An Other World
8th May 2018
The Windrush scandal has seen the lives of Black British citizens destroyed by policy designed to deliver reduced immigration within the UK. Those who had made Britain home, often whilst navigating environments which recognised them only as Other – as not from here – found themselves reminded that Britain didn’t think this was home for them. Deportation, often a threat reserved for refugees and ‘illegal’ immigrants, became a reality to British citizens who knew only of the UK as home. Home, despite the likelihood of being disadvantaged from birth. Home, despite being mis and underrepresented by the media. Home, despite being placed under surveillance through the Prevent Strategy whilst engaging with essential public services such as education and health. Home, despite the ‘hostile environments’ which have shaped your life as the Other long before it caused the resignation of the Home Secretary.
The Other is likely to be cast as needful of our society’s resource and wealth; putting strain on already stretched services. The Other is likely to feared; living lives which are incompatible with Western society. We’ve seen the Other manifested as LGBTQIA, as young, as Irish, as Muslim, as working class and poor, as living with disabilities and as Black. We seldom learn of the plundering from colonial and imperial rule or of the violence of detachment which capitalism dictates.
Borders are everywhere in our lives: not just at the extremities of superpowers such as the European Union, or those of post-imperial epicentres like Britain, nor in detention centres and immigration raids. They are in schools and universities, hospitals and letting agencies, where successive waves of legislation require workers to check the immigration status of students and renters, to turn away anyone who may not meet the rules, and to force them underground.
Being visibly Other means Black and people of colour have always been disproportionally affected. If your name sounds foreign you are less likely to get an interview and a prospective landlord will likely ask for your papers if you look foreign.
Immigration and migration were central during campaigning for the UK’s referendum on EU membership, and the Windrush scandal is the first time since the vote took place that immigrants and families have been framed as victims rather than presumed guilty. The British Government’s failure to reduce immigration numbers, alongside an increase in people seeking asylum has seen money channelled away from public services and into private firms such as Serco and G4S. Deportation and detention of the Other come at a high cost.
As did the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Both Grenfell and Windrush unmasked the ugly realities which can await the Other.
The story of Grenfell is already being reshaped as a real life impact of a disappearing local news source, that no-one was no-one there locally to pick up the story. This might have been the case but, residents had voiced concerns over housing and social policy and over safety of their homes. Had stories where complex issues like housing, inequality, race and class intersect been deemed newsworthy, without the tragedy, this might not have happened.
The Windrush scandal could be provide an opportunity for us to look inwardly and reflect. For the Scottish Government to consider pushing for more than a humane immigration system in favour of the ‘hostile environment’ and to recognise its own struggle with Othering.
The Black ‘Other’ is both hyper visible and invisible in Scotland. Census data documents those who can be documented, the undocumented are noticeable in other ways. Both however, remain noticeably absent in Scottish public life. Erasure of the existence of the Other happens at home without the need for physical borders.
Scotland’s current narrative insists upon its Exceptionalism, gently guided by an emphasis on citizenship not ethnicity. By recognising the attitudes which exist in our society which allowed the death of Sheku Bayu in police custody and the death of an unnamed detainee at our own detention centre, Dungavel, mirror those attitudes of the British Government, Scotland could be exceptional.
The backlash against racist law and policies which have been upheld and ingrained into our institutions and society could well demonstrate the beginnings of a shift, a turning. Perhaps, we are now ready to face the ‘hostile environments’ we have created for each other and will build futures which show we have listened to the stories of the Other and will not remain complicit in our silence.