Think people are as anti-immigration as the government? Think again.
An independent network of researchers have gathered opinions from diverse communities in Leeds, London and Birmingham – and found that the majority of those surveyed disagreed with the approach used in government campaigns against immigration. The research team also found that the public is uncertain what the government is trying to achieve through these campaigns, with almost a quarter believing that the aim was to increase intolerance.
In response to public concerns about the use of the ‘go home’ van in diverse areas of London and the allegations that immigration checks in London stations targeted non-white travellers for questioning, a group of independent researchers have taken to the streets of multicultural Britain to find out what ordinary citizens make of these tactics.
Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya from the group explained,
“These Home Office campaigns target highly diverse neighbourhoods and impact on the lives of people there. We wanted to get a…
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Between 13th and 16th August, the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme held training in Jos in Plateau state. The first 2 days was a training of trainers session for 20 participants. On Thursday, 20 young people joined us and our trainers had a chance to put their training into action.
Around this time last week, just before going to bed, I happened to check my Twitter timeline to find it full of #solidarityisforwhitewomen. The origins of the hashtag are explained here and Mikki Kendall who started it wrote about it here and discussed it here. I want to write about my experience and how I felt it opened up a new way of discussing race within white dominated feminist movements for me. [Please note: this is not just limited to the feminist movement. Many movements have a long history of inadequately integrating race, sexuality, gender identity, disability, class and/ or gender.]
Let me be clear here. When I write about this, I locate myself firmly within the feminist movement. When I talk about feminism and issues around race, I do not see it as being separate from me. Despite the one impulse I had to write a letter of resignation to the feminist movement in 2012 (always one for the dramatic gesture), I have considered myself a feminist and part of the movement since I knew these things existed. I refuse to let anything or anyone tear me away from a movement that means so much to me – politically and personally.
I originally did not see why #solidarityisforwhitewomen was such a big deal. After all, it was full of the kind of conversations I have with my black feminist friends all the time – and even with the few white feminist friends that I know will listen. Once I started however, I could not make myself stop. In the end, I had to tear myself off Twitter two hours later in the knowledge that I would now only get 4 hours sleep before I needed to be up for work. Why did the conversation appeal to me so much?
I engage about race with white dominated feminist groups all the time. I do it because I feel I must, not because I enjoy it. Even typing the words ‘white domination’ right now, I can predict the sense of discomfort in the reader that the words are likely to produce. This is a mirror of the tension I feel whenever I say those words. That women who talk about patriarchy and male domination all the time are uncomfortable with framing their thinking and analysis in terms of white domination says a lot. The words describe a statement of fact. White people do dominate our society, as they do within many groups of feminists. Naming correctly is important.
I have forced myself to keep on engaging for weeks, months and years, and I have grown weary. Many of us struggle back and forth between engaging and not engaging. I engage because I genuinely like the people involved and I want to support them. I engage because I feel that we must. The issues are too important. I want to show my support and it is critical that the voices, realities and experiences of black women are present. One part of my internal dialogue stresses that, ‘There are always people in the room who do listen, even if they are in the minority – and Chitra – if you reach just a couple of people, that is how change is created.’
What keep me going are the white women with whom I have managed to engage meaningfully and who have truly listened. Feminists and the movement are changing. I can see it happen. Women who considered issues of race, sexuality, disability, class and gender identity as tangential to the feminist struggle beforehand are engaging critically with thinking through how a movement that works towards a linked liberation looks, feels and sounds like. Sometimes, it really does feel like we are at a really exhilarating moment on the cusp of a dynamic and inclusive movement.
Being one of the (many) ones who are trying to shift the movement does take a toll however. Often, the experience drags on me and weighs me down. I feel I am not heard. I can hear people thinking ‘This is an example of that intersectionality thing that I read about’ as if I am their feminist books come to life. My pleas for us to focus on poverty, race, immigration status, exclusion and marginality are taken very seriously – but not beyond the nods and looks of intense concentration when I speak. They seem hardly present in the discussion that follows. They seem to rarely effect long-term focus of organising and mobilising, which continues to be much as it was. As a result, I frequently feel my presence actually has had little impact, apart from to make people think ‘that’s interesting’ for a few minutes, to offer the illusion of diversity and to lend legitimacy with the melanin in my body to whatever is taking place.
When I speak in the spirit of constructive engagement, although I do understand it, I do not enjoy the immediate defensiveness and rush for excuses, rather than attempt to listen and engage in meaningful conversation. People tend to take things very personally. I spend a lot of time thinking about their feelings (while getting little indication that they ever consider mine) and how exactly to phrase things to minimise the shock of what they see as criticism and ensure they do not immediately retreat because they feel attacked.
I continually walk the tightrope of trying to be honest and make my point but doing so in the nicest way possible. I know that this (internal and external) pressure to ‘be nice’ is problematic, especially when the person with whom you are engaging does not reciprocate it. I consciously push my own boundaries of what I feel comfortable with in this regard but it has been really difficult. I am not unusual in this. A lot of black women within the feminist movement feel this responsibility and pressure. We are constantly being asked to educate, but only in ways that are positive, do not make women feel bad and do not suggest critical self-examination may be required.
For me, the conversation created by #solidarityisforwhitewomen was a way of engaging and speaking my experiences without having to worry about the reactions of white women. I could speak out about how I had been feeling and what has been happening without actually directing it at anyone in particular. I did not have to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings or alienating them but I knew white women were reading – and hoped that what was written by everyone who was tweeting led them to reflect on their own behaviour. It was a way to express what I have felt unable to within most feminist circles. It was the first time I vocalised this (without the qualifications I usually add to make people not feel too bad) outside a black feminist space that was public and where everyone could read my thoughts.
In any case, I was not tweeting for white women. I was tweeting for the other black women in a giant transnational Twitter facilitated consciousness-raising session that validated our experiences and made us feel less alone. That tweets that I sent a week ago are still being retweeted is, I hope, a sign that the impact of #solidarityisforwhitewomen will be felt far beyond the hours that it was trending on Twitter. Of course, in terms of engagement with white women, it was largely one way. Where it will get really exciting is if we can somehow find a way to take it forward into a real, genuine and meaningful dialogue that changes feminist organising so that it (finally) truly includes all women.
A piece I wrote on the language popularly used when talking about immigration was published yesterday on The New Statesman’s blog:
Immigration has rarely been far from newspaper pages in recent times. A report, released last week by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, looked at the 43 million words that made up the content dealing with migrants and migration in all 20 of Britain’s main national daily and Sunday newspapers between 2010 and 2012. It found that the most common word used to describe “immigrants” across broadsheet, mid-market and tabloid newspapers was “illegal”. This far outnumbered any other word. Water based metaphors such as “flood”, “influx” and “wave” were frequently used to describe “immigrants” and “migrants”.
These results fit our current political discourse. We are living in times of severe hostility towards immigrants. The language used shows just how normalised these views have become. I grew up hearing “go home Paki” and seeing those signs everywhere in Oldham in the early 90s when I first arrived in England. I never would have thought it would be the government, not far right racist groups, who would be telling people to “go home” twenty years later.
A piece of mine on government policy on immigration and activist response has just gone up on The F-Word this evening:
Intense debate and action on immigration is a recurring theme in British politics. Hostility towards immigrants has always been a feature of British society but it seems to have particularly intensified recently. In June, Theresa May introduced a refundable £3,000 bond for visa applicants from countries seen as at high risk of overstaying. In July, a government van campaign seemed to take its lead from far right groups, warning that people should ‘go home or face arrest’ if in the country illegally. The most recent furore has centred around spot-checks of people at underground stations that seem to be targeting only black people. This is hardly news to some of us as it has been happening for some time, but the news of the racial profiling in particular has led to it being picked up by the media and many speaking out against the practice.
I outline things that people can do at the end:
- Sign the petition and tell Theresa May and the Home Office to stop targeting immigrants
- Get in touch if you are able to translate rights information into other languages, take part in distributing information on rights and/or conduct the street survey. You can email aarxgroup [@] gmail [dot] com or tweet me (@chitranagarajan)
- Attend one of these public meetings (registration required)
- Follow the AARX blog for updates
- Donate to enable distribution of advice and information, a programme of public education on the reality of immigration, information and resource packs for migrant community organisations and more – get in touch with 0208 478 4513 or rita [dot] chadha [@] ramfel [dot] org
Recent research shows a big increase in the salaries of chief executives and directors of international non-governmental organisations in the UK, with thirty organisations now paying six figures compared to nineteen three years ago. The number of staff earning more than £60,000 has also increased by 16% between 2010 and 2012, with these senior members of staff receiving pay rises despite falling income. This was justified by the NGOs due to the need to attract and retain talent and to ensure salaries were in line with the INGO market.
Now, on the one hand you seem to have people thinking that those working for charities and in development should barely be paid anything at all (as if we are supposed to live on air and water) and on the other hand, you have people justifying these high leaps in salaries at the same time that income is falling. The truth is, as always, a much more nuanced reality. This debate and controversy over salaries ‘at the top’ captures a partial account of what is actually happening. It is missing the true story – increasing inequality between those in senior management positions and everyone else.
At the same time that there has been this massive inflation at the top, the salaries of a lot of jobs in the sector have actually gone down over the past five years. In the last two organisations in which I worked, we received pay freezes and/ or cuts in cost of living allowance. Given that the cost of living rose exponentially at the same time, this meant that people are actually being paid less. When positions are advertised after a staff member leaves, it is often at the bottom end of the scale in order to save costs. Anecdotally, it seems that the numbers of these organisations in dispute with those who work for them over pay and conditions is surprisingly high, given that so many of them focus on workers’ rights. It means a lot when people who genuinely believe in and care about their organisation and the work they do go out on strike. There has been a move towards cutting not just pay but also benefits. Jobs that were once covered by those working at entry-level have now morphed into unpaid internships, with the result that it has become even more difficult to find a paid job in the sector. There have been job losses and redundancies. At the same time, there have been big pay-offs for under-performing chief executives as well as increases in salaries for the already highest paid.
Does this sound like anything else?
Unfortunately, the practice of giving salary increases to senior management at the same time as freezing or cutting salaries of everyone else or making people redundant to ensure parity with the market and to ‘keep talent’ is oddly reminiscent of the corporate sector, most particularly companies in the City. Justification by recourse to looking at benchmarking with the market is one thing, but when the market as a whole in the sector is moving towards a model that rewards those at the top heavily and underpays and undervalues everyone else, what does this mean if you are an organisation supposed to be motivated by a desire for social (including economic) justice?
Cuts to salaries and benefits are often justified by talking about the present economic climate and the need for ‘austerity’. It is getting harder and harder to raise money. Individual giving is falling as supporters suffer the brunt of the recession, government funding is becoming harder to access and trusts and foundations are over-subscibed with grant applications. However, as with so much else, it seems that we are not ‘all in this together.’
What I find completely indefensible is organisations that increase senior management salaries while continuing to employ interns to do actual jobs but not paying them i.e. expecting people to work for free, in some cases full-time, knowing that there are those who will be willing to do so in order to gain the necessary experience to get paid employment. Of course this restricts access to the sector to those who are able to live in London, where most jobs are based, and not be paid for work i.e. primarily to those with family money and/ or accommodation in London. There is an expectation that people need to ‘do their time’ in order to get a job. This largely means the equivalent of working for free for at least a year on a full-time basis. Who can afford to do that in London? The only reason I managed to get a job in the sector was because I lived in China after university. I ‘did my time’ there doing an unpaid internship but able to cover my living expenses by picking up relatively well paid work and living in a country where the cost of living is relatively low. There was no way I could have afforded to work for free while living in London.
The international sector in the UK is already dominated by white, middle/ upper class, southern English people. Often, when I was working in London, I would look around and see that I was the only black person in the room when the topic was peacebuilding or development in Africa or Asia. Once, I discussed women’s political participation in West Africa with five white European men. The irony of this was not lost on me, even if it was something that nobody else in the room seemed to notice. I fear that, given increasing barriers to entry to the sector given our changing economic times since the start of the recession, this lack of diversity will increase even further.
I have not even written about power imbalances in the sector between European/ North American members of staff and their colleagues in the countries in which the organisations work. That is the subject of a whole other blog post!
Organisations that are so closely aligned to work to redress and rebalance power and economic inequalities should not fail to look internally too. There needs to be a fundamental review of the kind of sector we want to be and what values we stand for.