Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is how we’re never taught about colonialism at school beyond “brave explorers discovered a new land” (and there’s so much wrong with that statement it’s hard to know where to start). It’s not just a misplaced white supremacist nostalgia (though it is too often), but also genuine ignorance amongst the majority of white British people that colonialism wasn’t a benign force ‘civilising’ ‘lesser’ countries. Combined with the fact we’re also not taught about black, Indian, African, etc history, even as relates directly to Britain, beyond a little of the black civil rights movement in America, as a culture we see racism as something removed from us, do not face our own history, and, as a result, never deal with it.
Most of the ‘big’ books on racism in culture in recent years have tended to be about the treatment of black people in America (like Rankine’s Citizen or Coates’ Between The World And Me). Whilst they are incredible books that I’d urge you to pick up, the gap in well-publicised, widely-reviewed books about the issue in Britain just adds to (and is a result of) our ignoring and denial of the issue over here.
The Good Immigrant is a collection of twenty-one essays from black, Asian, and minority ethnic writers about what it means to be an immigrant of colour in Britain today, what it means to be ‘other’. The essays range from Riz Ahmed on being typecast as a terrorist at auditions and the airport (which you can read for free here), to Darren Chetty on children of colour in his class telling him stories have to be about white people, to Wei Ming Kam on how being a ‘model minority’ is not the same thing as acceptance, to Chimene Suleyman on the power in a name. And everything in between.
I could very easily write a full review for pretty much every essay, on the questions they raise, the experiences they discuss, the way they are written. But I think, actually, you should experience them individually for yourself. As a whole they open up those experiences white Brits don’t see, so can easily ignore or claim do not exist. They do so with humour, beauty, and anger. If nothing else, this collection lays to rest that absurd idea that publishing/journalism is mostly white purely because they are the best writers we have.
As with all collections like this, there were one or two essays I didn’t think were as good as the others. But nearly all of them were thought-provoking, well-written, and interesting. Although I know it wasn’t the scope of the collection, the only thing I felt was missing was something from a white immigrant, perhaps about physically blending in but still being ‘other’. Given the increasing violence against, for example, Polish people, in Britain, I think it would fit well alongside the other essays in the collection.
This is one of those ‘must-read’ books. It’s powerful, readable, challenging, and important. Pick it up. Now.