In this searing critique of the UK government’s implementation of the Nationality and Borders Bill, Guilaine Kinouani argues that it lays bare the dangers of superficial ‘diversity and inclusion’ at the highest levels of government and makes the case for how we must resist border violence as social control
Arguably the most ‘diverse’ cabinet in the history of UK politics has introduced possibly the most racist and regressive pieces of legislation this country has seen in decades. The Nationality and Borders Bill should force us all to rethink representation politics – if we have not already, and to accept many of the premises that sustain the quest for ‘equality’ are ill-conceived.
As part of this, recognising that we are all capable of reproducing racism within systems and indeed, that systems cannot function without the participation – passive or active – of those it harms, is crucial. We all need, and this may hurt even more, to come to terms with the fact, ‘diversity’, ‘equality’ and ‘inclusion’ will not save us. In fact, they are today more likely to do many of us harm, than to help us achieve any semblance of justice.
Any tool for social transformation eventually gets corrupted or employed in the service of protecting the very power structures they were designed to disrupt. Representation in high office has proven the point. And so, the ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ industrial complex has become the neoliberal palatable face of white supremacy. A desire for ‘equality’ that keeps inequality going. Think black squares on Instagram, safety pins and smiley liberal faces in the midst of Black and brown migrant bodies silently drowning at sea.
The harm of the ‘equality agenda’ we had in fact encountered this summer with the so-called Sewell Report. A report by a group of primarily Black and brown ‘experts’ in their own fields (although mostly non-experts in race and racism) who found no evidence of structural or institutional racism in the UK.
An unsurprising and convenient finding which was wholly consistent with the government’s on-going crusade against Critical Race Theory and, with members of the Commission’s publicly aired comments prior to their appointment, that there was indeed no such thing as structural racism.
“The outdated and oversimplified notion that racism = prejudice + power (which is usually taken to mean within western contexts that people of colour do not have the social power to enact racist violence) has a lot to answer for. It continues to lead to failure to recognise issues of complicity, of intersectionality and dynamics related to proximity to power”
Those of us wary of such fortuitous alignments of fate or perhaps trained in the ‘scientific method’, may see in this alleged lack of evidence, actual evidence of structural racism or at least an egregious flaunting of basic principles of impartiality, non-partisanship, ‘neutrality’ and ‘objectivity’. Principles I do not generally engage with uncritically but, I restate here because of the scientific claims the authors made to sustain their outlandish findings. More to the point, let’s be clear that a white group of investigators, could not have got away with this report.
If you doubt this, consider the Equalities Minister – herself a Black woman – deploying the racial backgrounds of these ‘non-experts-experts’ to deflect accusations of racism levelled against the report. What we have here is the normalisation of a particular discursive manoeuvre; race as alibi or as shield against racism. The weaponisation of racialisation to pursue racist agendas tells us all we need to know about the central role black and brown bodies play within this administration.
The outdated and oversimplified notion that racism = prejudice + power (which is usually taken to mean within western contexts that people of colour do not have the social power to enact racist violence) has a lot to answer for. It continues to lead to failure to recognise issues of complicity, of intersectionality and dynamics related to proximity to power, here whiteness. But it pays to support systems of domination, materially above all else, and because it pays, there are and there will always be oppressed groups involved in forms of collaboration.
Fascist resurgence and imperial nostalgia
Although last summer the country was apparently free of structural racism, just a few months later well in to winter, the Nationality and Borders Bill was passed in the House of Commons. The legislation, which gives the Home Secretary the power to deprive British people of citizenshipm enshrined in law a two-tier (some have said apartheid) citizenship system along racial lines, the very definition of… structural racism.
The outrage surrounding the bill on racialised grounds concerns primarily the provisions around the notice of deprivation. According to clause nine of the bill, notice of the decision to deprive a person of citizenship may NOT be given, if;
– The state does not have the information needed to be able to give notice under that subsection,
– It is not reasonably practicable to give notice
– It is not in the interests of national security
– It is not in the interests of the relationship between the United Kingdom and another country, or
– It is not otherwise in the public interest
These provisions were the subject of sustained public discontent. There were attempts to disrupt the bill by getting clause nine removed by a petition signed at the time of writing by over 200,000 people. And I agree these provisions are worrisome given the very large scope they leave for interpretation. However, to me, the core of the issue is beyond the notification point – although the point is an important one. We have as a country decided that some citizens, who are primarily Black and brown, based on some constructed alleged traceable foreign ancestry and thus often assumed eligibility for some alternative nationality, may be disowned as citizens, if the state deems it in its interest to do so.
A dangerous precedent had already been set when Shamima Begum was stripped of her citizenship because of her alleged ‘radicalisation’, a ‘radicalisation’ which occurred in the context of her being groomed, abused and traumatised as a child then later as young adult. She was rendered stateless, with Bangladesh essentially pressured to take her in, although she was not a citizen of the country, was born in London but had some ancestry there. One can easily imagine given geopolitical power asymmetries, how nations in the global south may suffer similar fates and be forced to take in non-citizens with ancestral connections varying in their distance, while the UK flexes its neo-colonial powers at home and abroad, to disown its own.
The point that I am making is not that there should be no attempt to hold people to account or put them on trial for criminal activities and/or acts of complicity in terror when issues of agency, consent and responsibility are complex regardless of mitigation; rather as many have argued, that our racial background, ancestry or religion should have zero bearing in the process of justice. Of course we know they always have. Now the law tells us, it is right, proper and lawful that they do.
There are strong and chilling echoes of the past, we are continuing to ignore. The re-inscription of ‘le droit du sang’ – blood rights within contemporary legislation in Britain is chilling to me. This is foundational to fascist iteration of the nation-state, of belonging and alien control. A principle with a strong Nazi pedigree.
Sceptics may argue the reference is inappropriate or alarmist. However, linking the current administration’s on-going dismantlement of our freedom to protest or freedom to dissent, masked by faux concerns over the alleged erosion of ‘free speech’; to the present bill, helps us see that the wish to quieten and control the masses, also central to fascism, is present here.
Exaggerated concerns over ‘security’ have been leveraged to sustain both sets of political agendas, the right to protest and the right to citizenship. Both strongly reflect the kind of paranoia filled fantasies which have always provided the fuel for fascism and authoritarianism. There is a long history though of ignoring fascist violence directed at non-white bodies. Even though we know their bodies have always been the training ground for later tyrannical violence on bodies racialised as white.
On social control and the management of dissent
Fascism and colonialism have long been deeply entangled. The bill reminds us of this historical reality kept alive by structures that sustain border and frontier violence. Only nationals imagined as second-class citizens, as disposable bodies and as subservient subjects could ever be expected to show uncritical gratitude and deference to the state or risk being bordered out of their own home. This is the small print.
We already have evidence that PREVENT has had a perverse effect on Muslims’ ability to express their political beliefs freely. I know people amongst my family and friends who refuse to discuss politics particularly issues related to the Middle East and Palestine within institutions for fear of being maligned and referred to authorities. Concerns have long been raised about the implementation of the strategy. Of particular relevance here, are the creation of ‘suspect’ or once more, alien communities and the formations of enemies within. Discourses propagated within all the sections of the press and which have led to increased anti-Muslim racism, hatred and Islamophobia. Also of concern has been expanding constructions of what may be classed as ‘extremism’.
This narrowing of that space for legitimate critique of State apparatuses and their operationalisation on British soil and on foreign lands is consistent with increased contempt towards human right protections, protections we still go and lecture other nations deemed inferior, on.
“And so the bill reinstates powerful yet insidious normative expectations that Black and brown people must watch what they say, how we behave. We must be compliant as the State may decide our country is no longer our country and dispossess us of our home.”
The implementation of this culture of suspicion has led to perverse and absurd stories of children being suspected of ‘radicalisation’. After my son (who is Muslim) then aged five or six proclaimed in class he wanted to marry a Muslim girl, I was required to attend an urgent meeting with the school head to discuss the origin of his ‘concerning’ views. I was threatened with a Local Authority investigation. I managed to navigate my way out of the threat. I am sure it helped that I am not Muslim myself.
Whiteness, silence and complicity
And so what an incredible powerful form of social control the bill is. See, who is given unconditional right of abode is usually also given ‘freedom of speech’. The territoriality of whiteness therefore is not only about physical frontiers on lands and border control, it is also about bordering thoughts and bordering their expression.
And so the bill reinstates powerful yet insidious normative expectations that Black and brown people must watch what they say, how we behave. We must be compliant as the State may decide our country is no longer our country and dispossess us of our home. And ship us back like unwanted cargos to lands we have for the most part, no tie, save in some collective imaginary. Associations made mainly because of the colour of our skin.
This is what makes the bill a tool of social control and silencing. It’s all, once more in the small print. If you doubt that, remember the Windrush elders deported to their death and the many others born British often over several generations who were so whimsically deprived of their right of above in the UK as they could not ‘prove’ their Britishness. Needing to prove we belong lies at the centre of the issues. The precariousness of British citizenship when one is racialised as Other holds melanin as the prima-facie case is of belonging ‘elsewhere’.
As I wrote the thread that inspired this article, many came to offer solidarity. As they did so, they located racism, dysfunction, and corruption in the government. Whilst true, this kind of lazy and self-serving logic is deeply problematic. We are a country of what? Some 67 million people or so, primarily white. When unsavoury actions are carried out by marginalised individuals, all marginalised folks are held to account and expected to protest, denounce and distance themselves from the said acts.
Yet, we are quick to lodge social pathology in a group of what? Two dozen individuals or so as to deny the collective forces at play and the role we play in the same. But acts carried out by the state on behalf of the country engage everyone. Particularly those who directly benefit from the violence, here of white territoriality and inland border logics; 60 millions or so of white folks.
But imagine this… what if only 10 percent of this population took a stand, protested, denounced and sought to distance themselves from the bill? I really doubt it would stand. But here we are. As I said on Twitter, what we do not oppose which is done by the state, is done by us. Racism by omission is still racism. Racism by bystanderism is still racism. Racism by habituation is still racism. Racism by ‘I just want to get on with my life’ or ‘I just don’t know where to start’ is still racism. There are always opportunities to show solidarity. But empty ‘feel good’ gestures in the face of our continuing suffocation on land or at sea, is not solidarity. Indeed, solidarity without resistance is not solidarity, it is complicity.
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For ideas about how you may resist the bill use BID Detention’s template to email your MP that the #BordersBill will criminalise refugees, erode the meagre rights of those subject to immigration control & sow further division into UK society. Click here for the petition. opposing clause 9 of the Nationality and Borders Bill. Sign, and share on your social media channels.
Guilaine Kinouani is a French woman of Congolese descent, an equality consultant, a writer and a psychologist currently pursuing a PhD at Birkbeck University of London. She is the founder and director of racereflections.co.uk. Her first book Living While Black, which was published earlier this year, is a MUST READ for anyone seeking specialist self-care strategies to navigate white supremacy, for those with a vested interest in the welfare and wellbeing of black groups or working towards anti-racism and for everyone else doing ‘the work’. Get it here.
Tweet her @KGuilaine