by Shane Thomas

Last Sunday, I was on a train, coming back to London from Leeds. Knowing that this trip would be lengthy – and accompanied by a hangover – I booked a window seat nearest the door, ensuring I would be close to the exit, and relatively secluded from the rest of the passengers, expediting my plans to sleep during the journey.

However, on boarding the train, there was a woman sat in my seat. My instinctive irritation was tempered by the fact that the woman in question was feeding her baby, and was surrounded by the numerous paraphernalia needed when one has a baby in tow.

A solution was needed, as I didn’t want to disrupt her child being fed, but still needed somewhere to sit. A clumsy exchange followed, partly due to my state of exhaustion, and partly due to her broken English. But after ascertaining her original seat number, I offered to let her and baby remain in my seat, and I’d go and sit in hers. She thanked me, I went off to nap, and that was the end of that.

The purpose of this anecdote isn’t to make me look good. Anyone with basic decency would have handled the situation in a similar manner to myself. I mention this to bring attention to the woman’s demeanour during our brief interaction.

Her eyes widened with anxious terror the second I arrived at my original seat. The priority of taking care of her child collided with the desire not to cause a problem for those around her. Because there’s an additional layer to this story; she was a woman of colour, on a carriage largely populated by white people, while her limited and accented English didn’t require one to make a huge leap and surmise that she’s a migrant.

That very word; migrant[1]. So potentially explosive that it can cause one to immediately revert to unconscious biases that are both vile and dangerous.

Have you ever stayed around at a friend’s place for the first time? It doesn’t matter how welcome they make you; one often feels the hyper-awareness of not wanting to disturb the carefully cultivated balance of your friend’s home. You eat whatever food you’re given, you immediately clean up after yourself, you accept the choice of television viewing, and try to go about your business as quietly as possible.

It was this very feeling that I picked up from the woman on the train. A desperation to be able to go about her day in peace. To avoid the scrutiny often endured by those who aren’t born here. Because while we may live on the same delineated land mass, we don’t all live in the same country.

Our politicians are happy to tweet solicitous sentiments about those who died in the Mediterranean, but refuse to acknowledge how their policies are complicit in such an occurrence.

Back in the 1990’s, Cambridge United Football Club had a manager called John Beck. He was known in football circles for making his team’s ground, Abbey Stadium, one of the most inhospitable places in English football. He would order the groundsman to let the grass grow particularly long in the corners of the pitch; the balls the opposition would practice with were purposely deflated, while the away team’s dressing room would have their heating turned up, making it feel like a sauna.

John Beck at Cambridge
John Beck

One wouldn’t think a parallel could be drawn between Beck and Britain’s politicians, but look at the welfare state provisos that may be in place after the General Election. The message is clear: You don’t want to come here, and if you do, we’re going to go out of our way to make your life extremely difficult.

This is exactly the kind of thing I mean when Britain promotes itself as a tolerant nation. Whether it was the coalition government in 2013, or Queen Elizabeth I in 1596, Britain exists in a paradoxical state of making other nations inhabitable, while also making itself inhabitable to those who risk their lives to come here.

Sentiments decrying foreigners as not being “one of us” may be abhorrent. But what makes them worse is that they’re correct. For the rich and white, Britain’s resources are their birthright, and theirs alone.

[1] – Or its more incendiary cousin, “immigrant”.

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TWOWEEKSNOTICE “Two Weeks Notice” is Shane Thomas’s bi-monthly column encompassing. Pop culture to sport, and back again

A mixed-race film graduate, Shane comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).

 

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2 thoughts on “Britain’s Unwanted House Guests

  1. I dislike the work ‘immigrant’. The more I hear this word in the media and press, my annoyance grows in leaps and bounds. Why is it a Caucasian (and I wouldn’t include Eastern Europeans within this group) are ‘expatriates’ outside their country and the rest of the world are ‘immigrants’?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. The short answer to your question is “white privilege”. That’s why – apart from in the footnote – I eschewed using the world immigrant, and used migrant instead. Things may change, but at this point in time, migrant seems a less incendiary term than immigrant.

      Liked by 2 people

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