Over the past century, many Britons have had a fraught relationship with ethnic minorities, the lessor Britons if you like, aka imposter-type Britons, if you buy into far-right rhetoric and self-affirming claims of nativism. This is not a controversial point although it can be emotive depending on your view of race-relations in the UK. I’m from an “ethnic minority”, so clearly I’m speaking from my own ‘subjective’ experiences as someone vested in that rather ambiguous but ascribed ‘status’. I was born in England. I have lived most of my life in England having lived abroad for a while where I’ve always been ascribed a ‘British’ status irrespective of my ethnic background. And yet I feel like an ‘immigrant’ in the UK even as I try to shake off these sensibilities.
On paper, my status is a different ballgame, I’m definitely a British citizen like any other citizen, but in the world of race-relations in the streets, pubs and shared spaces I get the feint impression that I’m a ‘lessor Brit‘. I’m not bothered by it emotionally, as I’ve begun to understand how incredibly complex Britain is, I see huge parallels across the world, and I’m keen to point out that there are perhaps more Britons fighting racism, or prejudice against ethnic minorities, than in many parts of the developed world. Lest I overstate my case, Britain is a great place to live, for the most part, because her people are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet anywhere in the world.
So, may be I’m wrong to think like this but I doubt I came to these feelings all by myself. And I’m sure many would agree with me that I’m not simply imagining what I’m thinking or feeling. Racism does exist in the UK, especially against the visible ethnic minorities, and so it needs to be contextualised properly. Whether this is because of actual racism against minorities, subtle, malignant, or some personal foreboding that exaggerates such realities, I really don’t know.
I’ve been told I should disregard racist dribble, but how should ethnic minorities disregard endless tropes against ‘immigrants’ in the media given the collective experience of their predecessors? It’s as if the immigrants are responsible for Britain’s woes, lack of school places, downward pressures on wages, fewer homes to rent or buy, increase in crime, poverty, loss of native culture, ‘grooming gangs’ – the list is endless. My grandparents and parents were after all ‘immigrants’ and so the attacks against the Poles, or Eastern Europeans, or “Muslim” Refugees, feel ‘very’ personal. I’m not imagining how ‘immigrants’ are presented either. And if the media is representative of how sections of our society think, I don’t think I’m wrong in my observations.
But then it gets even more complicated.
The government classifies me and members of my community as members of BME communities, this is an official classification that can be found in all manner of official publications, research papers, government commissioned reports and journalistic pieces. I have no doubts that the term was borne of benign intentions. It is however a vacuous concept at best, and at worst an ‘imposed identity’. It makes little, or no sense, in the actual world of race-relations as they unfold on the streets, as immigrant communities shy away from one another, because of how a collective immigrant identity, usually negative, is imposed on us all. Race-relations can be as bad between ethnic minorities as they would be between the mainstream and BME communities, and yet we think ‘all’ immigrants should speak with a collective voice. Which spokesmen are plucked for this undertaking, from the amenable, officially classified immigrant communities is another discussion altogether. But, so that I’m not misunderstood, or accused of virtue-signalling in defence of the immigrant experience, or identity, naively, immigrants can also be racist to one another, blame-shifting via the mainstream narratives onto groups, who become more ‘visible’ because of how the media chooses to portray them. Others are just outright fascistic, they’re as equally dangerous to the societies they come from.
And yet, we’re being told that the BME communities are growing, pitying this collective identity with that of the mainstream. The reasons given can also appear alarmist. Apparently, we have lots of children and our nuclear families are more like extended networks. This would mean ordinary Britons, the indigenous sort, are forced to reconcile with the idea of immigration, as a fact of government policy whether they like it or not. So the immigrants are being forced onto Britons, and overtime, people become used to the idea. In concrete social terms, this means the older migrants eventually coalesce into the mainstream, and then they forget about their origins; if they’re not part of the visible minorities, they too start to blame the newcomers, and even if they’re not, some inevitably jump on to the bandwagon.
So I guess we’ll all be delivered from our ‘immigrant status’ eventually.
I can’t see that happening anytime soon for those of us with permanent tans given how race always muddies definitions of ‘Englishness’, or at least for those us living in England.
But there is another way of looking at race-relations and how we perceive such dynamics through ascribed ‘identities’, and that’s through the insights of the sociologist. Although professional sociologists always tempers their observations with ‘caveats’, and they don’t necessarily agree with each other, they nonetheless have bestowed us with some general explanations as to why we think of groups through certain impulses.
The Sociologist’s Take on Race Relations
We’re told that if you’ve had a decent education, belong to a certain social class background and are a professional with a good salary, the one ‘naturally’ leading to the other, you’re going to be okayish with Britain’s ethnic diversity. The logic of the claim is similarly straightforward for those who buy into this ‘identity’. Well paid jobs are normally reserved for people who work hard to acquire the corresponding skills, and because you’ve worked hard to get to where you are, you don’t feel automatically entitled to a ‘job’ because of some warped nativistic, racial or ethnic ‘status’ in your mind. Once you’ve acquired your desired job, you go on to earn a good salary with lots of disposal income. You have a good quality of life that will impact the life chances of your children. You’re probably going to travel and meet different people from around the world. Britons love holidaying abroad, the travel and tourism industry is big business, and where you travel and the places you visit can tell us a lot about your attitudes. But essentially, when you return, you’re not worried about the ‘unfamiliar-looking’ people working in your local Tesco or carwash, bank, or office.
You just take it for granted.
If, on the other hand, you lack a good standard of education’, with little or no prospects for a well-paid job, and you live in the poorer parts of Britain where life chances aren’t as good as the richer parts, your chances of upward mobility are pretty slim. You’re life-span will be shorter, you’re probably a little shorter in height thanks to bad nutrition, your diet and lifestyle will be bad, and your health will inevitably fail you earlier than had you lived in the richer suburbs of the UK. Schools, hospitals, government-run services in these areas also tend to lag behind the more prosperous parts of the UK (outside simplistic North-South divides some journalists bang on about), which should get us all thinking. But, given where you live and the circles you move in, we’re told you’re going to be ‘parochial’ and a little uneasy if not opposed to ‘immigration’.
In extreme cases, you fit the profile of the types of people who would support ‘Britain First’ and other far-right movements.
This is a very crude description of a complex reality, it’s stereotypical and presumptive of the ‘groups’ involved. But once you get to the finer details and understand the point I’m trying to make, it’s basically what’s happening. The divide between prosperous Britons and their less prosperous peers is pretty clear.
Fortunately, in Britain we have a political culture that allows for such issues to be addressed. There are government policies to redistribute Britain’s wealth more equitably because of how the groups ended up on their side of the social divide which wasn’t merely accidental. Howsoever you perceive the wealth-gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and the inequalities between them, most of us are agreed that the problem needs to be redressed. After all, life chances are influenced by structural inequalities that have preceded us by generations. It’s a lot more complicated than just placing people into categories of ‘rich’ or ‘poor’, ‘advantaged’ or ‘disadvantaged’, ‘educated’ or ‘uneducated’, ‘good’ or bad’, ‘hardworking’ or ‘lazy’.
Now, I’m not saying graduates and post-graduates are always ‘wealthy’ or that affluent people are not ‘racists’. This isn’t a zero-sum game between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ manifested through diametrically opposed viewpoints. You could be poor and still be very open-minded to ‘diversity’, hold down a well-paid job without having any qualifications, and live in a ‘middle-class’ enclave despite being ‘working-class’. That’s not the point of the observations, (btw, being middle class or working class are illusory identities when some people posture through class differences as a means of self-affirming – lots of upwardly mobile immigrants fall into this trap when distancing themselves from their poorer peers). I’m merely saying we can determine people’s reactions to certain social realities by understanding their backgrounds if indeed they fit the profiles. The experts who like dabbling in this pond have discovered some interesting patterns. They are generally on ‘good footing’ when it comes to understanding ‘race-relations’ in the UK and the quarters that harbour ‘racist’ attitudes, subtle or malignant. It’s not for nothing that if you’re on the ‘right’ of politics, you’re more likely to have a less benign view of immigration than if you were on the ‘left’, and these realities translate into actual votes for political parties advocating ‘pro’ or ‘anti’-immigration policies. If you’re somewhere in the centre, with a leg in each camp, you’re probably more difficult to read and you’re probably not rigid in your views, as opposed to someone on the extremes.
The experts have a term for you too!
I’m not saying if you’re ‘rightwing’ you’re automatically intolerant of all the things you’ve taken for granted as being ‘alien’ or ‘foreign,’ and if you’re ‘leftwing’ you’re automatically open-minded to diversity – far from it. Although how rightwing or leftwing you are could be revealing of underlying attitudes.
It’s not that simple though. For instance, a lot of ‘rightwing’ people are open-minded to immigration, cultural diversity, social change, despite being conservatives with a small ‘c’. Dropping people into ‘boxes’ is a lot more complicated than we first imagine.
Think of it like this (I’m going to be employ some crude stereotypes). If you belong to a privileged ‘family’ that has the capital and social wherewithal to create private enterprise in the first place, and you’ve always paid your way; private health care for your family, private education for your children, the best nursing homes when you get old, why should you pay ‘exorbitant’ taxes even as the government takes a handsome sum from you regularly? Sure, you’ll do everything within your means to pay less taxes but why should the entire welfare system fall on your shoulders simply because someone, somewhere determined that you’ve got broad shoulders?
You’ve done your bit for your country, you’d say; the ‘rich’ have their counterarguments. They would advocate for ‘low taxes, low government spending’, this doesn’t make them selfish, it makes them ‘prudent’, and why shouldn’t they protect their own interests, they would say. As far as they’re concerned people should go out and make the wealth for themselves like they did, it’s all one big meritocracy that can do wonders for ambitious go-getters living in a truly free market economy. If you succeed, you become socially advantaged, if you don’t, you have yourself to blame. It’s much fairer this way. Workers and not shirkers can afford to provide for themselves removing the exorbitant cost of actually managing a welfare state. Handing out money to make things better, means you pay people to hand it out creating ‘the middle-men in suits’ – a metaphor for the bloated State. A bloated welfare state not only creates a dependent ‘welfare class’ but crucially spiralling national debt and someone has to eventually pay for it. We’re talking about the maligned taxpayer who is demonised for complaining about high taxes even as he seems to get noting in return for his forced largess. The more you earn, the more you have to pay into the system. Of course, small to medium sized businesses are behind Britain’s wealth creation too but the larger co-operations worth billions of pounds are staffed by highly skilled people who don’t like the idea of paying huge taxes, apparently it’s bad for business! And yet these guys are very open-minded to ‘immigration’ because of the backgrounds I mentioned earlier. They need workers and not shirkers, and if immigrants will do the graft, more the merrier – the ‘economy’ needs them. They don’t care if their plumber or electrician speaks in a European accent, or charges less than ‘Dave’ from down the road; if he turns up to do the ‘job’, doesn’t complain, and goes his merry way, they are happy not least because ‘Yanis’ also pays his taxes. They don’t fall for the Yanis is depreciating Dave’s wages.
So it’s not that straightforward.
But if your ‘leftwing’ or you lean towards the left, this doesn’t stop you from being insular even as you demand that the country’s wealth be equitably redistributed to the socially disadvantaged. You may be for social democracy and workers rights, but it doesn’t follow that you’re going to extend these ‘socialist’ utopia to immigrants from some far-away land. It’s just not that simple whatever the obvious stereotypes we use when painting a picture of what’s going on.
All of this doesn’t detract from the fact that lots of immigrants live in Britain, and they are very much part of the political discourse and popular imagery. We even have massive ‘immigrant’ communities, I prefer to use the term neighbourhoods, my detractors would prefer the term, ghettos, each nestled in their part of Britain, proof for some that multiculturalism has not delivered a cohesive society.
So, given what we know of Britain practically, we would be correct in thinking that our politics is really ‘centrist’ which is proof that the political parties have been advocating tempered policies to immigration, whatever the populism of their electoral promises? These social realities speak for themselves politically. The fact that some commentators condemn these parties for sounding and looking the same, shouldn’t be lost on you given how the political landscape is now changing.
It used to be ‘centrist’ but now a clear divide is emerging, given recent developments across Europe.
Like most democratic countries built on the idea of liberalism and the rule of law not just on paper but in practise, Britain has benign policy prescriptions that allow members of diverse communities to access government-run services. If individual members are unable to access these services, the government goes one step further and allocates funds and provision to help these communities to practically utilise these services. An interpreter will be provided if you can’t speak English, your children will receive extra tuition in school to learn English. Documents will be translated into a host of immigrant languages and organisations will be funded to assist ethnic minority communities with civic engagement. The provision is there for these communities to partake in the civic culture of the UK, if they so choose, or are organised enough to avail themselves of these benefits.
This is what’s implied by living in an open, free and democratic society.
Not being able to speak the official language doesn’t preclude you from enjoying ‘national’ benefits by way of the welfare system. These benefits are intended to be universal, whether you were born here or you came here as a migrant; you’re entitled to a certain standard of care if you live in the UK.
And yet we’re all too familiar with the clamour to condemn such ‘wasteful’ provision. You’ve probably heard the usual tropes, “why do we need interpreters, shouldn’t these immigrants speak English! Why do we need ESOL provision, these immigrants shouldn’t be allowed here if they can’t speak English! Why are they having all these babies in our hospitals and there’s a shortage of beds and they don’t speak English either!
The list of charges is endless.
The vitriol is also clear in some instances. But we also know the identity of the protagonists. Crucially, through their words and actions we know what kind of society they would like to mould, a ‘monocultural’ society that ‘worships’ its past, imagined in many ways (lots of poor people were oppressed, forced onto the fringe in the UK, during Britain’s glory years), even as it hampers the country’s future and longterm prospects by looking inwardly. The majority of economists tell us immigration is actually good for economies. That’s just an undeniable fact, howsoever, opponents want to re-spin this claim. But these economists are not sociologists, so they’re not going to comment on issues like social cohesion, that’s not a space they want to occupy. Crucially, very rarely will you come across individuals trained in these disciplines, who are opposed to ‘immigration’. They tend to be ‘progressives’ and most progressives are hardly stuck in the past, they look to the future and understand that societies need to get with the times if they’re going to succeed in a world that is fast changing. If you don’t gain anything from the new ‘status quo’, it’s always easy to revert back to the past. Things always look better in the past, especially if you think you’re entitled to something primordial and ‘old’. If you fit this profile – all but imagined, for you the ‘newcomers’ should stand at the back of the queue, it’s about ‘entitlement’ and ‘status’. It’s not about ‘progress’, social, economic or otherwise.
For you, it’s not about ‘wealth-creation’ but ‘wealth-consumption’.
And so this is the intellectual divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ within the context of ethno-nationalism (nativism) and those ‘pesky immigrants’.
But how did we get to this stage with specific focus on the UK?
There is of course a much wider social and historical context.
People have been migrating ‘since forever’
It’s only recently that people have been moving beyond their traditional homelands in the numbers we take for granted. But don’t be fooled, immigration has been going on since the dawn of our hominid species. That’s what the palaeontologists and anthropologists tell us. It’s only recently when we look to that much longer timeline that transnational immigration owes its legacy to a particular form of European colonialism which wasn’t necessarily of the ‘immigrant’s’ choosing. As broadly as possible we’re speaking about a period of 400/500 years ago in our recent past. It’s a very recent past, because homo sapiens have been around for approximately 200 thousand years. But, it was during the ascendancy of Western European colonialism that entire populations were transported across the world often against their freewill.
Since then a lot has changed socially and for the better. But, one thing has not changed, Europe’s poor have always remained on the fringe of their respective societies. Many of these poor where similarly shipped off to the new colonies where in time they emerged as a new class, now part of the ruling ‘race’ but still looked down at by the die-hard ‘old-world’ aristocrats. We tend to forget about this particular form of ‘immigration’ and its internal fault-lines in the new colonies, and the immense prejudice and dare I say ‘racism’ directed against these ambiguous ‘whites’.
But these were the good old days for the ‘emerging working-class’ and the ‘respectable whites’ – the authentic ‘whites’! In racial terms, many ethnic communities aspired to be ‘white’ and in the case of North-Amerian race-relations they lobbied the federal government to obtain such a ‘status’. Some succeeded, others failed and some, believe it or not, relinquished this ‘racial’ status because it didn’t work for them, namely the Indians (i.e., South Asians). A ‘status’ on paper is not the same thing in the real world of race-relations, ask the ambiguous whites in America today, the Middle Eastern and North African “Arabs”, “Turks”, “Persians” and others, who are “white” all but in name, by virtue of a tick box on a census form. We wrongly imagine this history to be clear-cut and straight-forward, the ‘colonial whites’ against the ‘rest’.
This history is a lot more complicated than we think and had a lot more fault-lines internally.
It is also mired in a kind of ‘romanticism’.
It didn’t matter that European colonialism was basically the theft of another peoples’ lands, material resources, and in a lot of instances their actual ‘persons’. It didn’t matter that there was a huge divide between colonial rich and poor, and that many poor people sought to escape the drudgery of their former lives by heading for the new colonial shores. Some literally sold themselves into a form of slavery by becoming indentured labourers. Others had no choice. Australia was literally a colony for the felons, a dumping ground for the racially impure ‘whites’; even today, you’ll come across Britons cracking jokes about the Aussies and their criminal ancestors. The ‘New World’ for the old-world ‘subjects’ of Britain was literally a lifeline, of course many died mid-journey, but the ramifications for those who stayed behind was also good, or at least this is how we like to imagine the ‘rags to riches’ story.
European colonialism made many western European countries richer. There’s no nice way of saying this, even if it makes the direct beneficiaries of this ‘oppression’ uncomfortable today. But, without the material wealth of the New World, there would have been no European Enlightenment and no Industrial Revolutions. It’s pretty simple to understand how these realities emerged however crude the explanations may seem at first. Someone, somewhere has to patronise the new ‘arts’ and ‘sciences’ and when money is in ‘full flow’ and you have people brimming with new ideas, a critical core of free thinkers – the ‘progressives’ – the possibilities are endless when these two dynamics come together.
It was these realities in the centuries that proceeded the creation of the first colonies that gave Britain a technological edge when it sought to colonise the powers of the Old World in the direction of Asia. A confident Britain with a tiny share of the world’s population, also needed international markets to sell all the products it was producing courtesy of the industrial revolution. The teeming populations of the East with all their natural resources were adequately suited for Britain’s mighty ‘largess’. As their natural resources were plundered and sent in the direction of Europe, in the opposite direction came manufactured products to be dumped on the new markets.
Like I said, how this history is imagined and disseminated for popular consumption misses out all the troubling aspects.
Changing Fortunes, the Old Anxieties
Fast forwarding to our present time, ‘Britain’ like most western European countries is becoming ‘less powerful’, ‘less wealthy’ and to be candid ‘less significant’ to an emerging political order. Europe is in decline and all the experts are aware of this despite the good prospects these countries could enjoy in a globalised order if they can get their act together. For some, ‘Brexit’ is a social symptom of the new political and economic realities, but many experts doubt these anxieties are going to stop the shift in power. The economies of the developing world are growing at such breakneck speed that it’s only a matter of time that their economies will dwarf the formerly mighty economies of the ‘West’. They also have huge populations which means millions of consumers once they’re taken out of poverty and admitted into a ‘middle class’ with huge disposal income.
We may even witness this shift in our own lifetimes.
The ‘experts’ familiar with the rise and eventual decline of Empires and Civilisations are not romanticists though. And you can bet your last pound, they will never fall for the propaganda of ‘simpleton patriots’ ready to die to protect their ‘nation’s’ sacred ‘character’ and ‘god-given wealth’. Even as these claims are defended by articulate ‘spokesmen’ citing all manner of facts to prove their emotive perspectives, you can detect a profound unease with the pace of social change in the UK and globally.
So what’s changing exactly?
Why do we hear the charge “Britain is not great any more!”
“There seems to be more ethnic minorities here (as if they weren’t already here)”. “Britain doesn’t feel the same anymore” or at least that’s what we’re told.
“The social change is simply too fast, nothing else!”
“There’s too many Poles in the UK!”
“Immigration isn’t the problem, mass immigration is the problem!”
“If you go to London, you’ll hardly hear anyone speaking English. Brown and black faces seem to be popping up everywhere. Foreigners own everything. Foreign accents are heard on every corner. It’s happening at a scale so great that we need to build new cities every year.”
“Some immigrants are good, they integrate, others aren’t, like the Muslims!”
“It’s not all Muslims, it’s just some Muslims, like the Pakistanis in the UK, the Algerians in France, the Turks in Germany, the Moroccans in Spain, the Muslim Refugees in Sweden, Norway, Denmark!”
The claims are deliberately intended to be evocative.
But let me be clear, historical changes were also fast-paced.
And the changes bought by Britain in the lands of her former colonies were no less fast-paced. Is this really about ‘social change’ or ‘immigration’? Or more correctly, changing power-dynamics that don’t include the old powers? Are we speaking about prosperity, or are we speaking about redeeming the character of “Primordial” Britain that used to be Great Britain?
I’m not saying that these critics are deluded about the past or are racists, far from it. They have their opinions and their grievances. I’m not even saying that they’re wrong in their observations, that’s not the point of this post. I’m merely saying that some people in Britain have never reconciled with the idea of immigration. And there is an irony here, Britain became powerful because of its Colonies, India being the Jewel in that Crown, which became impoverished during Britain’s glory days. Britain is less-powerful today, and so absolutely needs global trade with countries like India, China, African countries, the Muslim World, and, you’ve guessed it, those pesky immigrants. You can’t have global trade, innovation in science, technology, minus immigrants, globalism doesn’t work like that. But rather than accept the inevitable not least because Britain played a big part in those historical changes, the immigrants are constantly blamed for Britain’s woes. Anything that could prove the ‘patriots’ right, even selectively, is enough for them to voice their ‘grievances’.
For instance, some commentators are keen to speak out against predatory ‘Asian’ sex-gangs, a particularly good gripe today, all the while they forget about ‘predatory priests’ or ‘single white male assailants’. And they couldn’t care one iota about the victims, they’re just pawns in a bigger ‘cause’. The fact that the police and the CPS failed these ‘children’ had a lot to do with issues of social class, and yet we’re being told it was really about political-correctness gone mad and the fear of being called ‘racist’. That said, you won’t get to read pages of racist or offensive dribble about evil priests or deranged single white males.
Because they’re not assigned a collective identity like the sex-gangs who are quickly identified on the basis of their ethnicity – their ‘minority’ status. Evil priests and pedophile white males don’t sell papers – immigrants do!
Put simply, there’s an ‘audience’ for such trash-talk.
And so any number of ‘immigrant’ groups – the ‘outsiders’ – will be cast as the newest incarnation of the old villain, the type you can point your finger at without having to perturb your own mind. Today it’s the ‘Muslims’. But Muslims are just unlucky, and it has nothing to do with some grand conspiracy against Islam. Just as there was no grand conspiracy against Communism before the ‘red’ menace gave way to the ‘green’ menace. This holds true for the ‘Irish’ in Britain when the IRA were detonating bombs in London, there was no conspiracy against the Irish.
The ‘Bad Muslim’ Migrant
The Muslim world has itself been in decline for the last 800 years, and Muslims shouldn’t get caught-up by the military achievements of the Ottomans or the incredible wealth of India’s ‘Mughal’ rulers. Interestingly as a side point, these ruling houses were all immigrants to their adopted homelands as were the ruling nobility in most of Europe which should be food for thought for our native patriots! The Ottoman Turks and their Turkic cousins, the Central Asian Mughals, were exceptions in a long timeline that singled the Muslim World’s decline around about the time the Mongols sacked Baghdad in the 13th century.
And so what you see on your television screens are the death pangs of a civilisation that in its dying days is being hijacked by ‘lunatics’ demanding a return to an ‘imagined’ past. It isn’t simply about religion or ideology, but about huge social, economic and political problems that quickly turn to religion for a ‘quick-fix’. A power vacuum is created by the ensuing conflicts, and highly politicised Muslim groups fill the void for various reasons. Tellingly, the ordinary Muslims caught up in the spiralling chaos and civil wars, don’t head for ‘Muslim’ countries, some of which they transit through on their onward journeys. Instead they jump on makeshift boats and travel in the direction of western Europe. But even if they sought shelter in Muslim lands, they wouldn’t receive a warm-welcome imagined by some in the diaspora as the place of fraternal brotherhood – courtesy of the Muslim-Ummah syndrome.
For British-Muslims conflating this ‘victimhood’ with some ‘Muslim’ status at odds with a western identity, they shouldn’t get hung up on that old chestnut – “they don’t like us because we’re Muslims!”
They really couldn’t care if you’re Muslims.
You’re just not that important.
If you’re an immigrant, and you happen to be a Muslim, then you’re royally stuffed!
You may not have an accent or a foreign lilt, but you still belong to a ‘tribe’ – the immigrant tribe – and if you happen to wear a hijab or some other ‘religious’ attire, they’ve sussed you’re not really from here! You become a target for everything that’s wrong with Britain’s immigration policies. They don’t care if you think you’ve empowered yourself by covering your entire body courtesy of the new ‘Hijabi trends. Your worldview is just not that important even if your claims to ‘female’ emancipation seem a little incoherent to the feminists who otherwise support your choice of religious clothing.
Conveniently for the critics, you represent something ‘foreign’, something that helps expose the ‘immigrants in Britain’s midst. It doesn’t matter if you were born here, that’s the point I’m getting across; you’re convenient ‘proof’ that immigration is bad for Britain irrespective of how much good you contribute to your society. The logic is simple, you refuse to integrate with the people that have given you good prospects – if they were so bad to you, why don’t you leave, they’d say.
The fact that we can entertain this proposition even for people born in Britain is proof of a wider malaise that sits at the heart of British race relations.
You’re an ‘immigrant’ irrespective of being born here, and that’s why they can say to you, “go back to your country!” They cant make similar comments to white racist ‘neo-fascist’ thugs. On the contrary, they’re entitled to be here unlike you.
Do you see what I’m getting at?
Britain has always had a problem with immigrants, that’s the point of this post. And it’s a little unfair to the immigrants on the receiving end of these anxieties that constantly morph into changing grievances. Before the ‘Muslims’ became the bad sorts of immigrants, it was the commonwealth immigrants, the ‘South Asians’ from the Indian subcontinent, and the ‘Blacks’ from the New World. Before them, it was the Irish fleeing a potato feminine, and some decades earlier it was the Jews fleeing religious pogroms from eastern Europe. There were countless other communities from Europe fleeing sectarian persecution most notably the Huguenots from France. Back in those days, it was the ‘Christians’ killing themselves because of sectarian differences. You can go back even further, and you can see how any number of people were ‘scapegoated’ for all sorts of social problems.
It’s just easier to blame foreigners for a country’s woes.
This has become a national pastime in the UK.
Irrespective of the intellectual sophistry used to make such arguments, entire books are written, and personalities emerge to defend the enfeebled masses from the immigrant onslaught. The speakers get paid, and their audiences applaud, but the people they are defending are no better off.
It has never dawned on our ‘patriots’ that it’s actually economic necessities that allow for people to cross into new territories. Colonialism was driven by economic necessities. The discovery of the New World was precisely because the old trade-routes to the traditional powers of Asia were blocked. Aside from the murder and carnage that came with the accidental discovery of the Americas, and the chain of events it triggered, the net-result had always been to the material advantage of the colonial powers, and dare I say, their native populations minus ‘stigmatised’ groups.
Even during good economic times, you still need bogeymen to blame for society’s woes.
It’s not like someone, some 300/400 years later accidentally opened the drawbridge, and all the foreigners just stumbled in. It is only recently with the large numbers of people transiting through failed states in the wake of western intervention that many people confuse asylum rules with immigration policies. The two are not the same, and they never have been. Detractors of asylum laws seem not to care that international laws on refugees have their direct origin in the carnage of wars instigated by European powers. The horrors that accompanied such wars and the persecution of innocent civilians did not end with the cessation of violence between Germany and the Allied Powers.
I get the impression that as refugees from Bosnia, Rwanda, and other genocide-torn countries headed for European shores, the powers-be were merely trying to redeem themselves of that history. A good example today would be Germany and Syrian refugees. Our ‘native patriots’ are in many ways divorced from that history, emotionally and intellectually.
Postwar Immigration; ‘Reconstruction’ on the Cheap
Following on from two devastating world wars and the collapse of European Imperialism, it was the ‘mother countries’ that engineered the process that saw large numbers of people from the ‘ex-colonies’ come, work, and live in their adopted countries. They came because they were ‘invited’, and the respective governments of the economies affected by the wars didn’t care one iota about the individual values the ‘immigrants’ subscribed to. There were no state-sponsored programmes for multiculturalism for us to reimagine today the ‘expectations’ placed on the ‘migrants’ to become ‘integrated’ citizens.
It wasn’t as if the indigenous locals were all subscribing to enlightenment values.
Integration wasn’t even a political consideration.
It was about making money, rebooting the economy, and getting people to do the dirty work, “if the locals won’t work in our factories or build our high-rises”, they thought, “we’ll just recruit from the colonies”. And that’s exactly what they did. In Britain, for a while, they tried recruiting from the white commonwealth but it was a spectacular flop, and so they turned to the black colonies for cheap labour. Europe’s economies needed such people, and the respective governments understood this reality even if the natives refused to get with the programme. Back then, the ‘native patriots’ weren’t in the driving seat, the industrial giants that produced huge tax receipts were, and this was at a critical time when post-war reconstruction was badly needed. And so the wealth-creators that mattered to the economy succeeded in making their case, and we’re here, the ‘immigrants’ from the Commonwealth.
In Britain we’re the product of those first ‘immigrant’ pioneers and those earliest of immigration policies. And we’re still coming to terms with it. But now, unlike the one-sided cruelty of colonialism, the new entente is a two-way process, for good or bad, it’s benefited ‘us’ the immigrants and the host countries and we cant afford to be ‘one-dimensional’ in our ‘blame-game’.
But that’s the point – we still don’t feel like we belong.
Is Britain really our home? The same can be said for Moroccans in Spain, Algerians in France or Turks in Germany, they have similar anxieties. I’m not saying that everyone of us in this predicament is alienated from our country, no, absolutely not. I’m merely saying that many of us have yet to come to terms with the bogus narratives of the ‘white’ minority that tries its utmost best to deny us our ‘roots’ in Britain. You’ve no doubt heard the statement, “there’s no black in the Union Jack”, but then, why are they picking on Eastern Europeans and telling them to go home? It’s not about being ‘white’, it’s about a sense of ‘entitlement’ that’s positively denied to the immigrants. The term ‘white’ is merely the residue of a bygone era, it’s an out-dated concept not least because there is no such thing as racial ‘whiteness’. But we still use the word. And so our ‘white’ patriots think they’re the custodians of Britain all the while they have no real stake in Britain either, but worse for them, they have far fewer ‘material’ outlets than in the past.
Which makes their hatred more vitriolic and dangerous.
‘White privilege’ is beginning to sound like a hoax to them, as they employ the status of ‘victims’, ironically I add.
Of course it is a hoax, for some white people, like the other race fictions; power-dynamics change and we are seeing the first shoots of the shift in power. But, fortunately for us, these ‘race-puritans’ if I can call them that, perhaps a better term would be ‘cultural-patriots’ don’t determine government policy.
Not yet at least.
Although political realities are changing all over western Europe and the astute amongst us should be watching the developments carefully.
But in any case, it’s not like, the ‘patriots’ are the only ones paying ‘taxes’ if indeed they contribute to government coffers. Ethnic minorities pay considerable taxes, that’s what the experts tell us, and they take less in benefits than what they pay into the UK Exchequer.
So it seems like a fair-exchange, if indeed you believe the ‘experts’.
Many don’t, and the ‘cultural patriots’ have their own experts. But even these experts have difficulties interpreting the data that would support populist narratives that the ‘immigrants’ are somehow to blame for everything that’s wrong with ‘broken’ Britain. That’s why they speak with caveats whenever they’re interviewed on camera. They’re quite keen to point out that they are not against ‘immigration’ per se but uncontrolled ‘immigration’. This statement has become their new mantra.
Well because Britain needs workers from all around the world because it’s economy produces jobs in all sectors – high-tech, low-paid, whatever the case, Britain is at the forefront of cutting edge technology, and needs the finest minds to grease its machinery. Britain also has a very large service economy. We’re told many Britons don’t like doing back-breaking work that pays minimum wage like picking apples monotonously for hours, or cleaning office toilets before others wake up to start their day. And from what little these immigrants earn, they are expected to pay their taxes including all the other stealth taxes like VAT. And like millions of ordinary Britons they too need somewhere to live. These are the people we’re now being told Britain can do without, after all, we’ve got too many unemployed and unskilled people on the dole who can very easily do these jobs. Many of whom also benefit generously from the Tax Credit System thanks to New ‘Labour’ that is now being blamed conveniently for letting in so many Eastern and Central Europeans.
But, we’re also being told that the locals (including the newly indigenised ‘Britons’; the sons and daughters of the last wave of immigrants) don’t like the idea of picking apples. They couldn’t be seen doing hard labour or cleaning toilets, these jobs are beneath their dignity apparently. Worse still, they can barely survive on such wages, it’s just easier claiming benefits and having their rent paid by the local authority. They are not shirkers, they would say, “it’s really about survival and not looking down your noses at jobs you think are beneath you“. And yet so many Britons are incensed to learn that the low-skilled immigrants have their wages topped up by tax-credits.
Contradictions are seldom this poetic.
And what about the high-skilled, high-tax paying workers that Britain absolutely needs if it wants to have its edge over competing nations? Why are so many doctors, surgeons, software programmers, architects, bankers, university lecturers and professors in Britain from around the world? Because Britain like every other advanced economy needs high-skilled workers that its own society cannot produce. It’s that simple. We even have a term for the wider consequences – ‘brain-drain’, rich countries take all the natural talent from the developing countries and remunerate them handsomely. The poor countries are drained of their best minds who flock to the highest bidder. If you happened to be one of those immigrants being courted with lavish wages, wouldn’t you apply for a high-skilled worker permit and head for the country that pays you the most?
Why do so many high-skilled Britons head for Australia, the UAE, Germany, America?
But more pertinently, if you were the government of a developing country and the people you’ve just invested in decide to leave as soon as they acquire their new skills, wouldn’t you be pissed? But as power shifts from Europe and North America to Asia, and India and China become resurgent powers with a greater share of global wealth, they too will have the means to remunerate their own populations as they attract talent from other countries. This holds true for a host of other countries in South America and Africa.
Many Europeans and North Americans are now moving in the direction of Asia. From our little island nation, we don’t think of these individuals as immigrants but as ‘expatriates’ which is very revealing of the power-dynamics behind the ‘British discourse’ on immigration.
And yet if you listen to the media, ‘immigrants’ have caused all manner of social and economic crisis in Britain and western Europe. It’s getting so bad, that even international students have not been spared the ‘immigration’ slur. If you’re one of those wealthy students from India, China, or somewhere else weighing up your options, why would you come to the UK with all this anti-immigrant talk? Why would you want to study in a British university, pay tens of thousands of pounds in tuition fees, thousands of pounds more in living and recreational costs, when you could go to Canada or some other country that doesn’t seem to be on a suicide mission? If you want to be a nurse, why would you offer your services to the NHS when you could head for Australia, Canada or the Middle East? Can you see Britons electing to take care of their elders in the many nursing homes staffed almost entirely by ‘foreigners’ any time soon?
And so there is a wider point to this post.
Racism is not the monopoly of white people
Even though many of ‘us’ from a recent immigrant heritage don’t feel we belong here, our members exhibit the same prejudices of the wider society blaming the ‘newer’ immigrants for our woes. The Brexit vote revealed an unhealthy subtext about prejudice in general that a lot of our ‘BME’ members are not too dissimilar to the race puritans or culture-patriots. They may not have used the language or tactics of the racists, but they exhibited the same fears, anxieties and prejudices.
When it suits them, they behave like ‘racists’.
We think only ‘white’ people can be racists, it suits our narrow-mindedness; we feel entitled in our own skewed ‘victimhood‘. Racism has always been about entitlement whenever we contextualise it within the context of immigration.
No one owns a monopoly on racial prejudice. These pernicious attitudes define so many of us even as we think ourselves to be ‘racially’ ‘open-minded’ and ‘inoffensive’ because of some ascribed ‘ethnic’ status – we can’t be racists because we’re ‘Blacks’ or ‘Indians’! How many of us voted to leave the European Union because the ‘eastern Europeans’ were taking all the jobs? How many made remarks that were reminiscent of the old days that robbed our grandparents of their human dignity? And all because we felt we had a genuine stake in this country because the ‘new villains’, for a time, we’re not us but the Eastern Europeans, the “Roma”, and the less prestigious European nationalities.
The new immigrants are now competing with us – the old immigrants – usually over jobs we refuse to do, and we think we have a greater ‘entitlement’ to government-run services. And yet we know when people start looking for affordable housing to rent or buy that are in short supply, and enrol their children into local schools that are similarly oversubscribed, we come across people saying “those bloody immigrants!” Rarely do the hate-mongers blame the government who collects the taxes to help keep the economy growing whilst paying for essential services that include pensions. Yes, immigrants tend to be younger and so they help prop up pensions by their tax-pounds. If the government fails to invest in local infrastructure, rarely do we blame the government but the newest ‘villains’ on the block.
It difficult blaming abstractions in our mind for our problems. Even religions have invented their own versions of the “Devil”. Their “Saviours” always look like them.
If the immigrant happens to speak in an eastern European accent, she’s an easy target! It’s a bit like a patriot running up to a woman in an hijab and punching her in the face, she’s powerless to hit him back and he’s proven his loyalty to his peers, even if he happens to be from a minority community. If the Eastern European looks and dresses a particular way, he’s to blame for the ‘native’ not getting his ‘council house’ even as others point their accusatory finger at the lessor Briton. So these individuals want to apportion the blame by re-directing it to others, and they rationalise this contempt through the ‘politics of envy’ and the ‘narrative of prejudice’.
Advanced economies need workers who are also consumers; it is people who produce wealth and not some abstract system in our minds and so they absolutely have a stake in the system. Those workers and consumers need places to reside; schools for their children, hospitals for their infirm, cemeteries for their dead, shops for their ethnic foods. They need people to attend to their needs in old age when their own family members are too concerned with growing their own nuclear families.
From this pool of workers, we inevitably have the emergence of ethnic minorities. Ethnic minorities have their needs like any other indigenous community. We need to stop blaming ‘immigrants’ for everything that is wrong in our societies. It is prejudice that directs us to point the finger at the least powerful members of our society, and for far too long, we’ve excelled at this skill – the media has created personalities, and opened up opportunities, such are the supply and demand factors of this industry. As the descendants of immigrants, we know what it’s like to feel like target-practise for a ‘media’ that likes apportioning blame mindful of its targeted audience, so why are we making others feel like this? There needs to be a profound shift in our attitudes if we don’t want to make the same mistakes of some of our native peers.
The discourse on immigration has always been unhealthy in the UK. From our earliest recollections, we know that Britain has always been too full. All our adult lives we’ve heard this trope. And now that local services are stretched in a manner we’ve ever experienced before, we think we have definitive proof of this gospel truth and so we scapegoat the ‘immigrants’. The only people to blame are those who collect the taxes, but do nothing to create the infrastructure for local communities in some of the poorest parts of Britain that provide cheap housing for the incoming-immigrants. The children of immigrants need to attend schools like our children and sometimes they get sick. They don’t want to steal your ‘God-given’ appointments because your local GP surgery is over-subscribed. It’s not their fault that you can’t get an appointment or you can’t send your child to the school you went to that is only a road away from where you’ve lived all your life. If it’s a failing school it’s not the fault of children of immigrants because they need extra help with English! This blame-game has defined the discourse on immigration for far too long even as some of us speak sanctimoniously about social cohesion and the need for better integration for our BME communities.
It’s time we plucked our conscience and re-evaluated who to blame in this cyclical ‘blame-game’.
Let’s find a group of people who can speak back.