The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla, review: ‘I’d push a copy of this through the letter box of every front door in Britain’

A collection of essays that is topical, timely and rather astonishing

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The Independent Culture

Immigration. It’s an “issue”. Open any newspaper, click on any current affairs website, turn on the TV or radio, sit in the pub for long enough, and there it is. Immigration. It seems like everyone is talking about it.

Which is funny, because for a long time it felt like nobody was talking about it; or at least that was the accusation levelled at the main political parties, and the reason most often given for the increased support for marginal, racist groups such as the British National Party or the English Defence League, or for the rise of Ukip. Brexit, we are often told, means Brexit, but for a lot of people who voted in the referendum, it also means immigration.

So first nobody was talking about it, and then everybody was talking about it… or at least, everybody who identified as white, or British, or “indigenous” was talking about it. But what about, well, the immigrants? Or the children, or grandchildren of immigrants? Are they talking about immigration? Is anyone actually asking them to join the dialogue?

Thankfully, Nikesh Shukla is. Specifically, he’s asked 21 British black, Asian or minority ethnic creatives – writers, artists, journalists – to talk about it, and the result is The Good Immigrant, a collection of essays that is topical, timely and rather astonishing.

In these pages you will read Varaidzo’s “Guide to Being Black”, and the heartbreaking story of how, when she was four years old, she was informed by a white friend that although she had one white and one black parent she obviously had to be pigeonholed as “black” because everyone has to be something and she wasn’t white.

You will hear from Vera Chok on what happens when you’re not black and not white but yellow, and how that means you must be Chinese, even if you were born in Malaysia. And, more darkly, how you become, by dint of ethnicity, a sub-category of the porn industry.

You will follow actor Riz Ahmed’s career as this British-Asian is offered only parts as terrorists and how life imitates art – or perhaps the other way round – as typecasting dictates that any British-Asian, not just actors, must be pulled up at border control as suspected terrorists.

The title comes from the notion that immigrants are always bad – freeloading, benefit-swindling, girlfriend-stealing bad – until they win awards or gold medals or get respectable jobs, when they become “good immigrants”.

The stories are sometimes funny, sometimes brutal, always honest. If you find them shocking, it’s probably because you’re white, like me, and don't have to live with any of this every single day of the week. And for that reason, if I could, I’d push a copy of this through the letter box of every front door in Britain.

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