Racism and Immigration Policy

Speech on behalf of RIC Aberdeen, St Andrew’s Day rally, 29 November 2014.

As an internationalist, I’d like to speak to you about racism and immigration policy. It’s something I have a lot of experience with.

As you can hear I’m not Scottish – but I’ve been here for 10 years, and I’m in the process of applying for permanent residence. As part of that process, I took the Life in the UK test on Thursday. It’s required for anyone from outside the EU who wants to settle in Britain.

The test is supposed to show that you understand UK values and culture. There are questions like, what percentage of the population is Sikh? How often does the Cabinet meet? What’s the limit for small claims disputes?

You could all answer those questions, right?

At the test centre, I was the only white person in the waiting room. These are not people who just got off the plane – everyone applying for settlement has lived in the UK for at least 5 years. The study guide is an exercise in racism and intimidation, switching between insultingly obvious information, pointless facts they’ll never need, and stark warnings about radicalisation and terrorism.

And then there’s the test. Questions are worded to trick people – especially if English isn’t their first language.

And who’s from outside the EU who doesn’t speak English as their first language? People who are the ethnic majority in Asia, Africa, South America, but ethnic minorities here.

So let’s make them feel stupid and test them on arbitrary things that most British people wouldn’t know, and charge them £80 for the privilege. That’s the fairness of Theresa May. That’s the fairness of immigration policy in the UK. Enshrining racism in law.

More broadly, the test assumes there’s a single ‘British’ culture that can be communicated in a book. That if you’re from outside the EU you need to be told that it’s a good idea to be a good neighbour, that it’s a good idea to treat people with fairness, that it’s a good idea to help others. As if these are totally new concepts for anyone.

The Life in the UK test basically institutionalises someone’s warped ideas about what minority ethnic people are like.

Well I say that people are people. What unites us is our humanity and our desire to have decent, happy lives. It’s not rocket science. But somehow the ruling classes can’t accept that people are people, no matter what colour their skin is or how much money they have. No matter where or if they work, who their friends are, what religion they practice, how they dress, who they love, or how they butter their toast in the morning.

The ‘problem’ of immigration has been in the news a lot lately. Instead of blaming greedy bankers and bosses for our economic troubles, it’s convenient to blame immigrants. They’re welcome when there’s lots of unpleasant work to do, but as soon as the government needs a scapegoat immigrants cease to be human.

The latest issue is an immigrant ‘baby boom.’ I guess they forgot that foreigners like to have families too. So even though immigrants’ kids are born in the UK, they’re really still foreign. Maybe if we deny them healthcare, they’ll go away.

It’s starting to sound a lot like my country of birth. The US could teach the class on the advanced practice of institutionalised racism. This week isn’t the first time a white police officer’s killed a young man of colour without any consequences.

The rioting in the US is not just about Michael Brown – it’s about the relentless everyday discrimination and domination of an entire population. My fear is that Scotland and the UK could go down the same path if we’re not careful.

That’s why events like this are so important. Racism flourishes when we ignore it. It flourishes on fear and ignorance.
But when we talk about it and look at it, racism loses its power and appeal. It’s exposed for what it truly is – hateful and pointless, something to be eradicated. Our future is no place for racism.

Thirty years ago, Aberdeen gave Nelson Mandela freedom of the city. It refused to ignore apartheid’s insult to humanity, and in making this symbolic gesture, in speaking out against racism, joined in the worldwide movement to end it.

We can do the same today, on the UN day of solidarity with Palestine. The state of Israel has become another apartheid regime, and it’s up to the global community to keep exposing it, to keep speaking out against it, to keep up the pressure to finally end Israeli apartheid.

As we celebrate St Andrew’s Day, let’s remember that St Andrew was a Palestinian fisherman. Whether you believe in the religious aspect or not, I think it’s significant that Scotland chose a foreigner for its patron saint back in the 14th century. Now, in the 21st century, there is absolutely no reason for racism against Palestinians or any other group of people.

Thank you.

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