Are You A ‘Good’ or A ‘Bad’ Immigrant?

Bristol Festival of Ideas organized the launch of ‘The Good Immigrant’ – a collection of 21 essays by black, Asian and minority ethnic writers in the UK working across literature and the media, conceptualised and edited by Nikesh Shukla.

Nikesh Shukla facilitated the talk and was joined by three other writers featured in the collection: Darren Chetty, Coco Khan and Himesh Patel. When introducing the book’s context, Shukla said the idea ignited after reading an angry comment to an interview in The Guardian, and all this before the EU referendum took place. He decided to crowdfund his project rather than go through a traditional publishing route, understanding the need of such a venture. And while many believed we live in a post-racial world and that we have achieved colour/race-blindness in a true multiculturalism, Brexit showed the bleak truth. Life in post-Brexit Britain has attached an even more purgatory note to “foreigners”, thus raising even more urgency to launching such a collection.

The Guardian has deemed it ‘an unflinching dialogue about race and racism in the UK’, and deservedly so.

The division of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigrant, uprooted in society, is insulting to all immigrants. The essays examine the British national culture, and document what it means to be a person of colour in this society today. All 21 writers speak about their own experiences of ‘other’ and the effects of others’ conclusions and judgments based on a name, a skin colour, hair, and other features in appearance. By dissecting both ‘bigger’ and ‘smaller’ forms of racism, ‘The Good Immigrant’ addresses many themes, from identity politics of language (Nikesh Shukla’s essay speaks of his need to develop three distinct voices), to cultural appropriation and belonging. As Coco Khan said during the talk, all beauty lies in micro details. The micro is not necessarily minor.

Darren Chetty spoke about his experience as a primary school teacher, and the issue of race arising in a lesson on storytelling. A child interrupts another – a recently arrived Nigerian boy – who was reciting a story about his uncle in Nigeria with the words: ‘Stories need to be about white people’.

How is one to live authentically in such an environment? One answer may be: by raising your voice and sharing your experience of ‘other’ with others. Or as Nikesh Shukla beautifully summed up the beauty and moral of his project by quoting a line from Zadie Smith’s ‘White Teeth’: “There was England, a gigantic mirror, and there was Irie, without reflection’. ‘The Good Immigrant’ serves as a reflection of England’s gigantic mirror of multiculture and opens space for further discussion.