Saturday, September 24, 2005

Social Mobility And The Corner Shop

Near Bromsgrove is a newsagent and general store which has been run by an Indian family for the last twenty years. I've called in off and on when visiting the old home town. When I first went there, the children were small, in and out from the back of the shop. As they grew older, they served customers under the eye of the matriarch. In time, they went away to university.

Called in a while back and there was a shiny executive saloon in front of the shop. Inside, the eldest son, now obviously doing very-nicely-thank-you in his chosen career, was behind the counter. His parents were having a well-deserved weekend away. With him was a child of about three. Also behind the counter - a blackboard on an easel. The child was being taught his letters in the intervals between customers.

The values of this Indian family - self-help, co-operation inside the family, respect for education - were once the common coin of the British working class, and the motor for their upward mobility from Victorian times up to the 1960s.

I was reminded of this by a Dalrymple aside from a piece entitled "Is The Guardian Institutionally Racist ?".

"These humble businesses, incidentally, have been the motor of a great deal of social mobility, something which their owners understood a great deal better than the intellectuals, moral entrepreneurs and bureaucrats. The quiet heroism of parents who have kept a little store for twenty or thirty years, often in the face of very difficult conditions (despicable racist abuse among them), that their children might be educated, ascend the social scale and enjoy richer, fuller lives than their own, moves me far more than the rage of those who see only racism and discrimination."

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