Thursday, 12 March 2020

Hostile Environment by Maya Goodfellow

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Hostile Environment is the name given to a raft of measures initially implemented by Theresa May as Home Secretary under David Cameron, designed to deter so-called “illegal immigrants” from coming to the UK and to make life as difficult as possible for them if they did enter the country.

But as Maya Goodfellow’s meticulously researched book shows, these policies did not spring out of nothing, but are the culmination of decades of policies by governments from the right and from the left who, in one way or another, have sought to control and demonise those they choose to label as outsiders.

Exactly who is marked out in this way has varied over time. The ‘Other’ has been variously Irish, Jewish, Black, Brown – or from a country that is in some unspoken way considered ‘less than White’. At times, ‘economic migrants’ have been lauded as ‘coming here to work and contribute,’ while refugees have been suspect, presumed to be ‘bogus’ or ‘scroungers’. At other times, it is ‘genuine refugees’ who are said to be in need of our protection, while ‘economic migrants’ are accused of taking jobs and driving down wages while simultaneously scrounging off our benefit system.

What has been consistent, as Goodfellow shows only too clearly, is that migrants of one sort of another have been used as scapegoats by successive governments for their own failures to produce a more equal society, and who choose to ignore the historic and goppolitical reasons that bring people to our shores. A constant dripfeed of what Goodfellow calls xenoracism (the peculiarly toxic mixture of racism and xenophobia) has been fed to the general populace by politicians and the media, who then use people’s resulting ‘legitimate concerns about immigration’ as an excuse for further demonisation and even stricter immigration controls.

This is a book that left me shaking with fury. Not that there was much in it that I didn’t already know - but to see it all laid out so clearly in one place makes it clear how relentless it has all been. Seventy years after my father, as a young Masters student, began documenting the impact racism was having on the lives of Liverpool’s Black community, the public discourse is as toxic and institutionally divisive as it has been at any point in my lifetime. Goodfellow’s vision of a better , more open world, set out in her Conclusion, seems an impossible dream.

But as she also shows, that fear of the other is not as innate. There are plenty of examples of communities coming together in defence of those the authorities try to ‘other’ - for example to prevent deportations. Perhaps therein lies hope.

Longlisted for the 2020 Jhalak Prize, this is a book that lifts the veil on our immigration system and reveals the lies on which it is based and the human consequences of its controls.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: A Country of Refuge (ed Lucy Popescu) The Good Immigrant (ed Nikesh Shukla) Natives by Akala

Avoid If You Dislike: Having your preconceptions of immigrants and refugees challenged (but read it anyway!)

Perfect Accompaniment: A pot of tea made with leaves grown in India or Africa on plants brought from China by the merchants and soldiers of the British Empire

Genre: Non Fiction

Buy This Book Here:

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