Tuesday, 1 September 2015
On moving home...
We moved house on Friday. And while is was, in some respects, pretty stressful and just a tad chaotic there are some things that it didn't involve. We didn't need need permission from any sort of public authority to make the move. It was our decision, we negotiated the sales and purchases and made appropriate arrangements to box up all our stuff and shift it to the new house. Arriving at our new place, we were greeted pleasantly (except for one person and in her defence I had parked in her spot), given helpful advice and generally made welcome in our new little community.
We moved because we thought that the home we had was too big, too expensive to run and that we rather wanted to have money to spend on nice stuff rather than gas or electricity bills (not to mention the ever escalating council tax). Others have more pressing reasons to move - civil war, rape, pillage, murder, destruction, destitution, the collapse of an economy. Quite a few just lift their head up from the despair of the life they're living and tell themselves that there's something, somewhere, better.
Right now we're screaming about 'migration'. It is a confused debate flipping from rampant xenophobia to demands that tens of thousands of refugees (or migrants or asylum seekers or whatever we're calling them this week) are allowed into the UK. And that's just the Labour leadership candidates. In the wider world we witness calls for "an Australian-style points system" - the latest panacea to the problem with those people who have very good reasons to move to somewhere else than the war zone or economic catastrophe where they live right now. Or else just endless repetition of the 'we're full' mantra that is too often just a convenient fig leaf for 'we don't want those coloured folk coming over here, we've too many all ready'.
This racism is what drives the ghastly reactions to reports of how London's population is a lot less white than it was in grandma's day (and I can say this because, unlike most white Londoners, my grandma really did live in London back in those days). Why exactly does this matter? How does being a darker skin tone somehow make someone less of a Londoner - or for that matter less of a Mancunian, Scouse or Geordie? Isn't it the case that being English isn't defined by skin colour but by living and contributing to the things that make England great?
If you peel back the skin of Britain's greatness, look under the bonnet of our nation, you'll quickly find that the contribution of people who left somewhere else to make a new life here - whether through flight or that maligned (and I think pretty wonderful) idea, "economic migration". I don't need to make a list, you know the names and the peoples - from Huguenots through Irish, Jews, Spaniards and Italians through to Indians, Jamaicans, Chinese and Ukranians. No-one can say honestly that these peoples haven't contributed to the wonderful nation that is Britain, the great country that is England and the brilliant cities of London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Bradford.
Latterly those new Britons have come from new places - Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma, Romania and Latvia. Is there any reason - any reason at all - why these newcomers won't make the same positive contribution as the newcomers who've arrived here from across the world in the last thousand years? Yet our debate - right across the political spectrum - seems set on trying to paint today's immigrants as a problem, as unfitted to our society, as exploiters of our goodwill and as corrupters of our fine society.
I do feel we must mind about the impact of new arrivals on a place but this is just the same as the folk in Cullingworth worried that the big new housing development means in 'won't be a village any more'. It will still be a village, a little bigger but still recognisably the place it was. For that national picture we need to do the same - the arrivals add to our nation, to some degree change our nation meaning it isn't quite what it was, but their contribution still adds and make the sustaining of our civilisation possible. It matters that we teach them the history and culture of the place - those who oppose the teaching of English history and English literature merely demonstrate the social and cultural iconoclasm that is multiculturalism.
I moved home. It was a pain but I'm now delightfully settled in the new house. Why do we want to put so many barriers in the way of others who just want to do what I've just done - move home? I hear you saying it's not that same, that somehow moving from Asmara to Penge isn't the same as moving from Basingstoke to Bromley (or as we've just done from one side of Cullingworth to the other). But how exactly is it different except in those divisions we've erected, the borders, barriers and boundaries. And in our distrust of those strangers from across the world with their funny ways, strange food and odd clothes.
I moved home and am treated as a new friend. Too many others are moving - often for the most painful and cruel reasons - and are treated as a threat, a problem, even a curse. This is wrong and diminishes us as a civilised, decent society. We should stop it.