The reality is that the majority of immigrants into the UK are white and from Europe, the Americas and Oceania, who in 2001 made up 53% of the foreign-born population. Following at a very distant second are those from India and Pakistan. Though these figures have changed somewhat in the last few years, the demographics basically remain the same. Along with this, many immigrants tend to only stay for short periods of time, creating a constantly shifting population of people. What these statistics show is a foreign population of skilled (whether in labour or “highly-skilled” fields) workers from Westernised nations who tend to migrate towards large urban centres and the south-east of England. What is perceived about immigration, however, could not be further from the truth.
Immigrants are portrayed as the fearful harbingers of Britain’s decay by the media and many political parties, especially as the recession drags on. As many Britons lose their jobs and struggle to find new ones, they blame immigrants for coming over and “stealing” their work. Along with this, they blame immigrants for overpopulating the island while bemoaning the changes of multiculturalism and “political correctness gone mad” taking place in their communities. In their minds immigrants follow these patterns: they are poor, dangerous and minorities, if not black and brown than Eastern European. They are relatively unskilled, follow dangerous religions and are a powderkeg of dangerous ideas and actions which threaten the rights of native citizens.
This paranoia screams out at me from broadsheets, news reports and television programmes on a regular basis. Instead of confronting the government about the stifling class system and programmes in place which allow so many British citizens to become victims of their environment, instead of creating grassroots programmes which allow for safer communities and a network of support for those in need, many British people have chosen to follow those in charge and blame those who are different from them, a cyclical accusation which always occurs in times of national duress and uncertainty. This, of course, is a dangerous way to react to change, and such ideas, coupled with all too familiar forms of racism and xenophobia are continuing to have devastating effects on British citizens unable to completely assimilate to the majority of society, whether due to race, religion or culture. When people cry out about overcrowding (which simply isn’t happening outside the major cities in the ways that fearmongers would like us to imagine), what they are really railing against is the incremental increase of people who don’t look like and, in some cases, have no urge to be like them. What these perceptions really show most of all is the failure of Britain to come to terms with its own intersections of identities and histories in the new century.