Review: The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla

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 forms.

These beautiful, powerful, unapologetic essays collect twenty-one universal experiences: “feelings of anger, displacement, defensiveness, curiosity, absurdity – we look at death, class, microaggression, popular culture, access, free movement, stake in society, lingual fracas, masculinity, and more.”

As with Nasty Women, this essay collection was one I’ve been eagerly anticipating to read. And more than ever, especially in today’s political climate, is it important that these voices are being published and heard. I definitely took my time to let each and everyone of these written pieces sink in. So instead of beating around the bush, I’d like to next share some of my favorite top notch quotes from The Good Immigrant:

Namaste by Nikesh Shukla:

Cultural misappropriation and language are important key ideas discussed in this introductory essay.

“A comedian, Kumail Nanjiani, an avid gamer, once expressed his delight that the Call of Duty series finally set a level in Karachi, the city of his childhood, now one of the top ten most dangerous cities in the world. He was appalled, on playing the game, to see that all the street signs were in Arabic. Not Urdu. He talks about the effort put into making each follicle on each soldier’s head stand out, into making their boot laces bounce as they ran, the millions spent developing this game, and how at no point did anyone decide to Google the language of Pakistan.”

A Guide to Being Black by Varaidzo:

An incredible discussion on being mixed-race.

“The world saw blackness in me before it saw anything else and operated around me with blackness in mind.
There was a drama to blackness, a certain swagger and verve, an active way of experiencing and being experienced that mixedness could not accommodate, one that I was committed to embodying fully.
There was one thing I’d never considered about mixing red and yellow: a drop of yellow into red paint won’t do much to change the colour, but one drop of red into yellow and the whole pot is tainted for ever.”

“It’s a tree falling in a forest conundrum: if a white kid raps all the lyrics to ‘Gold Digger’ and there isn’t a black person around to hear it, is it still racist?”

My Name Is My Name by Chimene Suleyman:

This whip-smart written piece left me speechless in the best possible way

“It is there in the white men and women who do not understand, to the point of frustration, why we still walk with the noose of our ancestors around our necks, as we cannot comprehend how they do not carry the indignity of their ancestors tying it there.”

Forming Blackness Through a Screen by Reni Eddo-Lodge:

“To be an immigrant, good or bad, is about straddling two homes, whilst knowing you don’t really belong to either. It is about both consuming versions of blackness, digging around in history until you get confirmation that you were there, whilst creating your own for the present and the future. It is up to you to make your own version of blackness in any way you can – trying on all the different versions, altering them until they fit.”

‘You Can’t Say That! Stories Have To Be About White People!’ by Darren Chetty:

This essay from a teacher’s point of view about educating the kids in his class on seeing themselves represented in books was beyond powerful.

“If you are a teacher, try this with your class. Ask them to write down their favourite 25 children’s book characters. Then ask them to count how many of those characters are white (and look for other patterns too, such as gender and disability). If you’re not a teacher, ask any child you know. Or maybe ask the staff in a bookshop to show you the picture-books with a black boy, or a mixed-race girl or a Muslim child as the protagonist. I tried this once and received a lot of help in searching from a clearly panicked shopkeeper – but very few books.”

And I love that the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign was brought up.

Airports and Auditions by Riz Ahmed:

Having Riz Ahmed featured in here was such a pleasant surprise, especially since I was already aquatinted with his incredible way with words.

“As a minority, no sooner do you learn to polish and cherish one chip on your shoulder, it’s taken off you and swapped out for another. The jewellery of your struggles is forever on loan, like the Koh-i-Noor. You are intermittently handed this Necklace of labels to hang around your neck, neither of your choosing nor making, both constricting and decorative.
Part of the reason I became an actor was the promise that I might be able to help stretch these Necklaces, and that the teenage version of myself might breathe a little easier as a result. If the films I re-enacted as a kid could humanise mutants and aliens, maybe there was hope for us.”

I feel this in my heart.

The Wife of a Terrorist by Miss L:

Miss L discusses the importance of seeing yourself reflected in media.

“I mean, it’s supposedly fine to cast white actors in ethnic minority roles (Angelina Jolie, Emma Stone, Mickey Rooney, I could go on …) but the other way round? There’s more chance of seeing Benedict Cumberbatch in the dole queue. ”

This right here!!!

“There are such connotations linked with being Middle Eastern that you generally can’t play a role unless it has something to do with your race. Sure, I can play a doctor or a lawyer or a street cleaner, but only if I’m being forced into an arranged marriage in the background or providing a cover-up for my terrorist husband. If there’s some really daring casting then I might get to play a character that defies my father’s wishes, if that happens then maybe I get to wear a nice dress and not wear a hijab. But very rarely do I get to play a role that isn’t defined by the preconceptions made about the colour of my skin.”

What We Talk About When We Talk About Tokenism by Bim Adewunmi:

Bim Adewunmi suggests that a pre-requisite to a debate on representation is the need to expose the lie behind “universal” experience, to quote this article.

“It appears clear to me that there is a gap in what people mean when they say things like ‘we’re all one race – the human race’ and how they actually see the world. The thing that means a person cannot imagine seeing a Asian man as a superhero (you know, that set of fictional beings with special powers) is pretty much the same thing that makes a person cringe away from feeling empathy for a fictional dying black girl (Rue, played by Amandla Stenberg in The Hunger Games). It leaks into the everyday, too – if you cannot bring yourself to imagine us as real, rounded individuals with feelings equal to your own on screen, how does that affect your ability to do so when you encounter us on the street, at your workplace, in your bed, in your life?”

That last sentence speaks volumes!!!

This collection without a doubt articulated significant points that made me both see something I’d previously not noticed and emphasize things I’d felt but not said, to paraphrase Darren Chetty’s essay. However, since I got stuck about halfway through and didn’t get to read  The Good Immigrant consecutively, it made my reading experience a bit less grabbing towards the end. All in all, though, this is a book set to linger with me long after I finish the last page.  A truly revolutionary read.

5/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying The Good Immigrant, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

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