The summer of 2016 was memorable for various reasons, from studying in Singapore for a month, to participating in an international work camp in Palestine. I met a lot of people from all over the world and learnt a variety of things useful for both my academic and personal life. Particularly, my introverted self gained confidence to adventure myself into similar opportunities in the future. Hence earlier this year, when I was presented with the option of doing a funded internship in China, I was unable to say no to the opportunity.
(Before reading this post I recommend you to read the previous one linked to this topic, “My First Term at University: Independence, Studying, Socialising & Wellbeing”.)
The last four months of my first year in university went by quickly. I had a mixture of seminars, workshops and lectures every week, together with daily readings. Lectures are my preferred teaching method. Seminars and workshops are nice now and then, but I don’t feel like interacting with people constantly and the sessions can be exhausting. My modules for the second term were: Institutions of Aid, Global Politics of the Environment, Key Thinkers in Development and Issues in Development. Key Thinkers in Development was my favourite one, I liked learning about different theorists every week. I also discovered intellectuals I want to learn more about, such as Frantz Fanon and Naila Kabeer.
As part of my assessments, I had to write two 1000-words concepts notes (Key Thinkers in Development), do a group presentation (Issues in Development), complete a 2000-words essay (Global Politics of the Environment) and take two unseen exams (Issues in Development and Institutions of Aid). My results for the concept notes were the most disappointing ones: 64 and 61 (out of 100). The grades aren’t bad, they are equivalent to 2:1. The problem is, I worked hard on those short essays, I even sought feedback after getting just 64 in the first one, but ended up getting 61 in the second one. I was upset because I saw no progress from my previous concept notes.
On the contrary, the 2000 words essays went great, I spent a lot of time in it and I got a 70! The group presentation also went well, I had 71, despite my reluctance to do group work due to my individualistic tendencies. And, startlingly, the two exams were the best bit of my results: I had 72 and 84. My average grade for the whole academic year ended up being 69%, 1% off my goal, a first (the highest degree classification in UK). Nevertheless, I’m happy with this mark: I passed the year and improved from my first term to the second one. Taking into account how tough things were due to my poor emotional wellbeing (I had to take a week off lessons and put off exam revisions till a week before each exam), I’m glad I made it and didn’t drop out or fail.
When comes to life outside the academic world, I spent a few hours a week volunteering for my local Red Cross division. I applied and got accepted to be a “Project Research Assistant” on November 2015 and I went to the Red Cross office to work most Fridays till June 2016. My key role was carrying out a project as part of the Red Cross’s “Responding to Financial Crisis” program: building links between foodbanks / food aid providers and the organisation. I completed it with another volunteer, who was a third-year student in the same university and school as me. Our tasks included: project management, emailing / calling and visiting foodbanks / food aid providers, creating databases and directories, researching and producing a leaflet with all the data and information gathered.
Carrying out the project was a stimulating experience, my colleague and I were given huge flexibility, but also huge responsibility: we worked under minimal supervision. I tend to work better as an individual, yet the teamwork went great. My colleague was very nice and working with her was a pleasure, plus we often talked about non-volunteering related issues, such as our studies and our personal lives, during our breaks/free time. We bonded well.
Although it was not a remunerated position, I gained a lot from this opportunity: I acquired administrative skills and experience working with a non-profit organisation (perfect for my degree). I also participated in a 3-day foundation training course, in which I learnt about the Red Cross, humanitarian work, first aid, emergency response, supporting people in crisis, emotional wellbeing, safeguarding, self-care and responding to psychological distress. On top of everything, it was rewarding being able to help with a cause close to my heart and personal experiences (financial crisis).
Volunteering was not the only extracurricular activity I did during the last term: on March 2016 I found a temporary salaried job! I was very lucky to get it, I saw the advertisement on the careers hub of my university the day the vacancy ended. I swiftly sent my CV on an email, together with a short message about how I was fit for the role. I was amazed when I was invited to an interview and later given the position, but knowing that my personal-just-for-a-hobby blog made me stand out and get the job was the best part!
For three months I worked as a ‘Research Support Assistant’ for the World Association for Sustainable Development (WASD) and Science Policy Research Unit of my university’s School of Business, Management and Economics. My boss was a nice man and working for him was a good experience. My tasks included: desk research and data collection, database creation (Excel), website management (WordPress), social media management, article writing and email communications. It was a homebased position with casual meetings now and then. The aims of my role were improving the social media presence of the organisation and updating the information on its experts’ directory, which I think met. At least my boss seemed pleased with what I did.
I’m very happy I was given this opportunity, I got experience working for a global sustainable development organisation and my salary was nice (nearly double the amount of the minimum wage). Furthermore, I liked my boss’s vision and the goal of WASD, which is “to promote the exchange of knowledge, experience, information and ideas among academics, scholars, professionals, policy makers, industry and students to improve the mutual understanding of the roles of science and technology in achieving sustainable development all over the world”. The organisation and he made huge efforts to include people from non-Western countries in their work, from conferences to publications. I loved this aspect of working for WASD, because development and sustainability are often too based on Eurocentric ideas, even though many decisions taken affect primarily non-Western countries.
One of my aims whilst at university is, outside my lesson hours, gaining knowledge and skills for a future career in development, sustainability and/or social change. I have been able to do this not just by volunteering and working, but also by attending non-mandatory conferences / talks on contemporary topics, completing free online courses on subjects that my degree isn’t covering (deeply), and learning new languages.
I went to three talks during the year: ‘EU Migration and Refugee Crisis Roundtable’, ‘How can Diasporas Contribute to their Continent? Africa as a Case Study’ and ‘Asma Elbadawi (poet, opening act) and Akala (rapper, main lecturer) for Sussex Decolonizing Education Week – A talk on Hip Hop and Shakespeare’. I also participated in one conference set in my university, ‘Decolonising Education: Towards Academic Freedom in Pluriversality’. I completed three free online courses: ‘Psychology of Political Activism: Women Changing the World’ by Smith College, ‘Anthropology of Current World Issues’ by the University of Queensland, and ‘Human Rights: The Right to Freedom of Expression’ by Amnesty International. And I enrolled on evening beginner lessons of Arabic while casually studying French and Portuguese on the side.
Although this might sound like a lot, I wasted a lot of time this academic year. Not just because of my poor emotional wellbeing, but because of procrastination and laziness. My goals for next year are attending more talks and conferences, catching up on my online courses and taking my language classes more seriously. I would also like to get actively involved in a couple of societies, campaigns or community work opportunities related to social issues or politics. Nevertheless, I probably won’t volunteer or work regularly (unless a really good opportunity knocks on my door or I find myself in severe financial hardship).
Last of all to mention is my social life, which was barely active for the same reasons as the first term. I only went out towards the end of the year, to have dinner with some friends before they left to their respective home countries and to attend an end-of-year ball organised by the Development Society in my university, in conjunction with others. Both events were pleasant and fun. I also hanged out a couple of times with a friend who does the same degree as me. We have various things in common, so is easy to talk with her about personal issues and be understood / understand her.
The only new thing I did on the second term was attend social basketball sessions on Sunday now and then, which were very enjoyable and I want to continue attending on the upcoming academic year. I like playing basketball a lot, I prefer it as an exercise activity to going to the gym and it helps to improve my mood. Indeed, improving my mood, or better said, mental health and emotional wellbeing, was one of my goals for the term. That’s why I attended counselling sessions every Tuesday for six weeks (the huge step I mentioned on my previous post about my life in university). Nonetheless, I don’t want to go in details about this, I will leave it for an upcoming post (and this time it is really coming).
(PS: If you want to have a look at more pictures of my time at university, check this link:https://www.flickr.com/photos/134519211@N08/albums/72157662839553059)
One of the main reasons I liked the BZU work camp was that it was not just about sightseeing: it was about understanding the Palestinian situation better. There were aspects of the Israeli occupation you could see (checkpoints, The Wall, destroyed infrastructure) but others required explanation because they weren’t visible enough. When applying to the program, I was hoping to learn more about the politics and social aspects of the issue. Fortunately, my desire was fulfilled. We had lectures from first aiders, an activist, a politician and an academic. We had presentations about different community groups. And we carried out experiential learning by volunteering with those groups. It was an enriching educational experience I want to share with you.
Palestinian Red Crescent Society
Representatives from the organisation gave us a small lesson on first aid the day after we arrived. The topics were heat related emergencies and bites, oriented towards real issues we could have during the camp. The West Bank is a hot and dry place full of nature. Although we normally had a first aider with us during the camp, it was good to be made aware of simple things that could be lifesaving. In addition, while I have attended various first aid courses before, I never went through those topics: it was a new knowledge for me.
Right 2 Edu (Right to Education)
Right 2 Edu is self-funded grassroots student campaign that began in BZU in the 1970s, with the objective of providing legal assistance to staff and students incarcerated by Israel. At present, other aims include: documenting, researching and raising awareness about the occupation; building an international campaign; advocating for a proper Palestinian curriculum; connecting with supporters from the international community; and opposing illegal violations by the Israeli state. At heart of the campaign is the desire of securing full access to quality education for Palestinians, covering from political to economic aspects. Currently there are around 80 students from BZU detained in Israeli prisons and the campaign offers them legal representation. The Right 2 Edu has carried out two tours in USA universities, visiting 40 institutions in the first one and 37 in the second one, with the purpose of explaining their ambitions and creating alliances.
Education is a very important element of the Palestinian cause. When the 1st Intifada happened, education was made illegal in Palestine by the Israeli government: educational institutions were shut down for 4 years. To keep educating themselves, Palestinians created circle study groups in their homes, were teachers taught them. After picking up on this, the Israel government introduced a ban than prohibited more than 10 people to gather, trying to prevent these study groups. Nevertheless, Palestinians kept circulating knowledge in smaller groups till the ban ended.
Another reason why education is significant is because of the role the curriculum plays. A Palestinian curriculum didn’t use to exist before, the alternatives being the Jordanian or Israeli one. Then, aid was given to Palestinians so they could create their own one, but conditions were applied: they weren’t allowed to mention “anti-Israeli bias”, such as the Nakba (the 1948 Palestinian exodus after Israel was created), they had to study it as a war, not a catastrophe in which thousands of Palestinians had to leave their homes and became refugees. Another example is that instead of teaching about “resistance”, they had to learn about negotiations and deals.
This is an issue because in Palestine, there are two main types of violations: the visible ones and the invisible ones. The visible ones are for example the checkpoints, the settlements, the soldiers, and the Wall. The invisible ones apply to things like the curriculum: not being allowed to learn about their history and heritage correctly. This is a problem because Palestinians feel like if it makes them normalise their situation and it reduces chances for real resistance against the occupation. It can also make some feel a desire of leaving their country, linked also to a lack of opportunities in the region because of the occupation.
Although education is no longer banned in Palestine, quality and access are still an issue as well. Certain materials are not allowed to enter the region, such as some chemicals (under the excuse that they might be used inappropriately) and books, especially philosophical books and books about revolution. In addition, in some primary schools, Palestinian children are taught with books that show Israelis as progressive saviours who brought things like light to their country, while Arab-Palestinians are depicted as backward societies incapable of such. When comes to access, there are various restrictions that don’t allow Palestinians to build schools easily and location can become a big problem for children to attend school (the issue of construction in the West Bank is explained better below).
To learn more about the Right 2 Edu campaign, visit this webpage: right2edu.birzeit.edu
Lecture on Jerusalem: Planning, Siege, Segregation, Colonisation &Apartheid
A professor of Urban Planning in BZU gave us a lecture about the geographical issues surrounding the Israeli occupation in Palestine.
Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire till 1917. Then, the British Mandate took over. Afterwards, the Balfour declaration was passed by Britain, in which it was articulated how a Jewish homeland would be established in Palestine (important to point out that a minority of Jews already lived in Palestine, alongside a minority of Christians and a majority of Muslims). This lead to an increase in Jewish migration to Palestine and to growing tensions between the populations in the region. In 1947, the UN created a partition plan, leading to the end of the Palestine mandate, the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
At present, Palestine is often described as being comprised by Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem as capital (this view is disputed for a variety for reasons, some will be explained in the next blog post). The West Bank is geopolitically divided in three areas: A, B & C. This was as part of a temporary agreement that came after the 1st Intifada, which was extended after the 2nd Intifada. Area A is fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority, most urban communities are located there. Area B has shared control between Israel and Palestine. And Area C, which comprises 60% of the West Bank, is controlled by Israel, and Palestinians have a very restricted allowance for construction (from schools to agricultural infrastructure). This pushes many of them to construct illegally and risk demolition. Overall, not being allowed to manage 60% of their land has a negative impact for Palestinians, due to limitations to enhance their economy and promote the development of their region.
When comes to Jerusalem, the creation of the Wall on the Palestinian side led to a decrease in Palestinian land. Palestinian villages and refugee camps were demolished and partitioned. It is important to note that East Jerusalem is an economic, social & cultural heart for Palestinian communities. It was separated from West Bank cities like Bethlehem by Israeli settlements, a division more empathised by the Wall. The expanding settlements are negatively affecting the lives of the Bedouin, an Arab semi-nomadic ethnic group who live there: they have severe restrictions to construct and rebuild, which is considered a strategy by Israel to kick them out. Another believed purpose of these settlements is connecting East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem. Their existence also makes it harder to cross from the North of the West Bank to the South of the West Bank.
Many Israeli settlements in the West Bank were constructed on bought state land (e.g. natural reserve), even though the Geneva Conventions say that state land is for indigenous communities. Several of these settlements are illegal, but no solutions have been found in the International Court of Justice. They contribute to the fracturing of the West Bank, not only because of their existence, but because of the creation of highways by the Israeli government to connect them with Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem.
Meeting with Minister of Culture
On the 4th of August we had a meeting with Dr. Ehab Bseiso, the Minister of Culture of the Palestinian National Authority, who received us on behalf of the president, Mahmoud Abbas. He spoke to us about a variety of things and answered some of your questions. I took some notes, below are some highlights.
The Israeli occupation in Palestine makes it challenging to run a system and administrate it, especially the settlements, which are illegal according to international law. When a country occupies another, it is a war crime, according also to international law. The settlements are expanding and not randomly: it is systematic policy to diffuse the chance for Palestinians to have an independent state. Currently, it is illegal for Palestinians to buy products made in Israeli settlements. Not long ago, the EU decided to label settlement products, which is a step forward for Palestine. The settlements don’t only create economic issues, but also threat the political stability and security of the region. Settlers attack Palestinian families, like when the house of a family in Nablus was burned down and only a 5-years-old survived.
The Wall and the checkpoints are another significant part of the occupation. The Wall is 8 metres high, and it imprisoned Palestinians in their own land, apart from taking land from them. Not just empty land was separated, but also schools, farms, houses, etc. The Wall is controlled by electric gates that open three times a day. This is a problem for the daily life of Palestinians, to go to school, to see their family… In addition, confrontations happen, and there are attacks, arrests and deaths. When comes to the checkpoints, there are 550 in the West Bank. Some are fixed (always there) while others are mobile (appear and disappear). In some way, it could be said that time in Palestine is measured by checkpoints and not minutes! These are not only time-consuming, but also humiliating.
Israelis complain about Palestinian violence, which is taken out of context and ignores the Palestinian suffering. The occupation is violence and to the end cycle of violence you need to end the occupation. In addition, a good question is: can victims of colonisation be a real threat to colonisers? Waiting in checkpoints for hours, the need for permits, house raids, house demolitions, street raids, and arrests without reasons: that’s the occupation. It is violence, thousands of daily crimes. However, it is not true that there is no hope for a Palestinian state: international solidarity and community support are important for the political struggle. Some examples are boycotting settlement products and the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). There is also the academic and cultural boycott, through which academics and intellectuals in Israel and abroad are encouraged to support Palestinian human rights. Boycotting is a form of resistance and it is not about individuals: it is about policies and systems.
When comes to Hamas, the international community needs to respect political leaders and the choice of Palestinians. The elections were democratic and transparent, Israel didn’t accept them and there was a siege. There are radical parties in Israel, some Israeli ministers come from them. Hamas is part of the political system, democracy and elections. Diplomacy wise, it is not easy. Some Israeli ministers live in settlements. The Palestinian president created a committee to engage in conversations with Israeli civil societies. But the president of the committee got his permit removed as a punishment and the committee was accused of “diplomatic terrorism”. Negotiations can be a waste of time and there is a need of international involvement since it is not sure if the Israeli offer for peace is genuine.
This is a Palestinian educational and cultural NGO based in Jerusalem. They specialise in Palestinian kids between 6 and 18 years old. They run different activities and workshops, from learning to write & read to leadership training. They have a partnership with the British Council to be sent an English teacher. They also do after-school activities, Ramadan celebrations like iftar and summer camps! We visited them during our trip to Jerusalem and volunteered with them on the morning. I did some play work with toddlers around 3-5 years old. My Arabic is very broken so communicating with them was hard at times, but it was a nice experience. Afterwards, we were invited to have breakfast with them. The organisation was very welcoming.
Palestinian Circus School
The institution started in 2013 and it has hundreds of students. Its aim is to create behavioural and social change among Palestinians by trying to build trust, respect, cooperation, self-esteem and confidence. Their circus shows have a variety of messages: fight for power, refugees, water, recycling…
This is a project run by the Sharek Forum, a youth organisation that runs a variety of activities for young people. They decided to create a village for outdoor meetings and activities because young people got bored with only being indoors. The Youth Village is located in Area C, where it is not allowed to build full buildings or buildings with constant ceiling. There is a small area of the Youth Village in Area B as well. Weekly groups of young people participate and volunteer to build in the area. They also organise camping activities while being there for 2-3 days. After learning about the project, we divided ourselves in groups and helped to move around construction materials, work on a ceiling and pick up rubbish in the surroundings.
NGO based in the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. Their main focus is advocating for refugee rights. Shoruq means “sunrise”, symbolising a new beginning. The organisation was established in 2012 by residents. Their aim is to empower children and youth, so they aware of their rights. They run activities for girls, summer camps, dance activities, music activities… It works a safe space where children and young people are given opportunities, such as media programming and professional training, to express themselves. They also offer psychosocial support. And they advocate for their “right to return” and their right to life and human dignity. “Right to return” refers to the right of Palestinians evicted from villages, which are at present in the state of Israel, to return to them. Israel expected younger generations to not remember their villages of origin, but children and young people are taught about their heritage and ancestors. Following a presentation about the NGO, we did some voluntary work painting around the refugee camp.
Naim Khader Community Training & Development Centre in Cooperation with Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung / Centre of Education for Renewable Energy
One of the biggest NGOs in Palestine. We did some gardening voluntary work with them and then we had a presentation about the institution. It is funded by the EU and aiming to have local support. The idea for the organisation came from volunteering and camps. It started as a small tiny idea, then became very large. The NGO works in many fields: youth, women, engineering, development… It is the 1st organisation that worked in lands threatened by Israel control, trying to develop agriculture and water sources. New technologies for agriculture were introduced. They also established the Palestinian Women Association, one of the biggest in Palestine. They help farmers to harvest olives and others products around Israeli settlements, which is not an easy task.
It is first organisation that works training agricultural engineers since 1992. 20 engineers from Gaza and 20 engineers from the West Bank stay in a centre to train for nine months. There are three centres: one in Jenin, another one in Gaza and another one in Jericho. During the training programme, engineers are taught computer skills, language skills, managerial skills, marketing… They focus on practical skills to enrich theoretical learning. At the end of program, the engineers are given lands and supervised practical work to see how the training went. In addition, they offer scholarships for creative engineers, so they can fund their own projects
The NGO has divisions for voluntary, social, water and organic agricultural work. They also try to use solar cells as electricity source since the Israeli occupation doesn’t give electricity sometimes. In Jenin, there can be 2-4 hours of no electricity a day. Another problem is the use of water. Waterlines were opened and people awaited till the water reached them, yet the IDF destroyed them. There are also issues with farming. Sometimes Palestinians aren’t allowed to farm, others time they are. Israeli planes survey the area for buildings and give warnings if they see something they don’t like.
(P.S: Sorry if the writing in this post seems poor. I’m currently not feeling physically well and I’m trying my best to end the blog series while being as informative as possible.)
On Friday I woke up to chaos in social media. After months of campaigns, debates, articles and nothing but claims, United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (EU). Even though this decision affects me severely, since legally I’m an EU migrant living in UK, I would be lying if I said that I was very concerned about the referendum. Not because I didn’t care, but because I have learnt to not panic about things I can’t control or have a say in. Moreover, there wasn’t (still isn’t) any factual information on what was (is) going to happen to EU migrants in UK if Leave was chosen by the majority, and I’m not a fan of baseless assumptions.
I moved to United Kingdom from Spain in summer 2012 due to family circumstances. From the beginning, my plan was to settle here indefinitely. Although my time in college was far from great, I adapted to English life and I ended up liking it more than my old Spanish one. For the first time , going to university was a real option for me. I became involved in many volunteering and social action opportunities (NCS, Team v Leader, Red Cross), something I never had the chance to do before but I enjoy doing it a lot. I met inspirational people, widened my professional networks, and while not many, I made great friendships I want to keep forever. At present, I’m studying in a university I love, living independently, doing a great course, with a nice job and having opportunities to do things such as attending summer schools in South East Asia (I will be off to Singapore on Wednesday if my current poor health allows it!).
Of course, life in UK isn’t perfect, and since last year, it has been harder. I would say it all began with the general election campaigning although it was probably there before. As many already know, there has been an increase in nationalist and far right parties/groups across UK. Anti-immigration discourse dominated the political sphere before the elections, and it revived with the EU referendum. While I didn’t follow the campaigning for the EU referendum thoroughly, I noticed that the Leave side used nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric while the Remain side wrapped themselves in classicism and fear mongering. I also read complaints regarding the poor quality of TV debates and the use of this decision to further personal interests inside British political parties.
Long story short: the campaigning for the EU referendum was messy. To be honest, I can’t blame anyone for this, since it was and still is uncertain what could happen if (when) UK leaves the EU. Making claims and promises is fine, as long as you have evidence, facts and willingness to back them up. Anyways: UK voted to leave the EU. And my first thought after finding this out was, “So, now what?”. As a development undergraduate, I’m concerned about what will happen to the poorest and most disadvantaged in UK and the EU. As legally an EU migrant, I’m concerned about what will happen to EU migrants in UK. And as an individual, I’m concerned about my academic, professional and personal plans, which seem ruined and uncertain right now.
I have never liked politics. Due to my career aspirations, I have been more involved in them since last year. But it has rarely been a pleasurable activity for me. I hate politics. I hate parliaments. I hate governments. I hate political parties. Not only at an ideological level, but at a personal too. I’m from a low (sometimes zero) income background. I’m a daughter of immigrants, granddaughter of immigrants. I’m black, a minority in Europe. I’m a care leaver, I was under social services care from when I was seven years old to when I was nearly sixteen. Due to all this, I’m quite socially disadvantaged, and the reason has a lot to do with politics.
As a poor child in care who didn’t choose to be born or having a dysfunctional family, hearing people talk so carelessly about destroying the welfare state that ensured my survival isn’t nice. As a black child who is not to blame for the horror of colonialism and slavery, hearing stories about family members not being hired because of their skin colour isn’t nice. As a Spanish child born in a country that she considered her home, being told “go back to your country! You are ruining our culture and values!” isn’t nice. I always try to respect political ideologies across the spectrum. Freedom of speech and all that. But when my identity becomes dehumanised, limits with my tolerance and patience are reached. And this happens constantly within political spheres in Europe, from Spain to UK.
Last year, I tried to get involved in politics a lot. I followed the general election campaigning in UK and researched policy proposals. At some points, I felt motivated and even thought about joining a party. I felt like a democratic citizen. However, this changed drastically on summer, when the refugee/migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea erupted. While sections of European society and some states tried to help and follow international law, the reaction by many politicians, media outlets and the public was more than disheartening. European fascism and racism rose dramatically. Or better said: Europe showed its true colours.
You may think this shouldn’t affect me personally. After all, I was born in Spain, Europe. I have Spanish nationality and an EU passport. But it does. Because I’m black. When someone looks at you dirty or directs racist abuse at you on the streets, they do it because of your physical appearance (sometimes accent/language) and they don’t ask for your documentation. And despite of where I was born, I’m African (mainly West African, too many countries to mention). I can’t pretend that xenophobia towards African migrants doesn’t hurt me. The majority of adults in my family are migrants who moved to Europe to study, live and/or work. And I don’t feel good when people hint or pretend that “I’m okay” but African migrants demonised 24/7 aren’t, just because of a piece of paper and an accent. I’m not even proud of being assimilated into European culture and I wish I grew up in an environment in which I learnt about my roots.
For months, I have struggled to say “I’m Spanish” when people ask about my accent. I just say “I was born in Spain”. At the same time, I’m not close at all to my African ethnicities, so I can’t claim them much. My parents are from a variety of countries in the continent. It is difficult to pick one or two for my cultural identity since I don’t know much about any of them. Fortunately, I can always learn, yet I feel uneasy claiming cultures I wasn’t born or raised into. I’m just an outsider wherever I am and wherever I go: a cultureless outsider. I don’t want to join the Spanish society in my university, but I don’t feel comfortable joining the African-Caribbean one, in which everyone seems so confident and strong about their cultural heritage.
UK voting to leave the EU has led to many reflections about “shared European identity and culture”. While reading them, I have been wondering many things. What do people mean when they say “European”? What is being European? Who is considered European? I have always felt indifferent about my nationality and European citizenship, I’m everything but patriotic and more taking into account the not-so-great relationship between Europe, my race and Africa. Now I can certainly say I don’t feel culturally Spanish or European anymore, whatever that means. I know that these essays talking about European identity and culture have racial implications, both intentionally and unintentionally. And I don’t care enough to reclaim my nationality and continental citizenship. I’m ~fine~ not having a cultural identity and identifying ethnically as just black African.
However, there are real implications for my life when comes to Brexit and trouble within the EU. My right to work and live in this country is uncertain. While I think no one is going to be forced to leave, working rights, welfare, healthcare and education are likely to worsen for EU migrants (some of these were already becoming worsening). I feel privileged and shallow for complaining about this, after all that’s what non-EU migrants go through, as well as many others around the globe. I believe that it is unfair that people have more privilege than others just for being born in a country when both contribute to it. I’m firmly against the mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees also, together several of the new policies introduced by the Home Office to restrict the rights of non-EU migrants in UK.
However, I still complain about Brexit because as a normal human in this world, I had plans. I like my university, and it ranked first in the world for my subject when I started my course last year (second now). I wanted to stay and do a masters, but the fees for non-EU migrants (which probably EU migrants will get unless agreements with the EU states are made) are too high and I don’t even know if I could get a postgraduate loan. The scholarships that my university offer are not enough. I have currently no financial support from my family or anyone other than the university, the student finance company and my job. And I don’t know if I will be willing to stay in a country in which working and living could become a hassle.
Now, here comes my biggest problem: I can’t go back to Spain. For me, it is not easy as packing and going back to “my country”, as some are suggesting. What I dislike most about politics is that the consequences of decisions and policies are always analysed at a macro-level, without looking at the individual. Not all EU migrants will be affected in the same way by this decision. I don’t have a home anymore in Spain. I don’t have family there anymore with whom I have a good close relationship (to be fair I don’t have a good close relationship with 95% of my relatives). I have friends, but our relationship is not the same as when I left four years ago. And the most important part: I don’t have a future there. It isn’t because of the recession or because of the high unemployment rates. I never did.
While moving to England was a shock in my life, it was for the best. When I was young, I always knew that I couldn’t stay in Spain forever. I always saw it as a country in which non-white immigrants and their descendants couldn’t progress. Casual racism in Spain is very high, I never realised till I went back for the summer after living in England two years. However, systematic racism is even worse. I was raised in a country in which I never or very rarely saw non-white people in the media or adverts, except for foreign celebrities and TV shows. Always saw non-white people working in just low-skilled / service sector jobs. Noticed how non-white people in my city were marginalised into the most isolated/poor neighbourhoods.
Many of my adult family members have talked to me about their experiences with racism and employment in Spain. From my graduate uncle not being hired in a bank because he would be a “bad image”, to one aunt ringing up for a job, showing up for interview an hours later and being told there was never a job available there (my relatives with Spanish names and Spanish accents have had this type of issue as lot). My dad has worked in the same factory since I was born, and he has endured a lot of racist taunts just to provide for his family and survive. There is a reason why the majority of my adult relatives have ended up leaving Spain for other European countries or their home countries in Africa. Employment as black person is extremely limited. And this becomes frustrating. My dad has admitted a lot of times that if he didn’t have kids in Spain, he would have gone back to his home country long ago.
I know that UK is far from perfect when comes to racial equality and discrimination, but it is better than Spain. Much better. This can be something hard to understand if you have lived all your life in Britain and endured racism here. However, I have lived in both places and experienced both realities. I didn’t even move to multicultural London when I came to this country, but the differences were still big when comes to media, legislation and politics, as well as employment and education. There is a reason for it: when UK was receiving its big wave of migration from Asia and Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, Spain was in a fascist dictatorship that didn’t end till 1975. Immigration to the country only became significant after the 1990s, mainly during the 2000s and now.
Basically, Spain has a lot of progress to do regarding racial equality. A lot. And I’m not sure if it will ever happen, and less now, when fascism and nationalism are on the rise again across Europe. I’m not interested in finding it out neither: I know that many things have changed in Spain since I left in 2012, but as I mentioned above, I have no nostalgic connection towards the country. My most significant personal and emotional growth happened after I arrived to England: I feel more connected to British society than the Spanish one. I even know more about its legislation, politics, and history.
Another big reason why going back to Spain is not an option for me is that I can’t pursue my desired career there. Things such as volunteering, social action and international development are not as prevalent in Spanish society and academic institutions as in English ones, and in most cases, this type of work is carried out by religious organisations. In addition, grants, scholarships, opportunities and affordable programmes to study, work and volunteer abroad are not common neither (ERASMUS being one of the few).
My future right now is very uncertain and as a realistic person, I see it grey. Dark dark grey. At some point, I believed that I would break the low-income/low-skilled employment cycle in my close family. I believed that I would finish my degree, do a master, get experience and maybe do a PhD to be a researcher. I believed that I would have a comfortable life and finally be happier. Now, I’m not so sure about it. In this neoliberal and meritocratic world, people always say that hard-work pays off. Yet, the recipe for success isn’t so easy for those at bottom of the power and supremacy pyramid. I don’t think that social mobility is a myth, but for a black girl from a care leaver, immigrant and working class background it is a big challenge.
I don’t want to suffer so much all my life: I don’t want to be forced into marrying someone to survive and I don’t want to be forced to get a permanent job I won’t like. I have seen too many people living with that sort of life and turning into bitter, hurting and depressed humans. That’s why I’m not conforming to the expectations society has about me. Nonetheless, the only big step I have made is attending university and this wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have the privilege of being an EU migrant in UK (which is about to vanish). Of course, I can always move to mainland Europe and do a master in a country like Sweden or Norway. Yet, UK is the country with the best opportunities for me and my career in Europe.
However, I must admit that since the refugee/migrant crisis in the Mediterranean erupted and European fascism “reappeared”, I have been thinking about leaving the continent once I finish my studies. Racism and xenophobia have become normalised, and life in this continent is becoming scary. And this goes beyond my own identity. I have been very concerned as well about the treatment of Asian migrants and asylum seekers, growing Islamophobia and the attacks towards brown communities in Europe. This is not the type of environment in which I want to live, it is very toxic and my mental health is too fragile to become a full-time activist and challenge it. I know that other regions and continents in the world aren’t any or much better, but feeling this unwelcome and being so hated in the place in which I was born and which should be my home is not great.
In addition, going to Africa, reconnecting with my roots, and contributing with my skills and knowledge while cooperating with others is something I’m becoming fonder of doing with time, although it is a hard process. Even if I have African background, I’m still Western and my presence there can be patronising/more damaging than good. I also want to travel and live in other countries to enrich my knowledge and education regarding development, environmental and social issues, because I don’t want to have an Eurocentric perspective on them. I have discovered many South Asian, Arab, Caribbean and Latin American theorists and non-fiction authors whilst in my first year of university (African as well), and I would like to explore the context in which they wrote their works more deeply. I hoped I could do this whilst being primarily based in United Kingdom, but now I don’t know what will happen.
Before finishing this post, I would like to clarify a few things that have been bothering me about the post-Brexit climate in social media.
First, contrary to current popular belief, racism and fascism aren’t exclusive to the working class. A brief look into British history and politics is more than enough to understand this.
Second, being working class is not an excuse or reason to hold racist and fascist views. Also, stop erasing the non-white British working class. They exist.
Third, it seems as if rising fascism and racism was fine as long as it only affected non-white and non-Christian people. Little complaints I have seen before in my Facebook timeline about the awful treatment of asylum seekers, refugees and non-white migrants.
Fourth, (white) EU migrants are far from just the victims of the current climate. Fascism and neo-nazism have been raising across Europe as a whole, from Hungary to Germany. Not enough has been done to stop it, and again, few cared when refugee receptions centres were burned down and Nazi demonstrations targeting non-whites, Muslims and Jews happened.
Fifth, the Vote Leave campaign and supporters are not the only ones to blame for xenophobia and fascism. I know people who voted Leave due to economic reasons or personal interests. I personally think that getting behind a campaign that enables and empowers the far right is not good, nevertheless politics work like that. Also, Remain supporters aren’t free of responsibility when comes to racism and nationalism. There were Remainers who wanted to stay for economic and personal reasons and showed discontent about immigration.
And sixth, stop forcing a fake mask of solidarity and criticising others for ruminating. I respect the decision of the UK, but I have never felt more alienated in my life and I will react as I want. Besides, it doesn’t help if you pretend that “uniting to fight racism” will help while privilege, supremacies and power inequalities remain unaddressed. It won’t.
On conclusion: Brexit has shaken the lives of many people in and outside Britain. Mine is of them. While I’m not a fan of the EU, I think that its existence is key to moderate the rising far right nationalistic climate. Nevertheless, British people and Europeans have a right to choose what they want, and I’m not in a position to challenge it. I recently decided to remove myself from political spheres in this continent as I don’t think I belong to them and my voice isn’t valid/heard (except for inclusive grassroots efforts).
Also, I apologise if the content of this blog post makes it seem as if I’m only worried about myself when comes to Brexit: I’m not. However, I’m certain that no one else is worried about me and someone has to care. Even if there is panic about EU migrants, I don’t fit the narrative since Europe isn’t my region of origin. Current conversations and debates about nationalism and fascism are being whitewashed. I’m not here for (white) British right wingers dismissing racism as patriotism, and I’m not here for (white) lefties reducing racism to fear and calling for an unrealistic unity within the working class.
I hope that with time, uncertainty paves the way to facts and agreements, so I can make plans for my future. At the moment, all I can do is keep working and studying, try my best to succeed and achieve at least some of my goals. If I have to leave UK and/or Europe, I will. At the end of the day, migration is in my DNA. I’m a direct and not so direct descendant of migrants, even my African roots are highly mixed. If my ancestors and relatives struggled and survived, I will struggle and survive as well. I don’t know if everything will be fine and I’m not a hopeful person anymore, but I’m somehow determined. Having a name that means “hard-working” is a blessing with a life like mine one, and I’m glad it translated into my attitude and personality.
(P.S: Writing about this topic is difficult, I apologise if some of my ideas aren’t expressed clearly enough. I’m planning to write a blog post on migration and xenophobia on the future, which will be less focused on myself. Please, feel free to send your comments or messages, but abuse of any kind won’t be tolerated or approved under this post. And remember that this is my perspective and while you may have another one, you aren’t me and it might be hard to comprehend my feelings.)
What was lost
What was stolen
What was hated
What was misinterpreted
The silenced words
The burned scripts
The enslaved souls
The destroyed science
Which aren’t open for you
Which systematically exclude you
Which you still enter
Which you, against the odds, conquer
That upholds supremacies
That reinforces stereotypes
That deconstructs binaries
That frees the oppressed
When fears meet the present
When hate becomes more than mistrust
When hope resurrects the past
When lies can’t be left behind
The ignored formula
The uncomfortable necessity
The sought goal
The ultimate achievement
Who suppressed it and hid from it?
Who found it and suffered because of it?
Who gives it and owns it?
Who practices it and self-applies it?
That breaks oxidised chains
That alters unfair imbalances
That strengthens free minds
That recovers the voice of some
Where traditions were buried with no funeral
Where the dispossessed laid dead, waiting for an uncertain end
Where naive settlers became privileged
Where battles are still being fought for the unknown
The cruelest game
The deadliest desire
The end of the tunnel
The most honourable sacrifice
How it challenges the mainstream
How it contradicts misguided narratives
How it offers alternatives
How it nurtures difference
That makes us less indifferent”
-Written after being inspired by the #DecoloniseSussex week events, particularly the conference on Monday the 11th of April (Decolonizing Education: Towards Academic Freedom In Pluriversality) and the talks & performances by poet Asma Elbadawi and rapper Akala on Wednesday the 13th of April.
By Emilie H. Featherington
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