“Coming over here … working hard, paying taxes.”
Recent days have shown many different reactions.
I don’t think people are so cold and empathy free that they don’t believe what’s being shown on the news – perhaps it’s just that what’s immediately in front of them matters more in the moment.
The routines and problems of daily life seem immense when you’re totally immersed in them … the crying baby, the child you need to get ready for school, that project at work which is giving you sleepless nights …
Avoiding that which upsets or which is ‘over there’ is easier for most people as a coping strategy.
However in being fair, I don’t want to play down that some people are also simply selfish, self-serving, self-referring little gits who don’t give a toss about anyone else as long as they get what they want.
Having worked informally for more than 20 years with refugees and recent asylum seekers and immigrants, and campaigned on their behalf and against the (frequently) underlying racism which governs attitudes to incomers, you get to learn a lot about how some people can be really foul towards people in circumstances far more desperate than their own.
Thesereactions beget questions about culture and all that informs it.
In this post, I’ve used images from a recent poster campaign which highlighted the contributions of immigrants to the UK – you can see the full set here. The point is not to muddy the waters of terminology, immigrant v economic migrant/expat v asylum seeker v refugee. Instead it is to highlight that our reactions to guests to this country need to be looked at, hard and fast – back to basics is the only way we can get it right.
For example, why are we ‘expats’ when we go abroad, yet people from elsewhere coming here are sneeringly referred to as ‘economic migrants’ or ‘immigrants’? There’s a fundamental question about social attitudes, culture and economy.
Here’s another fundamental question. Why are the children or grandchildren of people who came to this country (esp. those identifiable by their skin colour) routinely asked the question ‘but where are you really from’, having already answered with a UK place name?
Both the terminology and the question betray a cultural malaise, a laziness, a lack of willing to explore our true place in the world and, fundamentally, our lack of respect for people and cultures other than our own narrow self-definition.
The simple rule of being welcoming towards a guest is fast becoming an alien concept. Why?
Our culture is built upon rapacious greed, a very warped reading of our history and a consequentially inflated sense of the ‘good’ we do in the world today or did in the past.
Having despoiled most of the world of its cultures, economies, natural heritage and folk memories, we now imprison people from outside our culture in uniformity.
So, a brown person must be a Muslim and all Muslims are terrorists aren’t they? Er, no, on both counts they’re not.
The majority of the world’s population could be classified as ‘of colour’, and there is great diversity implicit in that – from the 500 plus tribes of rainforest indigenous peoples of Central and South America to those of India; from the incalculably huge diversity of ethnic, tribal and cultural affiliations across Africa to the massive diversity of Central and East Asia; from the range of indigenous peoples in Australia and across the Pacific and Indian Ocean islands to those of south east Asia …
We preserve a vibrant diversity for ourselves and our needs but deny that to others
Not sure what that means? Look at it this way …
- Let’s face up to the fact that the idea of free speech is not protected equally across racial lines. If it was there wouldn’t be such a thing as privilege – and specifically ‘white privilege’ … read up on what that means as I’m sick of explaining it
- Once you do that, you are on the first step towards eroding or better still, sharing the privileges stolen from others which you so liberally enjoy
- Perhaps we have a golden moment to get real so that we can work together better for the longer term? But that, to be blunt, means that a lot of people need to wake up, and fast …
- People in need aren’t chess pieces or toys put there for our gratification … they are diverse, complex, educated, rich in culture, skills, innovation, emotions … people like us
- Britain never ‘ruled the world’ as an act of magnanimity, it behaved like a brute in many cases most of the time and arguably still does. Please remember that each time you exert the privileges you were given, paid for by the despoliation of peoples, economies and cultures ‘over there’. Try not to continue the cycle of abuse …
- People fleeing from severaly disturbed situations need stability not the host’s needy projections. I’m finding nothing more laughable than lengthy pieces from people talking about ‘their feelings’ as a reaction to recent events. Forgive me, but really? IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!
- Remember that stuff about ‘privilege’
I refuse to be utterly cynical. I will be working with many people to organise responses to the current situation, and with a very clear guiding principle, the needs and feelings of people seeking asylum or fleeing persecution matter more than anything. There is a place for all sorts of approaches provided they are coherent and make a real difference to real people.
Practical ways to get started:
- Get the facts – then share them
- Hear refugees speak about their experiences – understand
- City of Sanctuary or Citizens UK are in touch with hosting schemes and can advise on where to start
- Write to your MP asking to increase the refugee resettlement quota
- Sign up for training to lobby your Council to accept at least 50 refugees
- Consider donating money, time or your skills to the work of JCWI – the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has campaigned and advocated for immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees since 1967 – investigate other organisations doing real work in communities with refugees and asylum seekers
- If you attend Church regularly, you might be interested to see what the Church of England has to say …
- Organise events in your community to raise funds for the numerous organisations working in this area and do it over the long term. Here’s an example from Lewisham, South London … https://www.facebook.com/groups/482348105280220/
- Always remember that the refugee experience can be utterly destablising for the people involved. The effects can percolate through generations, they don’t stop the moment the TV cameras turn away to the next subject
- Get informed about the deportation of refugee orphans when they reach the age of 18, and then challenge why it happens
- Chip away at the block of privilege. You must. Because when it falls of its own accord or is torn down, the results won’t be pretty or easily managed.
This list isn’t complete – It will grow and change over time.