A bold statement, huh? This was the general response I got from my friends and family after explaining what my first LAPP article would be about. As a first generation immigrant in the UK, I understand the implicit rules surrounding the way we’re supposed to talk about life in this country; as those given the opportunity to be part of this great country, we are to be grateful regardless of the difficulties or injustices we face here. After all, if it’s so bad here, why don’t we go back to where we came from?
When you see the questioning of our rights to criticise the establishment we live in, it’s a stark reminder that privilege is reserved for those who are ‘British’- because to many (whether conscious or not) being British equates to whiteness. Regardless of whether we were born here or have immigrated, we are forever guests in a place that we see as home. This is nothing new or revolutionary and neither is the response thrown at our concerns, ‘Immigrant communities need to do more to integrate and adopt our values’.
Integration; seemingly the solve-all to relations between host countries and immigrants. According to the Collins Dictionary, integration is defined as ‘the act of amalgamating an ethnic or religious group within an existing community’. What exactly qualifies one as integrated? Speaking the host language and being involved within the local community seem to be common requirements. However, these requirements place all the responsibility on the immigrant. The host community isn’t willing to adapt to immigrants; to acknowledge our cultures so that they aren’t left behind at borders, to understand that our languages are of value and that the presence of an accent does not equal lesser intelligence.
We need to be aware of the language and imagery used when we discuss immigration. As we’ve seen in the case of America with Trump referring to Mexicans as rapists and criminals, immigrants aren’t afforded individuality or an identity in the media. This situation isn’t unique to the US; our own national media in the UK is guilty of misrepresentation. A study carried out by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, ‘Bulgarians and Romanians in the National Press‘ found that words commonly used to describe Romanians centered around antisocial behaviour. If the narrative driven by mainstream media is preparing the general public to view immigrants through a critical and hostile lens, then true integration is near impossible; you can never be a part of something that doesn’t accept you.
So when I say Britain wants assimilation rather than integration, I’m talking about the hostility towards visible foreignness. I’m talking about the way having our ancestral flags in our homes is taken as a sign of ‘belonging elsewhere’, like being more is a reason to be made to feel less. I’m talking about how our white counterparts can claim their percentage of foreignness to feel ‘exotic’.
Real integration is acceptance. Undeniably, there is a responsibility to be able to effectively communicate and to positively impact the local communities where we immigrate too, but this isn’t exclusive to immigrants. To my fellow immigrants, we shouldn’t be afraid to live our truths and to tell our stories; we are enough as we are, accents and aso ebi included. Just because we’re not understood doesn’t mean we’re behind- they just haven’t caught up yet.
Written by Olamide Tolu-Ogunpolu