Comment: We must resist the government's ‘racist’ Borders Bill
Tre Ventour explains why the Nationality and Borders Bill is so dangerous
This piece was written for NN Journal by local writer and educator Tre Ventour. For more news and features straight to your inbox sign up to NN Journal today
By Tre Ventour
Demonstrators gathered outside Downing Street at the weekend in protest against the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill.
Some of the key concerns about the bill, which will be debated in the House of Lords at its second reading in January, are new measures which effectively criminalise people seeking asylum in the UK and powers to revoke the British citizenship of anyone born overseas or has dual nationality. This would impact up to six million people.
Since February 2021, with my friend and colleague Shereen Ingram, I have been working on Windrush projects under her charity NorFAMtoN. We have begun doing interviews for our book on the subject, and our hampers scheme (which are given out to members of the Windrush community) has resumed and we are looking for new volunteers. The children of this generation, (like my parents) are some of the people this bill will impact.
It’s not hard to see why critics are calling it a ‘racist bill’. Writing for Media Diversified, psychologist Guilaine Kinouani writes “arguably the most ‘diverse’ cabinet in the history of UK politics has introduced possibly the most racist and regressive pieces of legislation this country has seen in decades.” She goes on to discuss how this should force us to rethink ‘representation’ narratives if we have not already and “...to accept many of the premises that sustain the quest for ‘equality’ are ill-conceived.”
What she is saying is that representation is not worth its salt when we see how governments have weaponised representation to deliver one of the most violent pieces of legislation in many years.
As Labour MP for Slough Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi in his speech against the bill stated:
“What’s even more galling … is that the prime minister is getting someone with a brown skin colour to do his dirty work, with a bill that could have disastrous consequences for Black and Brown people. No wonder there are accusations of tokenism from within the Asian, African, and Caribbean British communities. What’s the point of having Black and Brown people as cabinet ministers, sitting on those Conservative frontbenchers, if they are going to directly act against the interests of Black and Brown people, just so they may hold ministerial office?”
The criminalisation of refugees comes attached to the fact many would not be refugees should Britain not be flexing its muscles in these countries. Nations that in many cases are former colonial territories, including Afghanistan and Sudan (south).
Clause nine of the bill would allow the government to take a person’s citizenship without warning if it would “not be reasonably practicable” to inform them first or in the interests of national security, diplomatic relations or otherwise in the public interest. When we see how the Home Office is still treating the Windrush Generation, many dying before gaining compensation, there is cause for grievance.
These may be Conservative proposals but I do not want to lay this at the Tories exclusively, even if this horror show is of their making. It is useful to understand the racist thinking that sits imbued in British party politics in general. Just look back at some of the political conversations happening around the time of Windrush in the 1940s. Then Labour prime minister Clement Atlee wanted to divert the HMT Empire Windrush to East Africa so people from the Caribbean could “pick peanuts.”
Amelia Gentleman, the journalist who broke the story of the Windrush scandal to a wider audience, writes in her book Windrush Betrayal:
“On the day [the Empire Windrush] reached England, eleven Labour MPs had sent a letter to Clement Attlee proposing controls on black immigration. The British people were, they wrote, ‘blessed by the absence of a colour racial problem … An influx of coloured people domiciled here is likely to impair the harmony, strength, and cohesion of our people and social life and cause discord and unhappiness among all those concerned.’ The government should introduce legislation to ‘control immigration in the political, social, economic, and fiscal interests of our people’.”
And as historian David Olusoga writes in the Guardian:
“What followed was a two decade-long political struggle to change Britain’s immigration law and reduce the flow of immigrants from the so-called New Commonwealth. This is the other side of the Windrush story. In 1971, a new immigration act finally achieved that aim and stemmed the flow of migrants from the New Commonwealth. The same law granted those who had already arrived indefinite leave to remain.”
This latest bill further sits on top of home secretary Priti Patel’s suggestion of sending refugees to Ascension Island and government ministers refusing to rule out the use of ‘wave machines’ to stop them crossing the English Channel. And who could forget when Theresa May sent out vans telling migrants to go home or face arrest while saying “we can deport first and hear appeals later” or David Cameron describing refugees as a “swarm”?
What we know about state violence like this is that whilst it starts with Black and Brown people, it will not end with us. They came for the Windrush Generation and now they’re coming for the children. Am I next? Will they then come for allies? The people that stand up for the rights of neighbours, friends, and colleagues.
The erosion of our human rights protections compounded with anti-protest laws backed by billionaire-owned media speaks to a mandate for this and to silencing.
Guilaine Kinouani finishes her article by saying “…solidarity without resistance is not solidarity, it is complicity.” Indeed. For white people reading this I would say tell your friends, colleagues, and relatives to take two sets of notes. The notes you need to assure your safety while you resist, and the notes you need to resist.
There are always opportunities to resist. For me this starts with deconstructing the diversity agenda and what that looks like within institutional spaces. In terms of the Nationality and Borders Bill, following the threads of history and diversity reminds me how nobody is safe if we do not raise the baseline. I understand not everyone is not wired this way, but we all have skills valuable to social justice movements. It’s simply a task of finding out what!
To question and challenge helps everybody in the long and short-term. For the children and young people that might be feeling a little hopeless now in probably the worst of times in their living memory, I tell you to disrupt. There can be joy in activism, and to love in the face of adversity is a political act.
Love openly, feel all your feelings in full, love Black women too; as the late bell hooks wrote, “It is essential to our struggle for self-determination that we speak of love. For love is the necessary foundation enabling us to survive the wars, the hardships, the sickness, and the dying with our spirits intact. It is love that allows us to survive whole.”
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