ICYMI: In the UK, white immigration is an asset – while everyone else is undesirable

Interesting commentary on immigration narratives and some of the contradictions with respect to white versus visible minority immigrants and their descendants:

A conversation that has stayed with me came after the Brexitvote in 2016, when a French friend, who is white, told me of her anxiety at the outcome. There were already signs of the mounting xenophobia against foreigners of all descriptions that was to come in the aftermath of the referendum. “It’s like people are seeing us as immigrants!” she said with disgust. “As if we don’t belong here.”

My immediate thought was, “welcome”. I’m not an immigrant but I have always been seen as one. The response to any perceived transgression I make towards a public person or policy is frequently: “If you don’t like it here, then leave.” White immigrants, and especially those from western Europe, had on the whole never before felt as if this prejudice applied to them, because “immigration” – as a contentious political issue – has never been about people coming from other countries, and it’s never been about the movement required to get here. “Immigration” has always been a byword for the problem of people who are racialised as undesirable, whether they were born here or not.

The hypocrisy is embedded in the history. I often wonder how it was that the arrival of the SS Windrushin 1948, carrying fewer than 500 West Indians specifically invited to come and work in the UK, was and remains such a symbol of profound soul searching for the national identity. That event stands in stark contrast to the more than 200,000 eastern Europeans and 100,000 Irish immigrants who came to Britain during the same period. The former is regarded as a turning point in the fabric of the nation’s identity, the latter is barely remembered at all.

But this illogicality in our narratives around immigration is not confined to the past. I have spent most of my life living in leafy southwest London, an area often described as “quintessentially English”, helped by the presence of rowing on the Thames at Putney and Hammersmith, lawn tennis at Wimbledon, botanical gardens at Kew and Henry VIII’s old hunting grounds in the deer-populated Richmond Park. These areas are still perceived as unchanged by mass immigration.

Dig a little deeper, however, and it emerges that locals call this area the “biltong belt” because of the large presence of white South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders. In fact, white immigration has had the same impact as immigration everywhere – provided skilled and unskilled labour to meet economic demand, triggering the arrival of a new wave of biltong-themed shops, and requiring planning to provide the requisite housing; school places; doctors surgery capacity. The difference is that this immigration is never weaponised as a threat to the national heritage, or as a reason for pre-existing communities to flee. This immigration has been largely unproblematic because it is white, English-speaking and less visibly “other”.

The notion of “other” is in itself deeply ironic. The history of immigration law is a history of government attempts to limit the movement of people who had not long before been British subjects as imperial citizens. As Rab Butler, former home secretary, said about the Commonwealth Immigration Act in 1962, these were laws whose “restrictive effect is intended to, and would in fact, operate on coloured people almost exclusively”.

Today’s governments are more subtle in their language. The word “coloured” disappeared from the letter of our legislation but retains its power in effect. Immigration lawyers frequently remark, after visits to immigration detention centres, how few white immigrants can be found there – these are warehousing facilities for the still undesirable African, Asian, South American and other non-white people. In my work, I have interviewed many who were arrested in dawn raids while in the process of lawfully regularising their immigration status.

The most blatant examples of contemporary racism – the Windrush scandal for example – have exposed a historical continuity that infects the entire immigration system. The “root cause” of the scandal, Wendy Williams, inspector of constabulary, found, can be traced back to the “racial motivations” of immigration laws at their most racialised birth.

The sooner we acknowledge that legacy, and dispense with the fantasy that immigration has nothing to do with race, the sooner we will be able to consign this ongoing, abhorrent injustice to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.

Source: In the UK, white immigration is an asset – while everyone else is undesirable

When is an immigrant not an immigrant? When they’re rich

Nice piece on the somewhat semantic distinction between immigrants and expatriates, or more accurately, between migrants and expatriates:

Our attitudes towards immigration involve some stunning doublespeak. My own family tells the story quite well. My grandparents’ generation, of Africans on one side and Jews on the other, were “immigrants” who created “diasporas”. My parents’ generation are British, and when they lived in Brunei, shortly before I was born, enjoyed the label reserved for British immigrants – “expatriates”. Although, since expats are considered glamorous and successful, there is a question as to whether black British people are allowed to fall into that category. I know this because trolls, who don’t seem to have a problem with British expats per se, point to my having been born as one as evidence that in my case, it disqualifies me from Britishness, something I’ve never heard levelled at my white contemporaries.

The difference between expats and immigrants is that, while the latter are a problem, the former are – its celebrants tell us – British people “embracing a limitless life”. This tends, not surprisingly, to take part in the former empire. Most British expats are concentrated in Australia, Spain, the US and Canada. The best place of all, according to research by HSBC bank – itself an expatriate colonial invention – is Singapore (good for health, education and improving your earnings).

The limitless life has, however, been experiencing a few unfortunate limits of late. It was a deeply unfortunate juxtaposition that the very day on which the culture secretary, Jeremy Wright was boasting Britain’s “toughest internet laws in the world”, a former British expat in Dubai was reported to have been arrested for comments she made on Facebook. Laleh Shahravesh was detained for calling her ex-husband’s new wife a horse. We should never condone trolling, but I would personally find that pretty complimentary compared to the the social media abuse I get on an average day.

Brunei, meanwhile, where my parents lived on the British expat circuit, is also putting a real dampener on the limitless life of the British expat, or at least one who is gay or planning to commit adultery or have an abortion, all of which are now punishable by sadistic acts of state-sponsored violence. Protestors have been making a scene outside hotels in which almost nobody can afford to stay, but our stance on British companies and their thousands of staff living and working in Brunei seems to have been quietly left out of the picture.

Maybe that’s because the lack of adherence to human rights standards in our favourite expat destinations poses some difficult questions. The British diaspora – though we never call it that – is seen as a useful tool for making Britain a great trading nation in the world again.

Unsurprisingly, there is zero evidence that the British government is planning to jeopardise all this by taking a more principled position in relation to human rights abuses. It places growing emphasis on the Commonwealth, despite the fact that this club’s failure to hold Brunei’s backward steps in human rights standards is just one of many examples. The United Arab Emirates, which was already in the spotlight after accusing the British academic Matthew Hedges of being a spy last year, has the unique privilege of being the only country in the world in which we have two embassies – one in Abu Dhabi and one in Dubai. Britain is currently defending in the court of appeal its refusal to halt weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in the face of credible international evidence that our arms are helping the Saudis regularly attack civilians in Yemen.

We can have a debate about whether it is right for Britain to enforce human rights standards in other countries as part of an ethical foreign policy. I, like the countless local activists in each of the countries where Britain prop ups abusive regimes, have no problem taking a stance in favour of ethical foreign policies. However, I have yet to hear that our government has decided, through a reasoned process of inquiry and consensus, that we are having a non-ethical one.

But there is a bigger question about immigration here too. We consider British immigrants to be people of means, whether former military personnel once stationed luxuriously in the Raj or today’s corporate lawyers enjoying tax-free living in the Gulf. If we bothered to think about our real view of British immigration, we would probably conclude that immigrants we don’t regard as a problem are those who aren’t poor.

We are generous enough to extend these ideas about immigration to a few other people too. On the day the Home Office announced its settlement scheme for EU migrants, I was speaking to a Dutch banker who has lived in the UK for years. “Will you apply?” I asked him, innocently. He looked at me as if I were a bit simple. “I’m just assuming that, like all these things, there will be an exemption for rich people,” he replied.

He is undoubtedly right. We suspend judgment for all rich immigrants, just as we do for British immigrants – so much so we don’t even call them immigrants. And so I guarantee that when it comes to countries where the immigrants are both rich and Brits, such as Brunei, we will avoid conducting any further analysis at all.

Source: When is an immigrant not an immigrant? When they’re rich