Census 2021 results published in March 2022 will likely declare the UK’s two biggest cities Birmingham, and most importantly London, as white minority. Transracial adoptee Jonathan Tranter discusses how as people of colour are our identities are now at grave risk
The Nationality and Borders Bill 2021 with its proposed laws making it easier to deprive Black and Asian people in particular of British citizenship provides a practical opportunity to confront the comforting lies we tell ourselves about what it means for us to be British, and how British lawmakers have always defined our sense of identity and belonging.
How often do we console ourselves that British people wanted our help rebuild this nation after its wartime devastation? The truth is the British Nationality Act 1948, which created the concept of British citizenship and assigned it to white British subjects, aimed to ease outward white British settlement (Australia, Canada, New Zealand) rather than to allow inward migration. The fact that 800 million subjects of Empire (and in effect 300 million newly independent Indians and Pakistanis) also became British and moved to the the UK is an unintended and unwanted side effect right from the start.
This clearly exposes the arbitrary nature of not only our citizenship, but our sense of identity and belonging. There is the consolation that white British people may have later come to realise they needed our help, but they never wanted it as we were soon to discover. Defining ourselves by our contribution is going to be the end of us, expecting humanisation from the transactional process of labour. White British labelled “scroungers” for their imagined dependency on the state, never have to question their Britishness, in coalition with their state that will never remove it.
White-skinned Irish people were racialised as non-white in Britain in living memory. The infamous “No Blacks. No Irish. No Dogs.” public notices (‘Black’ then included south Asians, without political blackness making us Black) were very real but also short lived. The side effect of British Caribbean and British south Asian immigration following the British Nationality Act, also began transitioning white-skinned Irish to white, with ongoing British colonial extraction also forcing many of them to leave their own to care for the Coloniser under their National Health Service. Black and south Asian people generously offered white British people somebody more other to hate. White Irish writer and musician Angela Moran honestly describes this solidarity’s passing nature in her BBC film ‘A Very British History: Birmingham Irish I Am’.
The resulting Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 greatly restricted our freedom of moment to Britain making it dependent on our contribution. Note how “freedom of movement” is now used only to describe deprivation of privileges to predominantly-white British and non-Irish EU citizens, appropriating the pain of what they chose to do to us to what they chose to do to themselves. When they downgraded us from citizens to migrants, in their laws and in our minds. We learn racism isn’t lesser or greater depending where we live in the west, just different. How white British people wrote this earlier act and are now writing this bill to deprive only Black and Asian British people of citizenship, without explicitly stating this is what they are doing, is a quite British racism.
Next, followed the “bug fixes and performance improvements” Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968. This was not only entrusting a white socialist Labour administration to write Wolverhampton South West Conservative MP Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech into law, but the most liberal administration in British history. An administration that abolishes capital punishment and legalises abortion and male homosexuality, at the same time as passing an act targeting Kenyan Asians trying to flee Africanisation. This needs to be a reality check for those of us white-minded enough to: hope for liberation through electoral process, want Black British and Black migrants to believe the lie of proximity as much as we British Asians do, or presume the Mother will spare us for serving as her favoured child.
The parents of Home Secretary Priti Patel, often – rather too usefully by progressive white British people and their British Indian allies – singled out as the architect of the modern British state, were subject to a later related process in Uganda. The British installed Ugandan Asians as an administrative class alongside imported indentured labour to build their railways – we should know by now we built the railways for the British, not the other way around! Guilaine Kinouani acutely describes the wider present-day effects with specific relevance to the Nationality and Borders Bill.
Further acts of parliament followed, downgrading us from citizens to migrants to now, deportees. And which of us they will deport will not end here. I cannot recommend enough Professor Michaela Benson’s accessible transcribed podcast series ‘Who Do We Think We Are’ as a living breathing account of these ongoing processes, particularly this episode describing the British Nationality Act.
Media Diversified founder Samantha Asumadu writes in Ceasefire, that Census 2021 results published in March 2022 will likely declare the UK’s two biggest cities Birmingham, and most importantly London, as white minority. The relative safety of being more free to be ourselves amongst ourselves in these cities, versus the white terror and state racism of them now outnumbered in their centre of power. What a choice! If London were a city state (historically more sustainable than the recent invention of nation states), do we believe white British would cede us control of their democratic process? The Daily Mail honestly-racist headlines and Guardian both-sides-racist opinion pieces in March will tell us.
White British MPs only deprived us of automatic citizenship in 1962 when our numbers in England’s large cities began to terrify them. The freedom to be more ourselves means they can no longer as easily assimilate us into a national identity designed in their image. Scotland and Wales, with their more progressive governments describe their 94%+ white nations as “welcoming and diverse” shows a high level of white comfort, when much larger in population London is likely to be white minority. Especially with a selective historical literacy, which is a function of all western nationalisms, assuming this welcome remains as our numbers increase. (To their credit, the Scottish National Party honestly state they need greater inward migration for economic sustainability with Scotland’s decreasing, in opposition to England’s increasing, population).
Proximity is another lie of convenience but this doesn’t mean we can’t fight together. British south Asians were never Black but we were, for example, members of the British Black Panthers (blink and we miss it, but in Small Axe: Mangrove Althea Jones-Lecointe recruits British south Asian factory workers). It is always critical to remember however that we British south Asians can never speak for Black lived experiences, ou day-to-day lives in white environments or recent (in-effect) deprivation of citizenship of Windrush elders, however.
‘British south Asian’ is a weak political (and cultural) identity. British Indians are more structurally in line with British Chinese – whose long British history Daniel York Loh describes – than we are to more politically active British Bangladeshis and British Pakistanis. As one only tangential example Runnymede Trust’s data on General Election 2017 indicates, 40% of British Indians voted Conservative, compared with 5% for both British Bangladeshis and British Pakistanis. But when it comes down to it, we’re all the same to them.
In George Orwell’s essay Notes on Nationalism, which was written during the final stages of Word War II he ruminates about Britain’s shared pathology with other Western nations, saying ,’By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.’ His essay is summed up well surprisingly well here. ‘Orwell compares Nazism with other forms of nationalistic ideologies to generate an overall argument and questions the function of nationalism.’
Unlike the white-skinned colonised we will never transition to white, a political definition with intentional meaning. White British, white Irish and white EU citizens (a relevant distinction between the latter two as the Common Travel Area with its freedom to live, work and travel has outlived Britain’s aborted group therapy coming to terms with loss of Empire in the European Communities) can express concern they too are vulnerable to the Nationality and Borders Bill. But them understanding vulnerability doesn’t mean reality, and it’s not like protesting this bill will allow them to centre their own identity – unlike marches under their progressive national flags – means relatively few will fight with feeling with us.
Our identity, now at grave risk, being what we do over what we are is one of the most critical things we need to learn.
Jonathan Tranter is a transracial adoptee with a background in computer science, and an occasional writer. Find him on twitter @JonathanTranter
If you enjoyed reading this article and you got some benefit or insight from it donate to keep Media Diversified’s website online
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.