Thursday, 10 November 2016

The Aftermath

I am an immigrant. I have spent almost my entire life as an immigrant. Interestingly, I am not always recognised as an immigrant. But I am declaring today that I am an immigrant.

Britain, where I live now as an EU citizen, has voted for Brexit and the USA, of which I am a naturalised citizen, has voted for Donald Trump. This is deeply saddening for me. I belive that these votes stem from a long-standing mistreatment of citizens. There are great numbers of people in these two vastly wealthy countries who are ignored by their elected officials and who correctly believe that they are not represented in their governments. We cannot blame these people for knowing this and for wanting change.

We can and we must hold accountable the politicians who drove these campaigns on rhetoric that attacked our most vulnerable community members. We must reject the fear, racism, sexism, islamophobia, homophobia and xenophobia that has been accepted as a part of politics today. These sentiments do not represent the Americans or British people that I know. They do not represent the multicultural and diverse students who sit in my classrooms. They do not represent my neighbours in London. They do not represent the people I grew up with.

This harmful rhetoric played on the fears and genuine needs of people, however, and we, as societies, cannot continue to ignore the voices of these people. We must reject bigotry and hatred but we must support one another, even those with whom we disagree. Even those who voted for walls and immigration moratoriums. We must stand together.

For me, that means insisting that I am an immigrant while recognising my enormous privilege. I am white and I speak English as my first language. These play so far in my favour that I am often told that I'm not 'really' an immigrant. No? Allow me to disillusion you.

Boston is filled with Irish Americans. People who wear green on St. Patrick's Day and eat corned beef and cabbage. They routinely tell me, 'I'm Irish too!' I love that they are proud of their heritage. I am proud to be part of an Irish diaspora that runs generations deep all around the world. But the fact remains that they have never held a resident alien card; never, as a teenager, have an interview with an immigration official, raised their hand and sworn an oath of allegiance to the United States of America; never been called an illegal alien by their friends; never been told that they talk funny; never been told to go home.

Imagine if I were a person of colour. Or from a country other than Ireland. Or spoke English as an additional language. Or were Muslim. If I feel vulnerable as a white, Irish, English-speaking woman, I can only imagine what a non-native English-speaking, Muslim, woman of colour must feel.

There are many things I cannot change today, although I might want to. What I can do is stand up and be counted. I can say clearly that when you speak out against immigrants, you speak out against me. You may say, and many people do say to me, 'Oh, but I don't mean you.' I say that you do mean me. If you object to Syrians fleeing war, then you object to me and my family who have immigrated twice, not because of war, but because the opportunities were better in another country. I am an economic migrant, twice over.

When you say that Donald Trump only speaks crudely, then you say that my experience as a woman in a world dominated by men has less value than the male experience. You say that when men have catcalled me, grabbed me, physically threatened me, stalked me and told me just what they would like to do to me that it was their right to do so and that I am in the wrong. You say this, even if you are a woman. Sadly, many women have internalised the misogyny so ingrained in our society. How could we not?

When you say that our countries are being overrun by immigrants who steal your jobs and only come for government benefits, you mean me. You mean me, who teaches your children, who has waited tables, who volunteers in your communities, who donates to charity, who supports the NHS and who pays taxes. More taxes than Donald Trump.

I am so lucky to have been born where I was, when I was, in my pale skin, and to my parents who lived the American dream. They went to the US as students, built a small business, bought a home and raised a family. This privilege is a responsibility. It requires me to listen and to work so that others can have the same opportunities that I have. It is not easy. It will require sacrifice.

So, no. I don't believe the world is ending. I am hopeful. I believe that now is the time for us all, as a friend of mine wrote recently, 'to shut up and listen.'

But before I listen, I declare: I am with you. I am here. I am an immigrant.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post, Rhodesia. With love from Berlin.

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