Friday 2 December 2016

The Good Immigrant, ed. Nikesh Shukla

Pages: 272
Publisher: Unbound
Release Date: 22nd September 2016
Edition: UK hardcover, review copy

How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport?

Or to be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of a terrorist’? How does it feel to have words from your native language misused, misappropriated and used aggressively towards you? How does it feel to hear a child of colour in a classroom say that stories can only be about white people? How does it feel to go ‘home’ to India when your home is really London? What is it like to feel you always have to be an ambassador for your race? How does it feel to always tick ‘Other’?

Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – however many generations you’ve been here – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring system.

Inspired by discussion around why society appears to deem people of colour as bad immigrants – job stealers, benefit scroungers, undeserving refugees – until, by winning Olympic races or baking good cakes, or being conscientious doctors, they cross over and become good immigrants, editor Nikesh Shukla has compiled a collection of essays that are poignant challenging, angry, humorous, heartbreaking, polemic, weary and – most importantly – real.

The Good Immigrant has been everywhere since the crowdfunding with Unbound began and I somehow missed out on backing it so I was over the moon to be offered a copy from Unbound.

I went into this book with a head full of amazing reviews and a weariness of my own privilege of being white. And I came out with more knowledge of the cultures of the people that I share the world with and an even sharper knowledge of my privilege.

The 21 essays in this collection cover religion, sexuality, fashion, the arts, work and more; sometimes in academic essays, others anecdotal or poetic. They’re angry, raw, funny, honest and all equally insightful. I quickly realised how little I know about the cultures outside of the West and how little those cultures were made a part of British education. It made me realise that it’s down to me to educate myself.

My favourite three essays were spoken word poet Salena Godden’s ‘Shade’, ‘Flags’ by editor Coco Khan and actor Riz Ahmed’s ‘Airports and Auditions’. ‘Shade’ completely blew me away. The writing is lyrical, powerful and her musings on being mixed race made the whole essay a force of nature. Gorgeous. ‘Flags’ is fresh, funny and thoughtful and it covered sexuality and relationships in a way that wasn’t explored in the other essays. ‘Airports and Auditions’ is another essay that brought in the humour and still packed a punch and kept me thoroughly engaged.

The Good Immigrant is honest, raw and incredibly important. I’m so glad it’s out in the world.

Thanks to Unbound for the review copy.


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