Migration narratives in the post-Brexit environment: conference thoughts.

The Ella Baker School of Transformative Organising organised this event on the 16th February 2019 to discuss the key trends and themes in migration debates in the post-Brexit environment. Speakers included representatives from Unite the Union and the Institute of Race Relations.

Here is a link to a summarising video produced by the Ella Baker School.

The following blog is a collection of thoughts from the day, summarising the key points but also some critical analysis of what was missing.

Kollektivschuld? I don’t think so

Britain has collectively failed to have a national conversation about the end of empire. The forces feeding both Brexit and the ‘hostile environment’ framework may well, it can be argued, be rooted in the ideas of Enoch Powell and UKIP. However, whereas France was forced to confront its colonial mistakes through the disastrous aftermath of the Algerian War, and Germany has taken a slow but (relatively) secure path of continuous reconciliation since 1945, discussion of the brutality of Britain’s colonial past is barely part of the school curriculum.

Every school pupil in Germany must visit a concentration camp as a compulsory part of the curriculum, as part of a national framework of Kollektivschuld, or Collective Guilt. first initiated by Chancellor Willy Brandt. Where is the Collective Guilt felt by British citizens for the division of the Indian subcontinent? Or the invention of the concentration camp by British forces in the Boer War, a fact recently claimed as a justified intervention by Jacob Rees-Mogg?

Linguistic Insecurities

Mainstream debate, whether hostile or accepting, produces a narrative which discusses migrants as a third party. By neglecting to involve the them in discussion, broaching relevant subjects with rather than about migrants; NGOs, academia and policy circles alike are denying migrants agency in debate which directly affect their everyday lives.

‘White’ migrants?

Despite many positive ideas, plans and campaigns, the conference still failed to broach the subject of racism towards the white minority communities of Britain in the post-Brexit environment.

While the death of Alan Kurdi has seen considerable growth in solidarity movements for ‘people on the move’ across Europe, Brexit has had a profound impact on European economic migrants in the United Kingdom, about whom there remains little discussion. These ‘white’ migrants are clearly subject to discrimination and racism as a result of the operationalisation of the vote to Leave the European Union, yet their plight goes unnoticed. To this effect, up-to-date literature on EU migrants’ difficulties in the post-Brexit environment is lacking, and discrimination against them is rarely classed as racism.

By denying that discrimination and hate crime against white minority ethnic groups as racist, not only do we fail to acknowledge the problems faced by such groups in Britain, but we also denigrate the normalised understanding of racism and race as a concept as applicable only to skin colour. Thus we reinforce a racist ideology which confines people of colour to second-tier citizens through othering processes.

By Michael Thompson, conference also attended by Anna Bailie

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