I bought The Good Immigrant as part of my 21st Century module for my English degree, the book was only published in September 2016. I was a little sceptical of such contemporary reading, and a little sceptical of this module, as I found it hard to believe any book written so recently could be decided as a classic worth studying without several years of debate and research produced on it. However, after reading The Good Immigrant it blew all my reservations out the water, along with many classics I’d previously studied. This book contains twenty-one different essays where Black, Asian and other minority ethnic writers explore what it’s like to grow up and live in Britain; a country that often makes you feel unwanted or alien. Nikesh Shukla crowdfunded and edited the book because of the “constant anxiety we feel as people of colour to justify our space, to show that we have earned our place at the table”.
The list of why this book is so important, especially right now where we are seeing the rise of the far right and an increase of racial hate crime, is endless and you can only truly understand the full scope of what this book means once you’ve read it; which you should, anyone should, I really can’t emphasise that enough! However, I’ll go over some of the broader reasons as to why The Good Immigrant should be something from 2016 that we focus on more.
It is brutally honest. These writers don’t sugar coat the truth for you, nor should they. On the back of the book in huge font reads ‘what’s it like to live in a country that doesn’t trust you and doesn’t want you unless you win an Olympic medal or a national baking competition?’ Straight to the point, no beating around the bush, with a direct question that makes you realise very quickly that this is how so many ethnic minorities feel in Britain. It is very easy, especially when living in large cities, to naively believe that Britain’s race division is ‘not that bad’, that having Ore Oduba win 2016 Strictly and Nadiya Hussain win 2015 Bake Off means we, as a country, are battling racism – and winning! This book brutally shuts those ideas down with example after example of how not being white and living in Britain means you will experience racism no matter who or where you are.
This book covers a broad spectrum of people; ages, gender, race, experience – these writers cover a vast scope. This is also important. Many of the writers talk about how they feel they are forgotten, or not allowed to discuss their experience.
Vera Chok writes how, as someone who is Malaysian born, with Chinese ethnicity and Britain citizenship she is frequently on the receiving end of racial abuse. From simply having men shout ‘hey, Chinese’ at her to the fetishisation of Asian women, she has experienced it constantly since living in Britain. However, she feels she can never talk about it ‘what with the whitewashing of history and the darkness of slavery and oppression, I don’t feel as if I own, or am allowed to own “real suffering” because of the colour of my skin. Instead I bear a different kind of badge, one I’m supposed to be pleased about “model minority”. Is yellow too pale a colour to shout about?’ To have a range of perspectives is really essential as it means that anyone reading this book will be given a new take, a new view on how someone else lives and feels in a country we all share, making everyone more aware of what others are going through.
This book is funny! I may have made it all sound very serious, and don’t get me wrong there is a very serious point to this book, but it is also incredibly witty. The stories contain hilarious anecdotes and the skilled writers weave their way through different experiences with ease, making the book a joy to read. It is also very moving, as the writers tell us of love, whether it be between families, couples or friends, embarrassment, heroes and villains. We read of growing up and responsibility both from cultural heritage and from simply becoming an adult. There are things here that we can all relate to, as well as things we really can’t but should be able to understand.
The Good Immigrant forces you to open your eyes and your mind to the reality of an increasingly worrying situation of what Britain is like, and how our country is dominated by a culture of whiteness, forcing many who don’t fit this category to feel like the ‘other’. The Good Immigrant has opened up a new space to talk about race and racism in the UK and I can only hope that it paves the way for more people to come forward and take up the debate.