalism in the UK. I hope that one day the success of a hugely talented teenage tennis player isn’t over shadowed by a debate on immigration. I couldn’t agree more with Wanda Wyporska’s summation who “as a half-Bajan, quarter-Polish, quarter-English” British woman reflected that while she delighted in celebrating Raducanu’s success and talent, she was wary of holding her up as an example of successful immigrant integration.’
“The more that people get used to the idea that Britishness is a very varied thing has to be positive, but my concern is that valuing immigrants and refugees in the UK is sort of predicated on being successful and giving back a contribution rather than just being human. That’s not good for us either.”