Honours show how ethnic minorities make Britain thrive

Original article published on 15 February 2019 in the Evening Standard

My first interaction with the honours system was when my late father, Naz Bokhari, received an OBE. His tireless work in education, as the first Muslim headteacher and in the community as an activist for a more cohesive and integrated society, had long been recognised and appreciated by those who knew him. 

The wider recognition, in the form a national honour, was a vindication of his efforts. Not only were we proud, as his family, but so were all those in the local community who had benefited from his work, and of course people from other minority backgrounds who then realised that their work may also lead to such deserved recognition. 

This was when I witnessed the power of the honours system. I then saw this again, myself, when I was lucky enough to receive an award for mentoring young people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Those young people felt valued and recognised through the award as well. When a person from a BAME community is honoured for their achievements, the rest of that community vicariously feels a sense of dignity and gratification too. It means much more for the community as a whole. 

In the context of, in some respects, an increasingly fractious and polarised society, the awarding of honours can act as a way to heal wounds, providing recognition for communities that may feel increasingly disenfranchised. These communities are not looking for favours, they just want fairness in the system.

In recent years we have seen the honours list become more representative and diverse, with now almost half of recipients women and 12 per cent from ethnic minorities. There are, however, a number of barriers that prevent more representation from minority communities. Many people don’t even know that they can nominate anyone for an honour. We need to ensure that we are getting that message out to harder-to-reach communities. 

Second, people from minority backgrounds often don’t believe these honours are meant for them. We have to make clear that the system is in place precisely so that all those who are deserving of an honour are recognised, no matter what their background.

Last, the process of nomination may seem daunting, but it needn’t. The Government sets out very clear guidelines, on how to nominate someone, at gov.uk/honours. All you will need to do is fill out an online form, describing in no more than 500 words why your nominee is deserving of an award: it may be because of the amounts of money they have raised or the number of people they have helped. Remember, you must highlight the impact the nominee has had in their community — not just how nice they are. You also need two supporting letters of reference.

Now is the best time for us to boost the diversity in the honours system, so nominate someone today.