Tag Archives: integration

So, Where are you Really from?

The Atlantic published this great piece last week on the age-old question that minorities are often asked, “So, where are you from?” It stemmed from a panel discussion on NPR’s Race Card Project.

I know so many people who get asked this question and the answer is, quite simply, “here.” I don’t find this so hard, mainly because I wasn’t born here. I have another home. However, it is a stark reminder that even though this is also my home, it’s the other one that defines me. So, what about those who were born here? Or those for whom this is the only home they know, or the only one that matters? At that point, the question strips you bare.

“It’s just curiosity!” some protest. But, is it? The article quotes researchers Virginia Mapedzahama and Kwamena Kwansah-Aido, who reflected on this “quintessential question of identity” in a 2010 paper on African identity in Australia:

While acknowledging that a certain ‘curiosity’ sometimes drives the asking of this question, we still question the implications and multiplicity of meanings to those whom it is asked. We contend that being asked the question raises three key issues for us. First, we perceive it as exclusionary, in that in a white dominated society it is asked, mainly of certain groups of people who are visibly different. Second, the assumption behind the question—that one is not ‘from here’, constructs an/other whose identity is fixed and tied only to one faraway place, thereby erasing our hyphenated identities, which define our everyday lived realities. Third, it invokes feelings of ambivalence about place when it is interpreted as demanding a justification of the claim to belonging and being ‘from here’.

Brianna Roger tackled it perfectly in her spoken word poem “Being British”, which she performed at the Open Generation event in April. Video link here – from 01:50.

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Uncovering nuance

I was packing my bags to come home to Malawi on holiday when news of Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll on immigration came out. Headlines: 6 in 10 people thought that immigration produced more disadvantages than advantages for the UK.

“Whatever people’s view of immigration itself, few think any recent government has had any real grasp of it, or that any of the parties does today. Most do not feel there is any strategy for dealing with the number of migrants, for their successful integration into British society, or for managing the effects on housing, infrastructure, jobs, the NHS, schools, or the benefits system.”

I sighed and got on my plane, thinking that we are getting the public reaction that Lynton Crosby’s false advertising on immigration has paid for. But now, looking back at the information, I see a lot to grasp hold of.

Besides public mistrust of politicians, the poll also revealed that most people hold complex views about migration, depending on what questions they are asked. The clusters at the extreme ends of the spectrum – staunchly pro or against immigration at all costs – are in the minority. It’s worth reading the analysis by  Sunder Katwala of British Future and his feedback from an event he spoke at addressing the research. The research also echoes the findings of Action Against Racism and Xenophobia, who polled public responses to the Home Office’s “Go Home” campaign and found that most people found it “unacceptable.” I find the results encouraging; the majority of people are capable of looking at individual issues and are open to discussion – but the public mistrust of statistics is a worry and a situation all too often exploited by those who seek to decry any figures they don’t like by simply declaring them “disputed”, even if they come from the neutral Migration Observatory at Oxford University, for example.

In his piece, Katwala links to another British Future article I had missed, from earlier in the year, about the thorny topic of integration, an issue I’ve expressed my concerns about in a previous post. While I have concerns about some of the coded language often used in discussions about “integration” and “assimilation”, the discussion needs to be had and the British Future research was interesting with regards to forging a “new deal” on migration:

“…there is potential for a broad social as well as political consensus which articulates hat our democracy needs to insist on for integration to work, but also on where the boundaries between the demands of common citizenship and the freedoms of personal choice should lie in a liberal and democratic society.”

I’m grateful though that the article acknowledges the muddled thinking on this issue – with the onus all too often on migrants alone:

“There is strong evidence that new Britons have a strong commitment to integration, though many people may not expect that to be the case. It can be difficult for migrant voices to be heard whenever the integration debate becomes framed as a question of “them and us” – especially ‘why can’t they be like us?’ – rather than the two-way street of how we work together to make the new “us” work.  To some extent, the research suggests that Britons would like to ask new Britons to be idealised versions of the selves that we would like to be: patriotic and aware of our history; committed to their families; hard-working and finding the time to volunteer too.  Linking the question of integration of new Britons with citizenship for new adults and the norms across our society could be helpful.”

So, how do we build the new “us”?

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