REVIEW: The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla

the-good-immigrantWhat’s it like to live in a country that doesn’t trust you and doesn’t want you unless you win an Olympic gold medal or a national baking competition? It’s this question that The Good Immigrant goes about trying to answer. This collection of essays from twenty-one black, Asian and minority ethnic voices in Britain today, explores what it means to be an immigrant or a child of an immigrant in the UK.

The Good Immigrant is an important book. Each essay is only around ten pages long and they are all very different in how they talk about race in Britain. Some essays are anecdotal while some are more fact-based, some are humorous as the authors attitude and voice shines through while others are more distant and to the point. Naturally I enjoyed some essays more than others, some pulled me in quicker and shared the same humour as myself, but they were all interesting and enlightening in different ways.

The writers in The Good Immigrant are from a range of backgrounds and careers, there’s actors like Riz Ahmed, whose essay “Airports and Auditions” can actually be read on The Guardian’s website and I really would recommend it, and there’s comedians and journalists and writers and teachers and poets and they all have something to say.

The writing in The Good Immigrant is honest and heartfelt. It shines a light what it’s like being a person of colour in Britain today, especially when you don’t fit into societies neat categories and have to tick “Other” on application forms more often than not. The Good Immigrant can be a tough read if you don’t want to see societies differences – it’s quite easy for us Brits to say “oh we’re not as bad as America” but we really do have our own set of problems that we should face up to.

My favourite essays were Ahmed’s “Airports and Auditions”, Bim Adewunmi’s essay “What We Talk About When We Talk About Tokenism” which is about representation in popular culture, Inua Ellams’ essay “Cutting Through (On Black Barbershops and Masculinity” whose title speaks for itself but it is a really interesting look at barbershops in Britain and in various countries in Africa, and “Is Nish Kumar a Confused Muslim?” by Nish Kumar who talked about how his image got turned into a meme.

The Good Immigrant is an important and timely book. It doesn’t necessarily have all the answers but that’s not what it set out to do. It’s an honest look at people of colour in Britain today and how their thoughts and views are just as contradictory as anyone else’s, and they should be listened to and valued, not just when they’ve done something extraordinary to impress the nation. 5/5.

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