Title: The Good Immigrant
Editor: Nikesh Shukla
First Published: 7th March 2019
Genre: Non Fiction
How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport?
Or be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of a terrorist’? How does it feel to have words from your native language misused, misappropriated and used aggressively towards you? How does it feel to hear a child of colour say in a classroom that stories can only be about white people? How does it feel to go ‘home’ to India when your home is really London? What is it like to feel you always have to be an ambassador for your race? How does it feel to always tick ‘Other’?
Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – however many generations you’ve been here – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms.
Inspired by discussion around why society appears to deem people of colour as bad immigrants – job stealers, benefit scroungers, undeserving refugees – until, by winning Olympic races or baking good cakes, or being conscientious doctors, they cross over and become good immigrants, editor Nikesh Shukla has compiled a collection of essays that are poignant, challenging, angry, humorous, heartbreaking, polemic, weary and – most importantly – real.
I read this book in March 2021 and I’m writing this review the day after the government’s report on race and discrimination in the UK has been published, claiming that racism is rarely the direct cause of racial disparity in the country. Instead, factors such as geographical location, socio-economic status, family, religion and culture had a greater impact on life chances than racism. The Good Immigrant therefore seems to be an absolutely seminal read given the findings of this report as the book highlights that none of these factors are discrete, they are intersectional and there are always many factors at play which leads to racism in its many forms.
The Good Immigrant is a fantastic collection of essays from British figures all hailing from multiple ethic minority backgrounds. They explored issues such as skin colour, fashion, stereotypes, black barbershop culture in multiple countries, casting in film and TV, job opportunities, education and prospects, to name just a few.
Each chapter was relatively short at around 10 pages and provided a fantastic snapshot of life in the UK. When we think “diversity”, I think it’s easy just to gravitate towards one particular group; this book celebrated diversity in all its senses and I felt like I learned a lot about other people’s experiences in this country.
My favourite chapter was by Darren Chetty entitled “You Can’t Say That” as it was about literature and education, both of which I am personally heavily invested in. The chapter can be read here in its earlier form before it was published in the book. this chapter highlighted to me just how important diversity in literature is. So much of literature, from best sellers to the texts featured on the GCSE syllabus, as seen mostly through the prism of the white experience, which ethnic minority children take as the norm. It has emboldened me to ensure that within my role in education I help to expose the young people I work with to multiple authors and experiences so that they themselves can see their lives reflected within literature.
I highly recommend this book to everyone, no matter you background. It is an incredibly important read for our time.