Why The Great British Bake Off 2015 was much more than a baking competition

To some, The Great British Bake Off is just a baking competition but the implications of this year’s show have a larger cultural significance than you may expect. Nadiya Hussain, a British Muslim woman of Bangladeshi descent won the hearts of the nation with her endearing personality and imaginative baking designs. She proved herself to be a strong contender in the weeks leading up to the final and I was thrilled to see her take the crown as this year’s winner! In an interview with the Radio Times she said: “Just because I’m not a stereotypical British person, it doesn’t mean that I am not into bunting, cake and tea. I’m just as British as anyone else, and I hope I have proved that.” She has more than proved herself and is an inspiration to the Asian community, being the first British Asian woman to win the show. Yet her words highlight the ongoing issue of national identity that many of us face. How do we classify a stereotypical British person? What does being British mean today?

As one of the nation’s most beloved shows, millions tune in to watch the bakers rise (and fall) to the weekly challenges aimed to test their skills and creativity. Nadiya’s talent and charm made her a favourite to win and most of the nation were behind her all the way. Unfortunately a minority of ignorant viewers have shown sheer bitterness towards her, highlighting the nation’s on-going struggle with racism. This hostility was most explicit in the Daily Mail with articles by Amanda Platell (image below) and the newspaper’s poll to “find out who REALLY deserves to win this year’s Bake Off”. Comments by the Daily Mail’s followers read “The one with the scarf will win. The BBC have decreed it” and “Of course Nadiya will win. It’s politically correct.” All I can say is that the people who share these views clearly didn’t watch the show properly. Nadiya’s win had nothing to do with political correctness, it was purely down to talent and if you can’t see past her headscarf to her skills then I feel sorry for you.

Although the Daily Mail is famous for such narrow-mindedness, Islamophobic comments like these are growing more common in the UK with the rise in Islamophobia and related attacks. A recent survey by the Metropolitan police shows a 70% increase in hate crimes against Muslims over the past year alone. Muslim women especially are being targeted with those wearing a hijab or niqab suffering the worst abuse. These atrocities have left the Muslim community feeling isolated and disheartened; they also highlight a fundamental problem with the societal structure of the “British” nation. Racial tensions have long existed in Britain, with it’s colonial past and the backlash against immigration in the post-war period but the need for racial equality is long overdue. It’s time that the people of Britain understand that being British is not exclusive to white skin. Our nation is full of diversity which should be embraced and celebrated always. We are the descendants of immigrants, born and raised in this country yet we are still told to “go home”. This is our home and it’s about time that the racist minority realise that.

Amongst this unsettling atmosphere it has been a pleasure to watch Nadiya overcome adversity with pride on “The Great British Bake Off”. How many Asian women do you see on prime time television? Today, the media is still largely dominated by white people; actors, singers and celebrity personalities. As a woman of colour I have grown up internalising this and placing personal barriers on myself as to what I can achieve within this imagined ‘space’ designated for Asian women in Britain. It is this mindset which needs to be destroyed and that is why Nadiya’s winning speech resonates with me so deeply;

“I’m never going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never going to say I can’t do it. I’m never going to say maybe. I’m never going to say I don’t think I can. I can and I will.”

I know that these moving words haven’t just affected me but so many young women across the nation. Nadiya’s determination to pursue her ambition is a truly inspiring sight. By doing what she loves and staying true to herself Nadiya is setting an example for all British women of colour; that with hard work you can achieve anything you set your mind to, you just have to believe in yourself.

rp: 11/10/2015

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