By David Malone and cross-posted from his blog, Golem XIV
Over the last few months the Brexit debate brought to a head long running arguments about immigration, racism and multiculturalism. It has not been uplifting. People accused each other of being racists, haters, ignorant and lost, as simmering discontents and prejudices all came to the boil. Is it possible to address any of the issues from a different starting place, one that might be less polarised and poisoned? Here is my attempt.
When refugees and immigrants arrive on some foreign shore they are more than just an economic burden or benefit and they come with more than the clothes they stand in. You cannot see it in the photos or videos but they bring with them their culture. It is, apart from those whose hands they are holding on to, their most precious possession. And yet this word ‘culture’ has been too often missing from our debate.
The culture that refugees and immigrants bring with them forms a significant part of who they feel themselves to be, not just individually but collectively. It binds them together and gives them a shared identity. It is the end result of the long and rich history which they all recognise as theirs. Their culture is the storehouse of their history and of their shared assumptions and values. It matters to them.
By exactly the same token, wherever immigrants arrive, they are not arriving in a blank ‘territory’, or ‘place on a map’ where there is work to be had. They are arriving in a culture. A culture which is the result of another long and rich history. A history that has made the shared assumptions and cultural values of those who already live there. And the people who live in that place hold that culture very dear. Their culture matters to them.
This is my starting place. Culture matters. It is a simple statement, but one from which, if you accept it, a great deal unfolds…