‘The Good Immigrant’ edited by Nikesh Shukla

the good immigrant

‘How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport? Or to be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of the terrorist’? How does it feel to have words from your native language misused, misappropriated and used aggressively towards you? How does it feel to hear a child of colour say in a classroom that stories can only be about white people? How does it feel to go ‘home’ to India when your home is really London? What is it like to feel you always have to be an ambassador for your race? How does it feel to always tick ‘Other’?
Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today,
 The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you- however many generations you’ve been here- but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms.
Inspired by discussion around why society appears to deem people of colour as bad immigrants- job stealers, benefit scroungers, undeserving refugees- until, by winning Olympic races, or baking good cakes, or being conscientious doctors, they cross over and become good immigrants, editor Nikesh Shukla has compiled a collection of essays that are poignant, challenging, angry, humorous, heartbreaking, polemic, weary and- most importantly- real.’

As someone living in today’s Britain, it is impossible to become interested in politics without hearing about immigration. The ‘issue’ of immigration is one of the hotly debated topics in politics at the moment that almost everyone seems to want to throw their two pence worth in on. It is a topic that politicians have brought out of their bag of tricks and polished eagerly, using it to influence voters and win elections. More recently, it was the backbone of the British vote to leave the EU causing it to control headlines for weeks on end.

One thing you notice pretty quickly as someone keenly watching all these debates from the sidelines is that its always white people who are the loudest. You know the ones, the I’m English-not-British who think that because they consider themselves as British as Fish n Chips that somehow they own the country and their opinion is a divine message from God that everyone should heed with reverence. The ones who are usually seen on the news shouting ‘Give our country back!’ into the journalists mic. Those ones. The problem is, that since those are the only people whose opinions we hear (and I can’t be the only one in saying I am sick and tired of hearing them) that we might not realise the gaping hole in coverage this leaves. When was the last time we actually saw immigrants or those labelled as immigrants (let’s be honest many of them were born in this country and it all just boils down to a good old Farage induced bout of traditional British racism) and heard their thoughts? I have to be honest, I don’t think I’ve seen any attempt to understand what it’s actually like to live in a country where ignorant bigots are given screen time and political platforms to screech their hate speech at a country full of easily swayed, prejudiced people looking for someone to blame. Apart from Zootopia maybe, but that’s another review entirely.

This book, The Good Immigrant, was everything I’d been waiting for. A chance to give my ears a rest from the over used ignorant comments like ‘they’re taking all our jobs’, and my personal favourite ‘they’re trying to force sharia law on us’, and actually hear what it’s like on the other side of the aisle. This book is made up of 21 essays from various black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the entertainment and journalism fields and their experiences of being constantly labelled as ‘other’ in their own country. It is an incredibly powerful read and one that I think everyone should read. It is so easy in this modern age where we can get our news from anywhere online, including Facebook groups that are tailored to our own political stances, to ignore any information that disagrees or is at odds with your world view. The ignorant people who use social media to bemoan that all immigrants are ruining this country, living off the state and giving nothing back can ignore all evidence to the contrary, safe in their bubbles from understanding and compassion.

What I really love about this book is the brutal honesty the authors right with. They’re not writing to dress up the truth in more easy to digest, pretty mouthful for us to handle. They’re open and completely candid about their experiences and their struggles to find their place in this country. And it’s so needed and so long overdue. As a white person with a British family who has never once felt out of place or unwelcome in this country it was a well needed wake up call to read the accounts of those who live in this country just like I do but have had such vastly different experiences. The thing I loved about reading this is the immediate sense of understanding I got. There was so many everyday occurrences that affect immigrants, such as having to tick the ‘other’ box, that I never considered from the other side. I never considered what it must feel like to have to fight against stereotypes, to be an advocate for your whole race or to struggle between multiple homes, races and religions none of which you really feel a part of. As a white person growing up in a roughly 95% white area I never questioned my part in this society or my place in this country.

Everyone should read this, not just because of how much immigration affects our politics today but because it will open your eyes and empathy to those around us. Our countrymen, who everyday face countless battles and acts of xenophobia and racism and struggle against a system that is so unfairly weighted against them. Words said in hatred can have the power to hurt but in order to combat that the best thing we can do is to listen, and this book with its powerful testimonies, is a great start. Personally, I think another edition is in order, perhaps with the stories of European immigrants after the poisonous rhetoric of the Leave campaign as the hate crimes rise and the online intolerance gathers pace.

We need to stand together, and the best way to start that progress is to listen to each other. To listen to those whose voices are so often drowned out and to make an effort to understand what life is like for those who do not have the privileges we do in this inherently biased society.

I can tell this is going to be something I come back to as the debate rages on, and will definitely further research. You should do the same.



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