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In his screenplay My Beautiful Laundrette, Hanif Kureishi depicts a 1980's lower class suburb of Europe. Although Kureishi has a few Jamaican's appear throughout the screenplay, the population of his community consists primarily of Pakistani Europeans and a minority of white Europeans. Kureishi divides this community in two ways: by the race of each individual and by individual's class. The play follows one particular Pakistani European, Omar, as he raises himself out of the lower class. In this screenplay, Hanif Kureishi depicts race and class as social barriers, where race is a social barrier to the older generation of Pakistani's and Anglo-Europeans, class is a barrier that an individual can change through entrepreneurial spirit.
In My Beautiful Laundrette, Kureishi depicts race as a social barrier that prevents the Pakistani Europeans and the Anglo-Europeans from coming together as one whole community, shedding light on the Britain in which he grew up. Salim displays this social barrier when he insultingly counters the Englishman's comment about prejudice by saying, "It's rather tilted in favor of the useless I would think. The only positive discrimination they have here" (2952) Salim is referring to the bias in opportunity that is in favor of Anglo Englishmen, while it works against the Pakistani immigrants and their British born children. Although Salim is presenting a reality, he does it in a very rude fashion turning the Englishman's words against him to mock him. This "joke" illuminates the racial divide, as the Pakistani Europeans find it humorous yet the "joke" isolates the Englishman. Kureishi continues to display this racial divide when the Anglo-European boys Genghis and Moose see that the occupants of a car that pulls up beside them at a traffic light are Pakistani. They approach the car and begin to harass the occupants: Salim, Cherry, and Omar. The Anglo-European boys attack the car to show their lack of respect for the Pakistanis, by "[banging] on it and [shouting]"(2953), displaying that they refuse even to respect the possessions of the Pakistanis. Since Genghis and Moose refuse to respect even the Pakistanis possessions, they make it difficult for any of the Pakistani Europeans to want to try to mend this divide between the two communities. Kureishi includes race as a social barrier to show, what he describes in an interview for the Critical Quarterly, as the sentiment towards the Pakistani immigrants of the time period preceding and around the 1980's, that "Asian people were not seen as part of Britain." (Interview with Kureishi) Kureishi designs the racial divide in My Beautiful Laundrette to mirror and expose this exclusive attitude against Asian immigrants that he experiences and witnesses while growing up in Britain. Kureishi depicts race as a social barrier, one which a person cannot alter, yet he also presents the subdivision of class that even cuts into racial communities.
Similar to race, Kureishi depicts class as a status that divides the community into upper and lower class, causing there to be a subdivision in each ethnic group.
Salim and Nasser are both wealthy, entrepreneurial businessmen that take the place of the upper class in the screenplay. As a result of their status they enjoy partying and drinking socially with their fellow businessmen. Meanwhile, Omar's father, the brother of the wealthy Nasser, stays at home, secluding himself from society and drinking alone. Even though Nasser and Omar's father Hussein are brothers, there is an obvious divide between them, as they do not share a similar social and economic status. Nasser points out the social rift that exists, even within the family, when he asks Omar if he has ever, "been to a high-class place like this before?" and then mentions to his mistress Rachel that, "[Omar's] one of those underprivileged types."(2949) Although Omar shares the same blood and ethnicity as Nasser, his current economic standing is opposite. On the other hand, the Anglo British Johnny begins with the same class status as his peers Genghis and Moose, and over the period of My Beautiful Laundrette he creates a divide between them as he becomes "fed up of hanging about." (2964) takes the opportunity that Omar gives him to escape his free lifestyle at the cost of losing the community he knew as a lower class Anglo-European.
Although Kureishi depicts race as a division between the Pakistani-British and the Anglo-British, he also shows how the new generation in both communities transcends this mindset even through a barrage of insults from their own people. While Nasser and Salim share an anti-Anglo European attitude, the younger Omar, who Salim calls "our future" (2952) grew up with the Anglo British boys, considering them his friends. Omar maintains his different view of the Anglo British, even at the cost of Cherry calling him an "in between" (2951), referring to the individuals that are either part Anglo part Pakistani by blood or by birth, and Salim telling him that because he has "too much white blood" he is "worthless" and that his family back home in Pakistan "is let down by [him]"(2957). Since Omar maintains this point of view, he is the first Pakistani to begin mending the racial divide in this community, doing so by considering Johnny, his lover and friend, as a peer instead of as inferior to him. Similar to Omar, Johnny adopts a different, accepting viewpoint on the Pakistani British community, resulting in insults from his white friend Genghis. Genghis tells Johnny, to not "cut [himself] off from [his] own people. Because there's no one else who really wants [him]." (2964) Johnny endures the malicious, threatening warnings of his friend and refuses to turn his back on Omar and the Pakistanis, taking the first step for the white British towards closing the racial gap between the Anglo British and the Pakistanis. Just as Kureishi depicts the racial divide as a barrier that the new generation: Omar and Johnny, are overcoming, he depicts the economic barrier of class as a status that this also changeable.
Although Kureishi defines the divide between upper and lower class in the communities, he also shows that Omar and Johnny can raise themselves out of the lower class through hard work and an entrepreneurial mindset. Omar starts out poor, on welfare, and Nasser decides to give him an opportunity to "make [him] into something damn good." (2949) When Nasser gives him this opportunity, Omar sees a greater potential beyond what Nasser is presenting him with, and he chases after it. Omar thinks assertively and sees that instead of "[sweeping] up" (2955) the launderette he can step up and manage it. With his new entrepreneurial mindset, Omar takes a very aggressive stance and tells Johnny that, "[he] want(s) everything done now." Because "That's the only attitude if you want to do anything big" (2958) Omar sees and experiences the wealthy lifestyle that his Uncles live and picks up momentum to rise himself out of the lower class he grew up in. He continues building his momentum as he tells Zaki that, instead of "[advising] [him]" on how to turn his troublesome launderettes into cash machines, Omar is willing to "pay [him] rent for them plus a percentage of the profits." (2978) Omar sees more and more opportunities arise and he seizes them to boost himself out of the lower class.
Throughout My Beautiful Laundrette, Hanif Kureishi depicts race as a barrier that divide the community into the two separate ethnic groups and class as a status that sub divides these groups into the upper and lower class of each community. Although he depicts race as an older mindset, which causes the Anglo British and Pakistani British communities to act very exclusive and hostile towards each other, he shows that this attitude is changing through the new generation: Omar and Johnny. Kureishi defines a class barrier within the communities and shows how Omar and Johnny both work to ascend to the upper class from their lower economic standings. Kureishi closes his screenplay with a satisfying ending that gives the hope that these barriers will fade as the newer generation adopts the open-minded view of Omar and Johnny.
Kureishi, Hanif. Interviewed by Colin MacCabe. "Hanif Kureishi on London." Critical Quarterly 41.3 (1999): 40. Print.
Damrosch, David and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 3rd ed. Pearson. 2006 Word Count: 1348