Review: The Good Immigrant – Nikesh Shukla

by @edent | #

Book cover featuring all the names of the contributing authors.

Inspired by discussion around why society appears to deem people of colour as bad immigrants – job stealers, benefit scroungers, undeserving refugees – until, by winning Olympic races or baking good cakes, or being conscientious doctors, they cross over and become good immigrants, editor Nikesh Shukla has compiled a collection of essays that are poignant, challenging, angry, humorous, heartbreaking, polemic, weary and – most importantly – real.

I don’t know how to review this book. Some of the essays are full of footnotes, others are a causal chat. Some are funny, some heartbreaking. All burn with (righteous) indignation.

Each one is a wonderful examination of a facet of intersectionality that I don’t usually read about.

And yet… Half the time I was nodding along vigorously because I’ve had similar experiences. I’m not (noticeably) an immigrant – but I’ve felt the frustration of constant othering. That the world isn’t always built for people like me. We all live with the secret fear that we’re not good enough, that we’re not acceptable, that we’re outside the bounds of “decent” society.

I appreciate that my lived-experiences probably don’t compete with the steady drip-drip-drip of poison – but it made me wonder about the privilege hierarchy, and which experiences are common to most of us.

The other half of the time I felt mildly bewildered. Life is about choices, and those choices have consequences. I’m not trying to be needlessly snarky here – but if you choose to go jogging, your feet are going to ache. If you choose to be an actor, you’re going to be typecast. Everyone has a story about how they didn’t get a job because the manager chose someone who looked like them, spoke like them, worshipped the same sports team as them, or had the same genitals as them. Yes, it is frighteningly unfair, yes it is worse for some people than others. But, no, I don’t think it is a unique burden.

I sound more harsh than I feel. This is an excellent and thought-provoking book. And if you’ve never considered looking out through someone else’s eyes, I recommend it. We need to change the world, become more welcoming, and not require assimilation to be the price of admission to society.

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