I recently read that between 1991 and 2011 some 25% of all babies born in England and Wales were born to women who were born outside the UK. Sunder Katwala contextualises the new British US Open champion in these terms:
If Emma-mania is the theme of the sporting year, does that tell us anything about identity, migration and integration in Britain today? Sport’s role in society has made it a focal point on identity for decades – about social class in Fred Perry’s era, gender equality for the Virginia Wade generation, and efforts across sports to challenge racism.
Raducanu has been in ‘the zone’, focusing on her tennis. She did not volunteer to become the latest subject of “culture war” skirmishes between competing online tribes. So a useful principle is that it would be good manners, at least, to start by listening to what she has to say for herself.
“London. Toronto. Shanyeng. Bucharest” is Raducanu’s biography on Twitter and Instagram – where she lives, her Canadian birthplace, and where her Chinese and Romanian parents hail from – showing how she navigates her mixed ethnic and national heritage with confidence, ease and pride.
Raducanu reflects a “melting pot generation” in which mixed ethnic heritage is more common than ever before. This can make plural identities rather less of an abstract theory, and more the practical lived experience of extended family relationships, when she speaks of her grandmother’s Romanian cooking and visits to China.
She sees no contradiction in being inspired by meeting Romanian tennis heroine Simona Halep as a child; thanking supporters in fluent Mandarin in an interview after the US Open final; and proudly wearing the Three Lions to support England at Wembley.
Since Raducanu came to Britain as a two-year-old, what her story means for how we talk about immigration is a more nuanced question. Clearly, those with an entirely rejectionist, “send them all back” view of immigration would be hypocrites to celebrate.
But it would also hit the ball far out of bounds to claim that this tennis result somehow transforms political arguments about Brexit, the pros or cons of free movement or the new points-based immigration system, or how to reform the asylum system.
My own less sophisticated take when I first heard about it (ie, around ten mins after it happened):
This young woman is utterly extraordinary. If you know how recently she got her break in senior tennis (Wimbledon, this year) then you know. Here’s to the huge value that immigrants bring to every country they chose to confer their gifts on! https://t.co/b4XJgiKF91
— Mick Fealty (@mickfealty) September 11, 2021
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty