The Good Immigrant | Nikesh Shukla (Ed.)
I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts since September when The Good Immigrant was released. Having come across not one but two videos on my Facebook feed this morning about racial prejudice and diversity in media and then seeing this in my drafts folder, I thought it was about time to post my thoughts.
This book is excellent in so many different ways. The essays are really diverse and reflect a truly multi-faceted experience of being an immigrant or being the child of an immigrant in the UK. I suppose what you come away from this book, or at least what you should come away with is that don’t buy into the stereotypes – we are not a monolith of experience.
The nature of the essays and a number of different contributors means that the tone for each essay varies; some feel anecdotal, some journalistic and some feel like you’re following a personal journey. And it’s very easy to read – I read about two essays a day on my morning commutes. The contributors also don’t hold back. Each voice is unique and personal and most importantly honest. For example where one writer refuses to use a certain term due to its relationship with Orientalism, another author talks about how he wasn’t aware of being any different to his white peers all his life. And I think it’s important that the variety of voices are heard. People often switch off from conversations about race when they only hear from one end of the spectrum.
My personal experience of being a woman of colour has been positive for the most part. But I have also grown up and lived in a mostly Asian community in suburban London, so I appreciate that this is a factor. However moving away from home and going to university and generally reading more about issues of race reminds me that I’m a brown girl in a white world. That is okay, and it will be okay as long as we continue to talk about race both within and outside our communities.
The fact that it’s a collection of essays means that you can read just one essay and come back to it in a couple of days. You could read it in any order you like – though as a rule, like watching an anthology series or listening to a new album, I like to do things in the “right” order first because they’ve not just put it together in any old order.
It opens with an essay called “Namaste” by Nikesh Shukla, taking a word that’s entered our vocabulary as something trendy to put on t-shirts and has been completely cut off from its religious connotations.
Namaste means hello.
Namaste means I’m bowing to you.
It’s a customary greeting.
It’s a respectful salutation.
It has become a bastardised metaphor for spiritualism. It’s white people doing yoga, throwing up prayer hands chanting ‘Aum’ and saying ‘namaste’ like their third eyes are being opened and they can peer directly into the nucleus of spirituality.
The history of human migration is 1.75 million years old and we’re not living in a post-racial society. The latter would be the ideal result of all of this migration, but it’s not reality. We need to look at issues of race complexly, we need to work hard to look past our personal truths (and unconscious biases) and we need to put ourselves in other people’s shoes to get to a point where race truly doesn’t matter anymore. Reading this book, or even one essay from it would be a good start.