The Good Immigrant is a brilliant collection of stories about being a black, asian or minority ethnic immigrant in Britain. It’s an awesome collection of lots of viewpoints. It’s written by 21 BAME people and I highly recommend giving it a read. I LOVED it.
Some themes include the lack of thought people generally put into their use of language. The missing role models in popular culture. In A Guide to Being Black by Varaidzo, the idea that white people will use the n-word if no black people are around, especially in the context of singing along to rap lyrics, is discussed. I can imagine this happening and those people behaving differently if a person of colour is present. I think this is similar to those people that only behave well because they think God is watching.
…if a white kid raps all the lyrics to ‘Gold Digger’ and there isn’t a black person around to hear it, is it still racist?
There are stories about the conflicting emotions when visiting family abroad – the feeling of not quite fitting in anywhere.
The over riding theme is just of being and feeling OTHER and how shit that can be. There is also plenty of celebration of how great being an immigrant can be. There is joy in these stories as well as sadness and struggle. Some parts have made me laugh, some have made me cry. Sometimes both on the same page. Reading The Good Immigrant just gave me ALL THE THOUGHTS, so apologies if this review is a bit rambling and all over the place!
Of the 20 stories, I didn’t dislike any of them. I loved the story of the unmasking of Kendo Nagasaki. I was heart broken for the Daniel York Loh, the author of Kendo Nagasaki and Me. Many of the stories include the terrible representation of BAME on television, films, and in the media in general. The importance of this is summed up in Window of Opportunity:
Storytelling is the most powerful way to promote our understanding of the world in which we live and the vessel to tell these stories is our media.
I think Bim Adewunmi has it about right in What We Talk About When We Talk About Tokenism:
But it seems obvious to me, a naive layman with beautiful dreams, that there are three steps to writing a good character of colour:
- Write a stonkingly good, well-rounded character
- Make the ‘effort’ to cast a person of colour
- That’s it!
You Can’t Say That! Stories Have to be about White People, by Darren Chetty, is about representations of BAME characters in children’s literature, and is really thought provoking. The idea of books as mirrors and as windows really made me think. I’m already aware of issues like this. I try to buy my children books with a range of characters in. It’s difficult though, and you have to make a real determined effort to find any. (My quick recommendation is Ruby’s Sleepover. The main characters are girls, they are non white and they are brave. My kids love it.) Even with an awareness of the issues I wonder how well I have done. I’m going to audit the children’s bookshelves and I already know I will be disappointed with the results.
A lot of the stories talk of childhoods where they were the only, or one of a handful of non white faces at school. I grew up in an area like this, and I now live in one. My children go to a school where the overwhelming majority of faces are white. This concerns me and I make sure we visit cities often and we have better representation in the books we read and TV we watch, but I still don’t know if I could be doing anything else. Does even asking that make me a massive twat? I can’t move though, I guess that would be one answer.
There are stories that detail abuse received on the streets of Britain, particularly in And UK Fashion by Sabrina Mahfouz. It’s disgusting and shameful. It’s good to be reminded about this. As a white person, in a white family, living in a mostly white area, it’s too easy to forget that these incidents are a daily occurrence for some people. This has been a problem in the past, and I can only imagine what it must be like in twatface Brexit Britain. I welcome being reminded about other people’s reality. In fact, I think it’s vital to be forced out of the cosy echochamber we can set up for ourselves and understand more about the real world.
Perpetuating Casteism, by Sarah Sahim, is story about the Indian caste system:
My family never concerned themselves with casteism and neither did I: we didn’t discriminate or abide by its rules. However, this ‘caste-blind’ attitude is extremely harmful and you cannot and must not turn a blind eye to injustices that your people are responsible for. I have the freedom to be wilfully ignorant, but others, especially Dalits, cannot afford to do so.
When I was younger I thought being colour blind was a good enough approach to combat racism. Now I know more about it and realise this is just ignoring a problem by not addressing it. Only people who benefit from white supremacy can take this dismissive viewpoint and I strive to be better than complacent, and to teach my kids that immigration and having a multicultural society is a great, positive thing. I found this TED talk by Mellody Hobson to be a really informative:
My absolute favourite story was Shade by Salena Godden. I can’t stop thinking about this story. It’s beautifully written and devastating. I urge you to get hold of this book and read it.
Human colour is the colour I’m truly interested in, the colour of your humanity. May the size of your heart and the depth of your soul be your currency. Welcome aboard my Good Ship. Let us sail to the colourful island of mixed identity. You can eat from the cooking pot of mixed culture and bathe in the cool shade of being mixed-race. There is no need for a passport. There are no borders. We are all citizens of the world. Whatever shade you are, bring your light, bring your colour, bring your music and your books, your stories and your histories, and climb aboard. United as a people we are a million majestic colours, together we are a glorious stained-glass window. We are building a cathedral of otherness, brick by brick and book by book. Raise your glass of rum, let’s toast to the minorities who are the majority.
Also, literally no one buys clothes from Amazon. My tiny bugbear in an otherwise superb book. And final thought, if you haven’t read Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla, go and read it now – it’s a very enjoyable read.