Emmy award winning actor and rapper Riz Ahmed recently released his second album, The Long Goodbye – a conceptual piece of art that Ahmed described as a “breakup album, but with your country”. It’s an ambitious, righteously angry, and urgent piece of work that everyone needs to listen to.
Ahmed’s album was accompanied by a short film that carried the same title, which followed a South Asian family getting ready for a wedding. In eleven short minutes, Ahmed was able to develop a real sense of authenticity; there was something incredibly genuine and real about the bickering family members, who couldn’t decide where to put the furniture and siblings who won’t carry their weight.
There was an unmistakable familiarity; growing up with Indian and Pakistani friends I remember their exasperation when there was a wedding about to happen, as they would tell me about how its just taken over their house and their whole life. There were weeks of preparations for the parties and for the smaller parties before the main party. This was what I had in mind as I was watching The Long Goodbye – it was just a family, like any other.
It was perhaps this authenticity that made the following scenes even more difficult to watch, as racist white thugs stormed the neighbourhood, rounded people up and executed the family on the street.
Towards the end of the short film, Riz begins a gritty spoken word style rap, speaking on issues that most first and second generation immigrants can relate to. He highlights the unremitting internal back and forth that exists for so many of us, as he ponders, “maybe I’m from everywhere and no where, no mans land, between trenches, nothing grows there but its fertilized by the brown bodies that fought for Britain in the wars so when I spit a poppy grows there”.
This is a recurrent theme throughout his album; the looming question of belonging when nowhere really wants you. It is a fissure that many of us have not managed to reconcile, as we cling hopefully to a romantic image of a homeland that does not really exist outside the faculties of our imagination, or as we chase a Britishness that was never designed to accommodate us in the first place.
“Did they ask you where you’re from? Like where you really from?” in twelve words Riz Ahmed tapped into an almost universally shared experience. He goes on “the question seems simple but the answer’s kinda long. I could tell em’ Wembley, but I don’t think that’s what they want and I don’t want to tell em’ more cos anything I say is wrong.” These questions are, at this point, almost a rite of passage for those of us who were never seen to fit the mould of Britishness that has been laid out for centuries.
Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, a poet, writer and podcast host, tweeted that in response to Ahmed’s short film her brother asked, “do you think our white friends watch and see that as an exaggeration? Do you think they realise we think about it all the time?” and it is here we see that we see the crux of the issue. The visceral viewing experience may perhaps come across as hyperbolic, overstated, and generally too much to those who do not have to experience the continual reality of state sponsored violence in Britain.
It manifests itself in the form of the hostile environment policies that have been championed by the Home Office, the unrelenting state surveillance via policies like Prevent and the exponential growth in hate crimes targeting Muslim (or people perceived as Muslim), with 47% of all religious hate crimes being aimed at Muslims.
The truth is, whilst execution style shootings in the middle of the street may seem a long way off from where we are, it is a constant worry in the back of many people’s minds, who already have to navigate a society that is, at best, indifferent and, at worst, actively a danger to their lives.
Riz Ahmed has told the classic tale of a breakup. He chronicles the abuse and the toxicity of living in a country that not only rejects you but rejects your very humanity. While The Lost Goodbye is a dystopia of sorts it also manages to hold up a mirror to Britain, showing the country exactly what it’s become and where it is going.