Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Silence that Screams its name

“Language matters. Witness the disturbing stereotyping of Roma people. But there are also dangers in silencing debate. Branding people as racist when they questioned the benefits of mass immigration crushed open debate very effectively until Gordon Brown derided Gillian Duffy as a “bigoted woman”. People listened to his sneering comments from the back of his limousine and something snapped.” – Sarah Woollaston

At some point, we’re constantly told, those with reservations about immigration were silenced. The jack boot of liberal oppression ground them into the dust, but they are now emerging blinking into the light of day, taking deep gulps of air and haltingly speaking The Truth, which has gone unspoken until very recently.

The Truth being, of course, that immigration is bad for British culture. The NHS. Housing. Social Cohesion. Etc. (It varies but the main thrust is that the economic data on migration is not enough – there is something intangible and British being lost.) I do agree that economic data is not the only thing to take into consideration, but as Kenan Malik points out, the social science on the effects of diversity and how people feel about it offers a snapshot in time. It’s also not the final word.

“The existential fear of immigration is almost as old as immigration itself. Had Arthur Balfour been able to read Goodhart’s account of the creation of an England ‘full of mysterious and unfamiliar worlds’, of an England that ‘is not English any more’, he would undoubtedly have nodded in agreement. Balfour was the Prime Minister in 1905 when Britain introduced its first immigration controls, aimed primarily at European Jews. Without such a law, Balfour claimed, ‘though the Briton of the future may have the same laws, the same institutions and constitution… nationality would not be the same and would not be the nationality we would desire to be our heirs through the ages yet to come.’ Two years earlier, the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration (an ‘alien’ was, in the early twentieth century, both a description of a foreigner and a euphemism for a Jew) had expressed fears that newcomers were inclined to live ‘according to their traditions, usages and customs’ and that there might be ‘grafted onto the English stock… the debilitated sickly and vicious products of Europe’.” – Kenan Malik

As far as I can see, those opposed to immigration have never been stopped from airing their views. But quite rightly, critics have drawn attention to the way in which those views are expressed, and the impact of a majority rounding on a minority, who are all too often stereotyped and miscast as the symbol for unrelated social ills. People are confusing criticism with silencing. Your view may be contested, but as far as I can see, when you have Blunkett on the BBC warning of race riots in Sheffield because of the Roma and Nick Clegg chiming in with the accusation that Roma culture can be offensive, I don’t think your problem is being heard. In fact, I don’t think the Roma community, maligned and stereotyped in the national press by politicians with a bully pulpit, can muster the same resources in response.

Undoubtedly, when the economy was good (granted, for some, not all) some voices were less audible – but I don’t think that was down to pro-immigration forces so much as poverty. The working classes were marginalised and in many ways continue to be. They were and are failed by a political elite who have found it quite useful to deflect criticism for not building houses, schools or hospitals, (even before the effects of  immigration are factored in) by capitalising on fear of the “other”. These are the same elites who would rather subsidise underemployment with tax credits and then demonise those who claim them rather than ensure that work pays and everyone earns a living wage. Not one conviction has been brought under minimum wage legislation since its inception. The dividing line is not between local and foreigner, but between rich and poor, a point made excellently by Zoe Williams in the Guardian:

“The same rhetoric that divides “migrants” from “citizens” also divides “citizens” and “taxpayers”, in a sort of child-parent dichotomy (the citizen has rights, the taxpayer pays for them).” – Zoe Williams

When it comes to politicians scrambling to leap on the anti-migrant bandwagon, silence is not the first word that springs to mind.

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Family Values

Two articles this past week that really moved me:

One. Family Misfortunes by Jamal Osman.

“Being an immigrant is like being the youngest child. You might be the weakest member in your newly adopted family, but you are often blamed for anything that goes wrong.”

OK, he may labour the analogy a little, but at one point he said something so simple and true:

“Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy living and working in the UK. Britain is now my home. But I get hurt and upset by the attitude of many here towards me and other immigrants.”

That’s it, in a nutshell.

Two. Slandering Britain’s Roma isn’t Courageous. It’s Racist by Gary Younge. As usual, not a wasted word, just blistering truth. Younge reminds me a lot of Ta’Nehisi Coates – here taking on the latest Zimmerman news.

After David Blunkett and Nick Clegg saw fit to stoke anti-Roma fears, while Jack Straw lamented Labour’s mistake (the only alleged mistake they ever seem sorry for) in letting in EU migrants from new accession countries, Nigel Farage applauded their bravery. As Younge points out:

“There is nothing courageous about slandering a group of impoverished, marginalised people. They’re too poor to sue and too isolated to effectively resist. There can be no comeback because they have no power, so where’s the courage? But there is everything racist about denigrating a group of people as though their shared ethnicity means shared values and implying collective responsibility for the actions of individuals in their community.”

Politicians speak from a bully pulpit. That’s their right, but too often they use their platform to spout alarming rhetoric, lies and dodgy statistics (or misinterpreted statistics). So much of what is being done in the name of the immigration crackdown is allegedly targeted at the undocumented, or those perceived to be less desirable. We’re encouraged to think in terms of the “settled” immigrant community and “others.” But the truth is, what affects the most vulnerable of us should be a matter of concern for all of us.

At a public meeting I went to a few months ago, a British Asian local councillor told a story about his son who came home one day complaining about the “crowds” of illegal immigrants in London. He welcomed the Go Home campaign, he said and he didn’t much care how they went about it. (there are allegations of racial profiling, since you ask). His father replied:  “And what do you think the authorities see when they look at you? You are part of that crowd!”

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Crowning Glory

“Dearest Future Queen, you are enough.”

I had the pleasure of catching Crowning Glory, the debut play by actress Somalia Seaton, the day before it ended at Theatre Royal Stratford East.

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TRSE is one of my favourite theatres in London, particularly for unexpected, edifying plays, and Crowning Glory didn’t disappoint. I was struck by the set when I first walked in – it was jagged and at an angle, with a couple of movable screens which were later used for projections of video. It felt pared back and minimalist, which really suited the content. The dialogue was poetic – a series of monologues blending performance art, poetry and dance to uncover the complicated relationship between black women and their hair.

There were all sorts of perspectives – tomboys, mixed race women, women wearing weaves, one who cut her hair off, the Black Panther – the list goes on. There were also memories of growing up in African and Caribbean households and a humorous but searing take on the relationship between generations of black women, their daughters and their hair.



What struck me about this multifaceted play was that there was something for everyone to identify with, regardless of where you find yourself on the spectrum of natural-relaxed-weave-braided hair. The play threw down a challenge to the European paradigm of beauty and urged Black Women to see that they are beautiful too – and this is important for us to remember because our little girls need to hear the message too.

And the message was this: You are enough.

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On Renisha McBride

Last week I wrote this article for the Independent Voices on the killing of Renisha McBride.

“No justice, no peace.”

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A review of Exodus by Paul Collier

I may not blog as much as I used to before University started up again, but I did write a review of Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century by Paul Collier for Media Diversity UK. collier-cover-2

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