Today I thought I’d talk to you about a book I’ve been reading recently called ‘The Good Immigrant’, a collection of essays from 21 different public figures ranging from comedians, actors, and other figures exploring what it’s like being a person of colour in Britain today. I had heard of the book online and recall hearing the title before I bought it, but never knew what it actually consisted of. I am SO glad that I decided to give it a chance, it was transformative for me.
In the past year or so I haven’t really had the opportunity to read as many books as I would like, because of my long university reading lists, forcing me to put them first. This is not to say I don’t enjoy the literature I study on my course, I certainly do, over time though I have come to realise that – with a few exceptions – the books I read for classes do not really represent me. At all. I have also realised that whilst I have a healthy appreciation for the classics and 18th century / Victorian literature, contemporary literature and writing is what I favour. I admit, I am tired of reading about a Jane Austen washed England, that ignores a wider social context and focuses on a romantic view of proposals, frivolous dances and stately homes. This is an era I can’t relate to in any way, shape or form and this is why I enjoyed two modules over my first year and second year which focused only on contemporary literature. They feature issues I can relate to and characters I am invested in.
I am reading ‘The Good Immigrant’ at a time when Brexit is happening, when a misogynistic, ignorant man is president of the USA, both of which have affected me deeply, despite the latter happening in an entirely different country. The book begins with an editors note, which has a line which resonates so deeply with me; ‘For people of colour, race is in everything we do. Because the universal experience is white’. As I read on, I felt included, I knew what the various writers meant when they mentioned what they felt growing up with a lack of diversity on television or the conscious nature of a seemingly dual identity. I was also educated along the way, gaining an insight into communities of colour that I am not a part of, through ‘Yellow’ by Vera Chok, I learnt more about her life experiences and her views on the Chinese diaspora and the fetishisation of asian women. Through a ‘Guide to being Black’ by Varaidzo I read about her experience of being mixed race through anecdotes she shares about her life. ‘Airports and Auditions’ by Riz Ahmed was a clever use of these spaces, he mentions his desire to take on roles that don’t fit into specific stereotypes or brackets, to ‘loosen the necklace of stereotypes’ he mentions in his essay. He also details his experiences with airport security in the post 9/11 period, another key issue. He addresses these issues in a unique and humorous tone, something that I liked whilst reading it, I also respect that he uses his voice to advocate whenever he can. I think a short series he was in on HBO called ‘The Night Of’ is also a moving look into the criminal justice system in the US and the way young muslim men are treated within that system.
All of the essays are powerful and engaging, and so honest. I would recommend it and I also think it’s an important book, especially in the time we live in. I acknowledge that things are slowly improving but it is clear that we still have a long way to go when it comes to representation and getting equality in all arenas, whether it be literature, a music awards show or the work place. This collection of essays creates a space for an important and necessary dialogue, and I hope that even more people read it and appreciate it’s message.
Take care, Rumaanah x