Here is a thing I wrote for a portfolio at the end of my recent long placement. Written as if addressed to that placement’s community, it is nonetheless topical, so I wonder whether anyone might find it interesting:
I’m a foreigner in these parts.
I grew up in north Essex, and more recently I call myself a Londoner. I’m not from here. Yet despite this, or maybe because of it, I have been made very welcome. The welcome I’ve found in Old Trafford — at the centre and the church, and ‘round about the area — has been, warm, genuine and friendly. I have noticed, to my delight, that this is nothing remarkable here.
This area is one of constant welcome and farewell. For a long time, this has been a place of migration. That’s a word I almost hesitated to use. Yet in Old Trafford you know how wonderful it is to be able to welcome all sorts of different people into your community. You see the benefits of rich diversity and enthusiastically embrace it. My time experiencing this first hand makes me all the more sad about the way migration is often talked about. I saw a large poster on the way into Manchester recently, near Salford Central. It bore a picture of a UK passport, turned into an open door, and the words ‘Turkey (population 76 million) is joining the EU’. The text seems to be reasonably accurate: Turkey’s population is over 79 million, and they are in the process of joining the EU (although this process started in 2005 and still has a Very Long Way to go). We know what the implication of the poster is: that staying in the EU will allow a large number of foreigners to ‘come over here’, which would be Dangerous. This sort of idea is so common now, that if each of us thinks about it we’ve quite probably all thought like this before, even if only briefly. I once heard a woman (whose parents, I knew, migrated here from the Caribbean), say to someone, about an Asian newcomer who was vexing her, “they think they own this country”. The common narrative about migration makes it so easy to forget ourselves, and to think like this.
The question I would like to ask of this would be: who does own this country? As far back as we know, all my family has been born in England or Wales. Do we really think that I have any more claim to this country than that vexed woman? Then why would she have any more claim than the Asian newcomer? When you think about it, the idea that I have any more right to any part of this country by virtue of where I was born (or worse, where my ancestors were born) doesn’t make much sense. The relatively modern idea of nation-states and nationality, if it ever made sense, doesn’t any more. I suppose the idea of nationality is mostly that groups of similar people would rule themselves. Well, what counts as similar? Would even your street constitute one nation? Why should I, a man from north Essex, have any more right to live in Salford than a woman from Tehran might?
The idea of a ‘scapegoat’ comes from a ritual practised in ancient times in the Jewish Temple, where the sins of all the community would be symbolically heaped upon a goat and it would be exiled from the town. Today migrants are our scapegoats: too many people is why the NHS is struggling to cope, too many foreigners is why there aren’t enough jobs and somehow also why the social security system is crumbling. Do we really believe this is entirely true? That the NHS’s problems aren’t something to do with systematic asset-stripping and privitisation? That our social security isn’t crumbling because it is woefully underfunded while multinational companies and multimillionaires pay shocklingly little tax?
Should we think of someone as ‘not us’ because they come from a different place? You have the opportunity to make a good decision — you have the pleasure of welcoming lots of newcomers in Old Trafford. You know what their lives are like. You see even a little of how they are treated. Many of you have lived those lives, or your parents have. Long may the loving community I’ve seen here continue to celebrate our common humanity.