Immigrant, expat, part of the Irish diaspora – which one am I? Born in Malaysia to an Indian father and an Irish mother, raised in Ireland where I lived till the age of 27. Now living in England for almost 7 years, my brown skin identifies my otherness, but my Irish accent catches people off guard.
I had always understood I was welcome here – another brown face in London, another Irish accent in County Clapham. But on that Friday in June 2016, when I woke to the results of the referendum on Brexit, I suddenly felt like my welcome was not guaranteed and definitely not permanent.
Now that Article 50 has been “triggered” – a description that conjures images of Russian roulette! – it feels as if a deadline has been set. I am engaged to marry an English man, we own a home in England together, but now I feel as if our roots are far shallower than we realised.
The refugee crisis. The Muslim ban. Brexit. Rising tides of arbitrary, subjective nationalism. Battle lines being drawn – us and them. Who is fortunate enough to have freedom to live where they want, and who must rely on the grace of others? What defines the characteristics of each side? What differentiates an expat from a refugee? What makes one life worth more than another? Money it seems. And whiteness.
The lighter the skin, the more assimilated you become. The more neutral your accent, the more welcome you are. Blend in. Be like everyone else. Don’t dare be different. Don’t dare reveal your otherness. Be grateful for the opportunities bestowed upon you, regardless of how hard you have worked for them; they are not a right, they are a privilege that can be taken away.
And, through all of this, stay silent. Don’t speak of otherness as that will simply exaggerate yours. Don’t highlight inequalities or injustices as that will cause social awkwardness or discomfort for our gracious hosts. Be gracious. Be appreciative. Or else?