How colourism shapes UK anti-immigrant sentiment

by Amit Singh

Within most societies there is a clear hierarchy of races, with whiteness being positioned at the top of the pile. The lighter skinned you are perceived to be the more inherent value you are deemed to have in all areas of life within western societies, and in many parts of the world that have been brought in to a western global capitalist economy.

Broadly speaking, having light or white skin is an automatic way to be more accepted in British society. Immigration gives a good example of this. In the UK we have what we class as “good immigrants” and ”bad immigrants”: those who are welcome in British society and those who are less so. White immigrants, such as those from Australia, undoubtedly fall into the ”good immigrant” category.

The ”good immigrant” category is partially based in colourism, which in turn has its origins in colonial narratives. In the year ending 2013 for instance, the top four nations for immigration to the UK were China, India, Spain and Australia, in that order. Yet the press did not exactly lament the influx of Australians and Spaniards to the UK, despite the fact that many of these people were coming to the UK to work – or, in other words, to ”steal British jobs.” There are three reasons for this: their countries are seen as economically sound (even if Spanish people coming to the UK are here largely because of the economic crisis in Spain); they are mostly white; and they are culturally similar to ”native British” people and thus not inferior others.

The most overt example of the racist double standard in British immigration policy was the racist ”go home” vans that the Home Office rolled out in 2013. With Australian immigration to the UK so high that year (the fourth highest of all nations) one would expect Australians to have been targeted by the vans. However, this was not the case. Instead, those being stopped by the UKBA officials were people of colour and the vans were mostly used in areas with a large ethnic minority presence such as Southall, rather than areas with high numbers of white Australians. Even after Nigel Farage spoke out against Eastern European immigrants, immigration policy did not target people from these countries, but instead continued to target non-white immigrant populations. Again the message here is that some types of immigrants are welcome or least not unwelcome, but others are not. This is also why people of colour are the main target of anti-immigrant racists.

In many cases, Spanish and Australian immigrants are also treated well because they are not only white but Christian as well, and as such are seen as nonthreatening and compatible with British ways of living. Never do we hear rumblings about ”creeping Catholicism” aimed at Spanish citizens. Additionally, Australians are native English speakers, which reinforces a sense of commonality.

Such colourism in immigration is not just present in the UK. This is also a problem with regards to the recent refugee crisis which once again shows that black lives matter less. Smugglers on the boats that transport people across the Mediterranean are more likely to lock Africans below the deck than they are with Syrians or people from the Middle East. When a boat capsizes those below the deck are much more likely to drown while those on the top have a slightly better chance of survival.

Whilst many in Britain might gawp at the overt colourism that is present, it is simply a reflection of a coloured hierarchy in existence in the UK that undoubtedly impacts on national immigration policy and the treatment of refugees. Those who are seen as more compatible with an imagined idea of British culture are given higher preference to those who look different and have different values. Much of this is down to the racism and intolerance that underpins British society.

Someone who speaks English and is white is of course the best type of immigrant, which is why Australians can settle in the UK without any question. The media will never target them in the same way it targets immigrants from Asia or Africa simply because of the colour of their skin and their proximity to white Britishness. Immigrants who already have or at least actively seek proximity to Britishness by adopting British customs and clothing and in many ways accepting Christian cultural values, rather than practicing a different faith, are more welcome than those who don’t.

 

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Amit Singh is the co-editor and co-founder of Consented and also works on a number of human rights based projects. Follow Consented on Twitter @Consenteduk 

 

This article was edited by Samantha Asumadu and Kelly Kanayama.

 

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