On 11 February, a charter plane is scheduled to deport 50 Black Commonwealth citizens to Jamaica. The much delayed findings from the Windrush report have yet to even be published, but this government has decided to rapidly repeat history after its first failing.
In the last operation of its kind, 83 people were wrongly deported and 11 people died. Families lost their loved ones as a consequence of an incompetent government yet despite this; those in charge arrogantly continue to play fast and loose with the lives of Black people.
We’re supposed to believe that everyone being deported is a dangerous criminal whom we should be grateful to be free from but that wasn’t the case last time – and it is still not the case now.
If we were to judge every citizen by the same harsh consequences then where is the deportation order for convicted paedophile Rolf Harris to be sent back to Australia? In fact, a few members of our very own government should technically be in trouble themselves.
If you’re not angry, then you’re not paying attention, which is a luxury in itself.
Should the prime minister’s own confession that he once dabbled in recreational drugs as a youth mean we should deport him to the USA where he was born? What about if Johnson was to be caught up in a domestic dispute. Would that put him at risk of being torn from his indeterminate number of children?
It has only been two years since the Windrush scandal that destroyed the lives of many Black citizens who were callously targeted for deportation from a country they called home – the only country most had ever known. The same country that actively encouraged people to migrate to the UK from British colonies after the fall out from World War Two led to severe labour shortages.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Black migrants coming to the UK faced racism and discrimination. Many thrived despite the system setting them up to fail, but some fell through the cracks, which is not unusual or unique to this particular situation. Yet, we insist on systemically punishing Black people more severely than anyone else, the context of which is constantly steamrolled and lacks historical interrogation. These factors simply cannot be discounted or viewed as reason enough to deport someone who perhaps made a mistake at 19, did their time, and is now a middle-aged father getting on with his life like the rest of us.
Surely, if we are going to use someone’s past against them then Michael Gove and the like should be serving retroactive prison sentences for casual drug use or should at least be relieved from any position of power. It is intensely galling and telling that behaviour posh white people can brag about is subsequently the very thing that often puts Black people behind bars.
We tend to think that white men are just cheeky wee scamps up until the age of 50 where any action can be forgiven in the spirit of youthful misadventures. We, however, deem Black children as accountable adults from as young as 14. We are quick to rehabilitate the image of middle class white men, while allowing the continued vilification of Black people for similar infractions. Can you imagine a white family being forced into becoming a single parent household due to an error of judgement made by the father over 20 years ago? Can you imagine a white man being removed from the lives of his children for something he has already been duly punished for? Can you imagine all of this happening only for those in power to occasionally realise they targeted the wrong person? If you’re not angry, then you’re not paying attention, which is a luxury in itself.
The government’s actions raise a lot of difficult questions and concerns that will undoubtedly have long lasting repercussions. The hostile environment which looms over Britain like a plague needs to be dismantled and adequately challenged before it is too late. We may not be a booming empire anymore but we do have to face the consequences of the past with real accountability and respect in order to finally move forward as a nation in a healthier state.
As someone who was born and raised in the UK to Pakistani immigrant parents, I can’t help but selfishly wonder, if this will be the escalation point I look back at in 20 years time. The point which will eventually see all minorities slowly but surely become fair game, regardless of citizenship. Should I be lobbying for a position in government alongside Sajid Javid and Priti Patel in the hopes that they will come for me last? Model minority or not – If we don’t rectify this now, they will eventually come for all of us.
We would all be much better off, if we actually listened to Black people from the beginning instead of dismissing them outright, only to feign outrage when the worst happens and, inevitably, becomes increasingly difficult to detangle.
Amna Saleem is an author and writer.