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THE RIGHT TO REMAIN - QUESTIONING AND APPRECIATING PRIVILEGE

November 11, 2017

 

 

Brexit is a topic quite hard to avoid these days. A lot of the debate upsets me. It's very emotional and it upsets a lot of people in different ways.

 

But as someone who doesn't have the right to remain in the UK, I have quite a different perspective from the ones that I hear on the news and from my friends. I'm sensitive to all the people already excluded from the privilege of living and working in the UK.

 

As an Australian I know a lot about the rights of Australians, but my knowledge about the rights of people from other British colonies is limited. I'd like to learn more and I know it is my responsibility to seek out this knowledge, rather than expecting other marginalised people to explain their oppression to me. 

 

But I can start by sharing what I do know. And by asking you to think about Brexit from another perspective, because there is more to this story than just the experiences of white Europeans and white British people. 

 

I ask Europeans affected by Brexit to be more sympathetic to your global neighbours. UK and European citizenship and residency maintain an elite status. Many citizens from countries that have been colonised by the UK (like India) do not have the right to live or work here. Although it is horrible to have privilege taken away living and working in the UK is nonetheless a privilege that many others around the world do not, have not, and likely never will have access to.

 

I ask British people upset by Brexit to likewise look further afield. Although it is horrible to lose the connection to the European community, that connection is a privilege that many other nations do not enjoy. The history of colonisation has given this country many rich and dynamic connections with other nations and peoples all around the world. Yet those nations and peoples do not share the same privileges that Europeans do in this country. Their languages, histories and cultures are not taught in British schools. Their history of interaction with the UK (a history of colonisation, slavery, genocide, and economic exploitation) is barely even acknowledged in this country. Despite the debt that the UK owes to these countries, their people do not have the right to live and work here, and many British people barely even acknowledge or know about their shared history with these parts of the world.

 

"...a privilege that many others around the world do not, have not, and likely never will have access to."

 

Jamaica is a nation that was directly formed by the British slave trade, conveying African slaves to the Caribbean to work on British owned farms that financed British land-owners. Yet since 1962 Jamaicans do not have the right to live and work in the UK.

 

 

Australia is a nation State directly formed by the UK’s colonisation and genocide of diverse groups Indigenous Australians, who prior to colonisation consisted of hundreds of separate nations in their own rights. It is a country made up by a majority of English, Irish and European immigrants. To do this day, Australia remains a part of the Commonwealth with a Governor General, appointed by the Queen of England, who has the right to remove the Australian government from office (which happened to the Labour Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975!). Yet Australians do not have the right to live or work in the UK unless they can prove that their parents or grandparents were born here.

 

"...remember all those who have been and continue to be excluded"

 

As Europeans please remember the countries colonised by Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and the Dutch, which are continuing to suffer from the ramifications of colonialism, whose indigenous languages have been lost, whose cultures have been destroyed, and whose peoples have faced genocide at the hands of Europeans. Those people that remain do not have the right to live and work in the UK or Europe. That history of colonisation, slavery, and genocide is rarely acknowledged, and equally their languages, cultures and histories are not taught or remembered in Europe either. 

 

"How can we use our own needs, our own struggles, to help us understand and appreciate the needs and struggles of others?"

 

I would argue that there is a deep-rooted cultural elitism that governs the British and European desire for community and belonging. It is based on an assumption of whiteness, of shared religious beliefs, and a shared cultural history. Yet the concept of a shared and essential ‘European’ cultural identity has only recently emerged (in the last century or so). Prior to this, 'Europe' was a conflicted space of multiple and completing national identities, frequently at war with one another. This imagined unification has only been possible since the Second World War and it exists in direct opposition to other imagined global identities such ‘African’, 'American', ‘Latin-American’ and ‘Asian’ which are imagined as distinct, separate, and Other. 

 

Although I recognise that the loss of privilege is never something to be taken lightly, please put that privilege in context and remember all those who have been and continue to be excluded from it.This is deep and painful territory. Acknowledging our own privileges is a difficult task. But I ask that rather than feeling guilty for our lack of knowledge, we ask ourselves "Why don't I know that?" I ask that we take a good hard look at the educational, cultural and political systems that shape our knowledge, and think about how they could change for the better, and more specifically, how we can educate ourselves for the better. How can we use our own needs, our own struggles, to help us understand and appreciate the needs and struggles of others?

 

 

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