Saturday, 27 May 2017

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla, is a collection of essays by 20 something BAME writers including Riz Ahmed, Himesh Patel, Bim Adewunmi; about what it means to be an immigrant/person of colour/ethnic minority in the UK today. What it’s like to be the only POC in your community; the significance of your name , your hair to your identity; stereotypes – are all subjects that come up more than once. As the essays draw on personal experiences, not only do the writers have contradictory opinions but, each theme is dealt with completely differently. Some comedic , others more academic, a couple of travel pieces thrown in there which altogether; showed just how complex race and identity are.

I’ve had this this post has been sitting in drafts for months now because the book had such an impact on me and I wanted to do it justice if I was ever going to talk about it. Well, months went by and I'd put too much pressure on myself and alas, I couldn’t write a cohesive review. So I did what I do best - I made a list. Here are just a few of the best things about The Good Immigrant.

- Some of the essays genuinely made me laugh out loud (shout out to Riz Ahmed’s essay #LOLS - I hope you have FOMO right now, go and read it), a couple made me very emotional, angry at times I think that more or less reflects the experiences of a POC. Sometimes I experience casual racism and the only response I have, is to laugh how ridiculousness it is. And then there are days where, you can't laugh it off. And when thinking back to those days is still painful to think about. The reading experience truly reflects this living one.

- Musa Okwana writes: “Society deems us bad immigrants – job stealers, benefit-scroungers, girlfriend-thieves, refugees – until we cross over in their consciousness, through popular culture, winning races, baking good cakes, being conscientious doctors, to become good immigrants.”
What joins the essays together is this idea of how people of colour, immigrants are “othered” by our own society and only accepted when we have something to offer. Essentially immigrants are just people, living our lives with a much higher standard put on us. As we're not white, we seem to have something to prove, and even when we prove it, we’re the exception not the rule and never truly accepted. Though I know this to be true, I haven't really seen the immigrant experience explained in such a  black and white way - pun intended.

- “ I have three voices … I talk in Guj-lish my normal voice and white literary part. I don't know whether my normal voice where I feel most comfortable, most safe, even feels like me anymore. I've splintered into personas.” – Nikesh Shukla

I read that with an 😯face because I have 5000 voices tooooo?! I'll explain. When I was 8 and realised that a) I was the only black person in my school apart from my brother and b) I had a very strong Ghanaian accent which made me stand out even more, I whited up that situation and quickly adopted an accent for school. And then over time my genuine accent changed as did the one I put on in that, it was no longer intentional. And yet the voice I use to talk to myself is a weird mesh of all of them? So now, I have like 3 accents I use interchangeably without thinking about it.

Now, I have NEVER heard anyone talk about this - I thought it was just me. And there were many other moments like this. I know that our identity is shaped by what we go through but understanding how and articulating it even to yourself can be hard and frustrating, especially when you can’t understand why you are the way you are. Being able to relate to so many of these essays helped me to understand myself– which 👏is 👏why 👏we👏 need 👏more 👏diversity👏 in 👏literature! Anyways.

I learnt a lot. I felt like I was listening to other people and learning about the experiences of other POC in the UK. Simple. There are people from other ethnic minorities whose struggles I hadn’t given much thought too.

The Good Immigrant has been doing really well and it's so well deserved. But I still feel disappointed when I hear people things along the lines of  “ it's a really important book given our political climate".  Its as if listening to the experiences of POC is this topical thing.  It makes you woke, it gets you retweets. Racism obviously didn’t start in 2016 + these writers are writing from a lifetime of experiences. So I reckon it should just be considered, necessary, required reading from now on. I'm also super excited because it has paved the way for many more books like it!



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