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

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Review: One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

In One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Scaachi deploys her razor-sharp humour to share her fears, outrages and mortifying experiences as an outsider growing up in Canada. Her subjects range from shaving her knuckles in grade school, to a shopping trip gone horribly awry, to dealing with internet trolls, to feeling out of place at an Indian wedding (as an Indian woman), to parsing the trajectory of fears and anxieties that pressed upon her immigrant parents and bled down a generation. Alongside these personal stories are pointed observations about life as a woman of color, where every aspect of her appearance is open for critique, derision or outright scorn. Where strict gender rules bind in both Western and Indian cultures, forcing her to confront questions about gender dynamics, racial tensions, ethnic stereotypes and her father’s creeping mortality–all as she tries to find her feet in the world.

Any writer promised to bear similarities to either Mindy Kaling or Roxane Gay will have my immediate interest in the palm of their hand. And Scaachi Koul did not disappoint with her wry humor and telling insights on a plethora of subjects. Dealing with fear, anxiety, grief, parenting, insecurities, racial discrimination, racial advantage, shadism, white privilege, sexism, feminism, online harassment, sexual harassment, diversity in media, and so much more. Koul won my heart over almost instantly with her essays.

But most of all, I knew I was a goner when she talked about her family. Getting to read about a small piece of her Kashmiri family history was intoxicating. I wanted more and more and more. Her parents remain two of the most caring and daring ones I’ve had the pleasure to read as of late.

And I’m not even kidding when I say that most of my favorite pieces were about them. I mean:

“My dad first saw her at his cousin’s house—my mom was her friend—and was flustered by her beauty. Ask my dad and he’ll wax poetic about my mother’s cheekbones, her rich eyes, her long hair, how he needed to get to know her. My mom didn’t even know he was there.”


“Nothing bad can happen to you if you’re with your mom. Your mom can stop a bullet from lodging in your heart. She can prop you up when you can’t. Your mom is your blood and bone before your body even knows how to make any.”

Daughters showing love for their mothers is how my heart remains fulfilled.

“In the fifth grade, I got my hair chopped off in an ill-advised pixie cut, some two feet of dark black hair sheared off me like a sheep. Mom gathered it all and stuffed it into a heavy-duty Ziploc bag. “What are you doing?” I asked her as she tucked the bag into her purse. “When you’re older,” she said, “you’re going to get married, and this we can use for hair extensions on your wedding day.” She put the hair in the deep-freezer in the garage and it’s still there; sometimes when I root around for Pizza Pockets I will instead pull out a bag filled with my DNA. My mother would like a wedding, please, and it is not optional.”

This is so extra. I love it.tumblr_olylf6ykdg1qf9n62o2_540tumblr_olylf6ykdg1qf9n62o1_540

“Papa ends most of his calls with me the way you might close a conversation with someone you want to menace. “Anyway,” he’ll say, “I’ll be here. Staring into the abyss.” Or, when I have given him good news, “The talented will rule and the rest will perish in the sea of mediocrity.” Or, when I have given him bad news, “I am sorry for everything that happens to you, as everything is my fault.” 


“When he started watching The Wire he answered the phone with “What up?” or “Who dat?” or some other linguistic appropriation that does not actually appear in the show. If I don’t acknowledge this greeting (perhaps with a similarly enthusiastic, “It’s ya boy”), he will say it another two or three times. It’s important that you notice this good mood he is in, because it is fleeting.”

Real talk, I want a whole book where Scaachi Koul gets to talk solely about her dad, please. 5/5 stars just for him. And so I loved how each essay ended with a snippet from one of her emails with her dad. I got to a point where I was looking forward to seeing what would be shared at the end of each written piece.

“None of this—the impatience, the frustration, the willingness to hold a grudge against an inanimate object—is new to me. He’s always been waiting for something to ruin his life. When I was little and would pretend to be a doctor and he my patient, he’d ask me surprisingly real questions about his hypertension and cholesterol, when all I wanted to do was “test his reflexes” by hitting him in the shin with a plastic mallet. He colours with Raisin but wants her to do something more “cerebral” with her talents. “No, don’t colour like that,” he says. “Colour in the lines. The lines! Well, if you’re going to do it that way, at least do some Cubist-inspired art. Show your inner angst. Show how angry you are at the establishment!” She frowns at him and tries to ignore his commands. “Yes,” he says. “Colour Dora’s face.”

This is the quality content I’m here for.

Also, I lived for this iconic moment when her dad was introduced to Scaachi’s older (by thirteen years) boyfriend:

“They shook hands. Papa led him into the kitchen, where all serious family matters tend to take place. He offered Hamhock tea. “You look good,” Papa said. “For someone your age.” 

Let me rephrase, this is not an iconic scene this is THE iconic scene.
However, since I kind of disliked her boyfriend a lot, my enjoyment was lowered every time he was mentioned. (Which turned out to be quite a lot for a memoir…)

But circling back to the positives, all of the pieces are entertaining, riveting and humorous, but some worked better for me than others. Like, the piece on body hair -which I’m still beyond grateful that someone finally wrote about in a book- remains one of my favorite essays.

“I didn’t shave more of it off. I didn’t want James to know he had gotten to me, so I figured I’d wait until the summer, the way I did for my moustache and brows, so that everyone would just forget I ever had hair in the first place. In class, though, James noticed the bald patch on my forearm. He laughed. “Did you try shaving your arm because I told you that you were hairy?”
James works in finance now. He lives in Boston. We are all eventually punished for our sins.”

THIS GIRL.c6bhuluxeaeira8And last but not least, this crucial piece on social media and interaction:

“Who do you even talk to on Twitter?” Papa asked me after I told him I had rejoined. “Who could be so important there?” I thought about my family’s traditional Kashmiri last name, how any other Kashmiri can point us out in a phone book and know where we’re from. This has, literally, happened: when I was still living at home, a recent immigrant looked up our listed number, called us, and asked if he could come over to talk to my parents and get some help integrating. Mom made him fried vangan and Papa offered him chai and I was perplexed that my otherwise very private, very protective parents let a complete stranger stroll into their home just because he came from the same region they did. But they were trying to find connection, to talk to someone who understood them. I will likely have to tell you, here, that vangan is eggplant, but online, I can find someone in mere seconds who already knows that. Our worlds become a little smaller, we feel closer, we feel less alone.”

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter is something I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Candid, outspoken, laugh-out-loud funny essays are the way to my heart. And I hope we’ll get to see similar books released in the very near future because I crave more and more and more.

4.5/5 stars

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Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“My work is to give you what I know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your own.”

In a series of essays, written as a letter to his son, Coates confronts the notion of race in America and how it has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives.

I listened to this as an audiobook and I cannot imagine having read listened it any differently. The writer’s words left a profound mark on me.

And I feel as if my own words won’t do justice to these essays, so I’m going to share some of the profound quotes and passages that left me with an array of warring emotions:

Essay I:

“But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.”

“It was not my expectation that anyone would ever be punished. But you were young and still believed. You stayed up till 11 P.M. that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you said, “I’ve got to go,” and you went into your room, and I heard you crying.”

This made the indistinct sadness well up in me.

“Later, I would hear it in Dad’s voice—“Either I can beat him, or the police.” Maybe that saved me. Maybe it didn’t. All I know is, the violence rose from the fear like smoke from a fire, and I cannot say whether that violence, even administered in fear and love, sounded the alarm or choked us at the exit.”

“I don’t know what it means to grow up with a black president, social networks, omnipresent media, and black women everywhere in their natural hair. What I know is that when they loosed the killer of Michael Brown, you said, “I’ve got to go.” And that cut me because, for all our differing worlds, at your age my feeling was exactly the same.”

“Algebra, Biology, and English were not subjects so much as opportunities to better discipline the body, to practice writing between the lines, copying the directions legibly, memorizing theorems extracted from the world they were created to represent. All of it felt so distant to me. I remember sitting in my seventh-grade French class and not having any idea why I was there.”

“Why, precisely, was I sitting in this classroom?
The question was never answered. I was a curious boy, but the schools were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance. I loved a few of my teachers. But I cannot say that I truly believed any of them. ”

“I devoured the books because they were the rays of light peeking out from the doorframe, and perhaps past that door there was another world, one beyond the gripping fear that undergirded the Dream.”

“The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.”

“In my small apartment, she kissed me, and the ground opened up, swallowed me, buried me right there in that moment. How many awful poems did I write thinking of her?”

“You were born that August. I thought of the great spectrum of The Mecca—black people from Belize, black people with Jewish mothers, black people with fathers from Bangalore, black people from Toronto and Kingston, black people who spoke Russian, who spoke Spanish, who played Mongo Santamaría, who understood mathematics and sat up in bone labs, unearthing the mysteries of the enslaved. There was more out there than I had ever hoped for, and I wanted you to have it.”

“Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free. Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains—whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains.”

“You have to make your peace with the chaos, but you cannot lie. You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold.”

Essay II:

“The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority.”

“Now at night, I held you and a great fear, wide as all our American generations, took me. Now I personally understood my father and the old mantra—“Either I can beat him or the police.” I understood it all—the cable wires, the extension cords, the ritual switch. Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that America made. ”

“It was only after you that I understood this love, that I understood the grip of my mother’s hand. She knew that the galaxy itself could kill me, that all of me could be shattered and all of her legacy spilled upon the curb like bum wine.”

“So I feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you contort your body to address the block, and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give the police a reason. All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to “be twice as good,” which is to say “accept half as much.”

“It only takes one person to make a change,” you are often told. This is also a myth. Perhaps one person can make a change, but not the kind of change that would raise your body to equality with your countrymen.”

“Our current politics tell you that should you fall victim to such an assault and lose your body, it somehow must be your fault. Trayvon Martin’s hoodie got him killed. Jordan Davis’s loud music did the same. John Crawford should never have touched the rifle on display. Kajieme Powell should have known not to be crazy. And all of them should have had fathers—even the ones who had fathers, even you. Without its own justifications, the Dream would collapse upon itself. You first learned this from Michael Brown. I first learned it from Prince Jones.”

Essay III:

“I have never asked how you became personally aware of the distance. Was it Mike Brown? I don’t think I want to know. But I know that it has happened to you already, that you have deduced that you are privileged and yet still different from other privileged children, because you are the bearer of a body more fragile than any other in this country. ”

Listening and reading Between the World and Me completely shifted my worldview. I read it this weekend and I swear, it will haunt me for weeks to come.

I also love that there were pictures scattered throughout the book.between-the-world-and-me-1-bookspoilsbetween-the-world-and-me-2-bookspoilsbetween-the-world-and-me-3-bookspoilsbetween-the-world-and-me-4-bookspoilsbetween-the-world-and-me-5-bookspoils

4.5/5 stars

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