Stranger Citizen

paddington_2888171bWhen I was a little girl, I had a pair of little red wellington boots that I wore obsessively, whatever the weather, till they didn’t fit me anymore. I’ve never given it much thought until I saw one of the Paddington Bear statues in Paddington station the other day, one of 50 placed around the city to mark the new movie. I realise now that I loved my boots because Paddington had a similar pair, and I adored that bear, even though I didn’t like marmalade. Funnily enough, there’s a lot of celebration and anticipation around the new film of Paddington, even as we have a very ill-tempered and often cruel discourse on immigration. Paddington was effectively an undocumented migrant “from darkest Peru” who arrived with a little suitcase (more than most in a similar position) and was adopted by a loving family.

When I was younger I loved Paddington’s outfit and his propensity to cause havoc. Now that I’m older, I appreciate the gentle lesson of acceptance and welcoming the stranger. I was reading a blog earlier on citizenship as a moral ideal, which I thought threw up some interesting thoughts on citizenship “as a status given to the individual by a community (passport-citizenship)”  and “as a moral ideal that exists whether or not it is recognised by the community.”

I think it’s a fascinating exploration of looking beyond the paperwork to how we build our societies.

“The ideal of citizenship lies submerged in our basic obligation to take care of the stranger even when they do not seem a citizen.” – Simon Duffy, from “Citizenship as a moral ideal”

Should we not treat the undocumented, the refugee, the temporary migrant, student – whoever – as a citizen, regardless of their paperwork? Even as I typed that I thought of welfare and benefits – but that’s exactly the problem. That’s a hobbled view of citizenship, which more than just a series of checks and balances – rights and responsibilities. Community, those many ties that bind, goes beyond paperwork. What I think a lot of politicians overlook is that when they posion the well of public discourse, community, brotherhood, or whatever you want to call it – suffers, long after their election is won.


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Vintage RnB

6a4ba984-a039-4dc7-a49d-16ca8fdf797eSomething light to break up the week: the latest podcast by the Breaking Bread collective. As usual, all music, no talk. This is my favourite era of music, at the intersection of blues, soul and rock n’ roll. Some of the lyrics are of their time, but there is a lot in there.

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It was a very good year

2012 was *the* year for becoming a British citizen, according to the Times, who report that 193,000 new citizens got their British passports that year, a nine per cent increase on the year before. They’ve crudely titled the article “The Great Passport Giveaway”.

Cute. Except, of course, that a passport is not free, and never “given” to anyone. You may be granted citizenship if you are an asylum seeker, but even that process is convoluted, painful and subject to agonising delays – if your appeal is accepted. For others, if you’re a non-EEA citizen, it takes at least six years. Six years during which, contrary to popular belief, you’re not eligible for benefits. And you have to get indefinite leave to remain first, which costs about £1,000. A year later you could apply for your passport, which costs about the same. Before that you will have paid for whatever visa you’re on, extensions, a Life in the UK test, postage, and when you get to the citizenship ceremony, the service itself. In fact, the passport involves yet another interview and you pay about £90 for the privilege. It’s certainly not an entitlement. However, when there are these sorts of bitter articles denigrating newly-minted citizens, is it any wonder that some end up feeling disconnected from the State? Integrate! You’re told, but you’re rebuffed at every turn. You have to constantly ready to “perform citizenship”, to be the best version of an idealised citizen* because you are always, always on probation. Integrate, how, if you won’t let us?

I became a citizen in that “bumper crop” of 2012. It was a surprisingly emotional process, and finally, I felt like I was home. I have another home. But I have a life here too. But what was different was the feeling that over 11 years, I have earned my right to belong. Like so many before and after me, I’ve paid my dues, I’ve participated. I’ve loved and lost here. I’ve laid down roots. But this is apparently bad. What was interesting in the comments within the article, from Keith Vaz, is that immigration is considered an unalloyed bad – with no upsides. We’re now moving past quibbles about what sort of migration works for Britian – or doesn’t – to a universal message that it’s the root of every problem:

“Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said: “This is an extraordinary figure. To be responsible for a quarter of all new passports issued to migrants in the EU flies in the face of suggestions that settlement and migration is under control.”

Is that surprising, when every problem is refracted through the lens of migration? Didn’t build enough houses? Migration. Can’t get your kid into a school? migration. Austerity ripping the welfare net to shreds and pulling the carpet out from under your feet? Migration. And what distorts the debate is that the tolerant majority aren’t as exercised as the rabidly anti-migration minority. For them it is the only issue, the one that gives all others their salience – the touchstone for every ill visited upon Britain. So they shout the loudest. And yet, research shows that the public at large has nuanced views on this. But no one appeals to this tolerant streak. If Keith Vaz is speaking for Labour, then what of the Tories and UKIP? This is a happy consensus, a craven alliance of the cowardly. Because rather than aim their big guns at the real culprits (banks, anyone? ideologically-driven economic policies such as austerity? lack of planning?) for the individual problems I’ve mentioned, they offer small politics that appeal to the lowest common denominator. This dearth of information and compassion has far-reaching effects. We’re prepared to let people die in the Mediterranean to reduce the “pull factor” to the UK. When Mark Reckless says that migrants should be piled into boats at Dover and sent away, even UKIP balked. But I’m sure many agreed. He wouldn’t have felt confident in saying so otherwise.]

*incidentally, some migrants are brilliant. Some are awful. Some are mediocre. Because, you know, HUMANS. And hey, Britain, so are you. So are you.

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On Invisible Power structures

David Cameron announced that the “red warning lights” are on for the global economy. Bob Geldof amassed an array of stars to re-record Band Aid for Ebola. Apart from the fact that both of these things are linked by the fact that they annoy me greatly, they are also connected by a (naive?) disregard for structural power.

So…Cameron, who warns that “a dangerous backdrop of instability and uncertainty presents a real risk to the UK recovery,” adding that “the eurozone slowdown is already having an impact on British exports and manufacturing.” These things have not happened by accident. Without donning my tin foil hat and Wonder Woman bracelets, I think it’s safe to say that he fails to address the fact that we can’t go back to business as usual because capitalism (at least the way we’ve practised it) is broken. Instead of a real analysis, we get that odd car dashboard metaphor (so awkward when politicians grasp for “genuine” turns of phrase to appear normal) that warns of impending doom but proffers little in the way of a proper analysis of it. Perhaps because a proper analysis would show that welfare and immigrants aren’t the problem, and austerity is not the answer. Also worth mentioning that this is an elaborate exercise in crafting a fig leaf to put over the hiccoughing recovery, given the deep cynicism and unbelievable brass neck it takes to declare that we might be on the verge of a second global financial crisis (second!) when Cameron and every minister in the Coalition government has spent the last five years denying that the first one never happened but instead it was all Labour’s fault, that they crashed the car.

And.. Geldof. I think everything I feel about Band Aid is explained perfectly over on Al Jazeera and the Washington Post, but suffice to say that well-meaning a gesture though it may be, and generous the government’s offer to double whatever is raised certainly is, this sort of charity endeavour (celebrities give their time, you give your money) overlooks structural problems. Like the failures of neoliberal economics (sort of like the above) and the under-resourcing of the very agencies that are trying to help. We shouldn’t have to rely on this sort of endeavour to get the cash where it is needed. The UN and WHO  have repeatedly appealed for funds. That’s before we get to the problems of governance that left health systems in these countries a shambles to begin with. We can sticky plaster all we want, but there’s some hard graft to be done when the crisis is over. And yes, Africans do know it’s Christmas, for goodness sake. (Could they not have at least written a less patronising and more intelligent song? Or just amplified the work that Africans are already doing?)

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Check it out: I wrote about the #Dontletthemdrown campaign for Media Diversified.

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We need new names

“As it is, I can’t settle, I want someone who is fierce and will love me until death and know that love is as strong as death, and be on my side for ever and ever. I want someone who will destroy and be destroyed by me. There are many forms of love and affection, some people can spend their whole lives together without knowing each other’s names. Naming is a difficult and time-consuming process; it concerns essences, and it means power. But on the wild nights who can call you home? Only the one who knows your name.”

—  Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit


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6540-fitandcrop-495x330Tonight I visited Hampstead Theatre for the first time, to see Wildefire by Roy Williams. The last play of his I saw was Sucker Punch at the Royal Court, which was far better. However, Wildefire, which looked at the how an enthusiastic new recruit to the Met became cynical and broken, had its striking moments. It was 90 minutes without an interval, which kept the tension building. The cast was strong. My favourite scenes were group ones set on council estates – which were often menacing, but very well choreographed. The final scene is truly breathtaking – the whole cast on stage, witnessing and reacting to the main character’s breakdown. It’s a scene  full of drama and so physical that it’s almost like a dance. Williams doesn’t really weave scenes together so much as juxtapose them, like a film. I am not sure I like that aspect of his style, but having seen about four of his plays, that’s one of his trademarks. I am not an expert, but I thought it did a good job of showing the challenges and frustrations of policing in modern-day Britian, and the people behind the uniforms.

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What the FBI letter to MLK Reveals

Best read of the weekend so far? The New York Times has a great article on one of the FBI’s vindictive letters to MLK, designed to intimidate and demoralise him. On the one hand, the letter encouraging King to kill himself and detailing his extramarital affairs is a fascinating window into a period of history. And on the other hand, it resonates into the present day, as debates rage about privacy and the NSA and other security services eavesdropping on citizens in the name of security. Do we trust these agencies not to use personal information to pursue vendettas against people or public figures? At what price security – and freedom?


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Peaky Blinders

Good news in TV:

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Posted without Comment

Apparently women with a larger bottom are smarter and healthier.

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