Why Our ‘Good Immigrant’ Narrative Is A Divisive Misnomer

No migrant should let a fictitious stereotype prevent them from bettering their life and assuming their own identity

The good versus bad immigrant narrative was a key bargaining tool for Brexit and Donald Trump and emboldened the Populist Press like we have never seen before. The media elite have consequently monopolised on anecdotal evidence and the numbers game to entice, incite and establish its own brand of ‘bad’ immigrants. By the same token, the ‘good’ immigrant narrative has flourished, leaving us with a polarisation of immigrant worthiness. How ironic that our information age has led to such misinformation.

Our beloved Brexit bastion Nigel Farage proclaimed that doctors, engineers, business people and investors are the sort of migrants we want. He proudly declared that his great-great grandfather was someone who “integrated into British society and worked his fingers to the bone.” The DACA programme introduced by Obama during his premiership put certain immigrants on the path to ‘legitimisation’ at the expense of stigmatising others. Its mantra maintained that only those who earned it deserved a place while those who didn’t were to be deported. DACA beneficiaries were depicted as different and exceptionally deserving, not like the rest. “They remain amorphously young, forever the same high-achieving kid. Donald Trump’s succeeding rhetoric also stresses the importance of meritocracy in distinguishing a good immigrant from a bad one. However supportive of immigration these examples may be, their overarching theme carries a subjective meritocracy measured exclusively by economic contribution potential.

36% of our NHS Doctors are foreign born. In 2016, Foreign Direct Investment in the UK was valued at £196 billion. Of course these are fantastic statistics, and while the good immigrant narrative may, with examples such as this, encourage migration which economically benefits the UK, they shouldn’t be the model criteria of a ‘good’ immigrant. We don’t expect the average Brit to be a doctor, or to have invested millions of pounds, so why is the expectation so high to qualify as a good immigrant? Not everyone will have the educational or financial opportunity to make the cut. Once Bill Clinton said, “while talent is equally distributed around the world, opportunity is not.” Yet the good immigrant narrative reduces migrants to their monetary value and discriminates against their poverty by denying them the opportunity to become better versions of themselves.

Inevitably, the culturally nonconformist and financially underprivileged immigrants are labelled as burdens, freeloaders, rapists, gangsters, and benefit scroungers - the ‘bad’ immigrants. Such connotations are now normalised and fashionable to post-truth consensus. The rebuff of real facts and figures has warped our sense of logic to the extent that whatever we hear, see or read, we believe. Emotive repetition has a spellbinding effect and the triumph of populism has led a very sluggish way of thinking. This encourages institutional racism in a way which rationalises and camouflages the gravity of its socio-political repercussions. From Nigel Farage’s infamous ‘Breaking Point’ poster pre-Brexit, to the Daily Mail’s inflammatory circular on British Muslims, the relentless fear-mongering monotone is a viral social media algorithm and millions fall for it like sheep.

As humans, our tribal instincts make for the harshest judges of dissimilarity and scapegoating is our coping mechanism. These insecurities and fears have been capitalised by the tabloid media, goading us to think in binaries. The good immigrant narrative emerges as a sifting tool, carrying with it sentiments of generalisation, superiority and inverted snobbery. For instance, as second and third generation immigrants, many of us disaffiliate from the defining component of our forefathers’ struggles. We feel agitated to be associated with ‘immigrants’ and otherise them. They fall short of being ‘good’ immigrants, which of course we are. We are good because we are not ‘burdens’ on the state - we are economic contributors and beacons of cultural integration and assimilation. The societal pitting of these so-called good immigrants against their outcast counterparts means their ‘good immigrant’ identity is distinctly elevated while the dehumanisation of the ‘bad immigrant’ is validated.

In an effort to counter the narrative that British Muslims find Christmas offensive, the charity Penny Appeal’s Christmas ad campaign highlighted their charitable contributions during the festive period. While its intentions may have been good, it raises more questions than answers. Who assumes this narrative? Does this mean all British Muslims actually hate Christmas? Why is their ‘goodness’ measured by the extent of their positive convergence? The ‘Good Immigrant’ narrative emerges as the advert entertains the idea that British Muslims need to prove their Britishness. It legitimises our internalisation of the Daily-Mail-Brown-Person-narrative and counterintuitively discourages diversity.

The cosmopolitan in me believes in integration, though overlap, intersection and self-definition should prosper without the anxiety of having to prove one’s economic potential or cultural assimilation. No migrant should let a fictitious stereotype prevent them from bettering their life and assuming their own identity. Whereas empathy may not be learned, the willingness to learn about experiences entirely opposite to our own surely can. Recognising the good immigrant narrative as a divisive misnomer is a step in the right direction for combating immigration elitism.

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