Today was the One Day Without Us National Day of Action to celebrate the contributions migrants make to the UK.
For me, it was more a day of inaction; the past week has been very busy, and I have been out every evening for the last five nights at either rehearsals or social appointments, which left me more than a bit deflated today.
It has been busy in other ways, too. I had a few ideas that will bear further exploration and development. I made a list of all the competitions and other deadlines I have, and I essentially need to complete one piece a week for twelve weeks, which is, er, a bit on the ambitious side. I finished a decent draft of a piece for solo horn, only to realise that the competition it was for was only for people younger than I am; bother. Well, eleven pieces in eleven weeks, then, and I’ve sent the horn piece off to a former horn teacher of mine to have a look. The priorities this week will be a piece for Juice vocal ensemble’s visit to Aberdeen, making bread with the sourdough starter I was given by friends, and actually going to Aberdeen.
I feel a bit odd about today. I am an immigrant to the UK. I am the grandchild of other immigrants: two of my grandparents weren’t born in Canada, where I was born.
Because of my privilege as a white person, descended from a British grandparent, born in a Commonwealth country, familiar with Christianity as a culture, and speaking English as a first language, I was able to move to the UK relatively easily: first visiting under a Working Holidaymaker’s visa, then moving here properly under a UK Ancestry permit and eventually applying for, and being granted, Indefinite Leave to Remain. I did all of this back when it cost three figures rather than four, and despite my tendency to send in application forms at the very last possible minute, I never had any problem: I was not treated with suspicion.
I am told, sometimes, that this makes me the “good kind” of immigrant. The implications for what constitutes the “bad kind” of immigrant, then, are deeply prejudiced: presumably, a darker-skinned person than myself, or someone who isn’t Christian, or speaks more languages than I do, or doesn’t have UK ancestry. Well, that isn’t “concerns about immigration”; it’s racism.
The other line, of course, is the one about the balance of contributions vs receipts. But that’s based on assumptions, too: I have never claimed benefits, but I waited until I could get home student status to go to university, and then I got a full fee scholarship which could have gone to another student. I’ve been entitled to use the NHS since I arrived and I have certainly made use of that. I pay my National Insurance, but I don’t earn enough to pay any income tax. Some of my contributions have been difficult to quantify, but I wouldn’t really like to add everything and see how the balance sheet looks.
And that’s why I’m a bit uncomfortable about #1daywithoutus: it’s to “celebrate the contributions” of migrants. I appreciate the solidarity, but — well, my own ability to live here was facilitated by privilege, not contributions. And immigrants are human beings; our value is not based in our contribution to society, whether that contribution is economically measurable or not.
But I suppose that in a culture that is currently very aware of a perceived lack of resources, the challenge of convincing everyone that immigrants are people, and therefore have innate worth, might be too great. I can see that focusing on a message about the contributions we make might seem like a way to reach the sort of people who think I’m a “good” immigrant because I’m white and I speak English well.
I just wish it weren’t necessary.