Having recently been voted 2016’s British public’s favourite book by Books Are My Bag readers, it is obvious that The Good Immigrant is an important title for readers of today, particularly if we consider all that has occurred within the year. With a rise in fascism, racial attacks and a more diligent stance on immigration in the UK, it is an understatement that a book considering the sociological implications of being a BAME in current Britain is thought-provoking.
When I refer to a BAME, I obviously refer to the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community within Britain, and this is very much “a document of what it means to be a person of colour” in Britain today. Incorporating twenty-one essays by writers working across literature and the media, the book highlights the standards by which immigrants – first or second generation, refugees and asylum seekers – are accepted into, or have been arbitrated to be separate from the predominant white culture that prevails in the country.
This book was ignited by a comment below an interview in the Guardian, and Nikesh Shukla’s crowdfunded project stemmed from the “constant anxiety we feel as people of colour to justify our space, to show that we have earned our place at the table”. Against the locale of Brexit antagonism Shukla points to “the backwards attitude to immigration and refugees, the systemic racism that runs through this country to this day”.
And Shukla has kept to a fine job of compiling and editing this title. The spectrum of race from which those in this book speak from is broad. For Wei Ming Kam, “being a model minority is code for being on perpetual probation,” highlighting the sheer lack of representation of Chinese-British women across the media. Reni Eddo-Lodge claims “It is up to you to make your own version of blackness in any way you can – trying on all the different versions, altering them until they fit.”
Chimene Suleyman, poet and writer, ascertains British cultural ignorance to historical violence: “It is there in the white men and women who do not understand, to the point of frustration, why we still walk with the noose of our ancestors around our necks, as we cannot comprehend how they do not carry the indignity of their ancestors tying it there.” This essay is in fact rather hard-hitting and, alone, makes the book worth a read.
Not only is there an element of gut in writing and publishing these honest accounts of being Black, Chinese, Cypriot, Indian and British, but a clear sense of hope that there are readers out there that can empathise or feel differently towards the issue of immigration than what the recent post-EU referendum mood has suggested. We can only hope that from the response to this title, there has been an element of success. The compilation of diverse essays will hopefully open up a required space of open dialogue about race and racism in the UK, giving the platform to more favourable characters than the likes of Theresa May, Nigel Farage and Michael Gove.
This book is a wonderful, hard-hitting reminder of what it is not be white in what is actually a diversified nation, something we prefer not to acknowledge if we consider media and political representation. Even Shukla’s introduction, in which he considers the word, Namaste, and how it originated and in what way it has been bastardised and indoctrinated with white meaning is stimulating. If there is one book that should be picked up this year, The Good Immigrant is it.