Recently I’ve been watching the first two series of Channel 4’s Humans which focuses on a group of synthetics (robots) who have human feelings and their battle for ‘human rights’ within a ‘hostile environment’ that positions them as lesser. Leaving the current and potential future human/robot relationship aside (which after watching some of The Rise of the Robot programmes make many aspects of series like Humans and Black Mirror seem less than fantastical) the labelling of groups of people as undeserving is well established in government policy and practice.
Amongst the many things I have read on the Windrush generation scandal is an article by Gary Younge entitled ‘With Windrush, Theresa May mistook a national treasure for an easy target’. It includes:
As the British government implodes over the treatment of the Windrush generation we must ensure that the rightful outrage about the exclusion of those who are now finally perceived as “worthy immigrants” does not blind us to the outrageous immigration policies that made such exclusion possible and will continue to exclude others deemed “unworthy”.
Theresa May is not apologising for creating a “hostile environment”, expressly designed to spread fear in immigrant communities, when she was home secretary. She is simply conceding that the Home Office has been hostile to the wrong people…. the official regrets have been too narrowly tailored, the memories too selective, the mendacity too brazen and the callousness too pernicious to see the government’s parsed and partial expressions of remorse as anything other than an insult to our intelligence….
As Younge notes May did not set out to create a ‘rigorous’ or ‘stringent’environment, but a hostile’ one in which all immigrants would be considered illegal unless they could prove otherwise with a ‘deport first, appeal later’approach. The government’s mistake, Younge argues, was assuming that the plight of ‘a few elderly black people born in the Caribbean would not prick the nation’s conscience’. It is perhaps not such a surprising mistake given that when the 2014 Immigration Act (responsible for enshrining the ‘hostile environment’ policy) was passed only 18 MPs voted against it; including Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, Dianne Abbott, John McDonnell and David Lammy*). Younge continues:
So long as the government has a policy of hostility towards immigrants, that struggle continues. These laws are not bad because they ensnared the Windrush generation; this just clarified the obscenity and amplified the bigotry on which they were based. They are bad laws because they are designed to turn every Briton – doctor, landlord or teacher – into a border guard, and every migrant, whether they have a right to be here or not, into a suspect.
Yet, some seem unable or unwilling to understand, indeed seem to want to create further division. Like this from Dan Hodges (I refuse to give a link to the ‘newspaper’ he writes for):
It’s time for the crocodile tears over the Windrush generation to stop. Along with the hypocrisy. And the faux national outrage. Ignore the increasingly tortuous paper trail. The leaks, and counter leaks, and counter-counter leaks. The demands for an explanation of what Amber Rudd knew, what she didn’t know, and when she did or didn’t know it…
Contrary to liberal perception, the Windrush generation have not been the targets of a racist drive to evict them from their country of citizenship. Quite the opposite. They were supposed to be excluded from this dragnet of undesirables. That they were ensnared was a product of incompetence, rather than prejudice.…
And as if we needed any more evidence of how our identities as individuals and groups of people affects our status as deserving of not let’s reflect on the sympathy for some and (lack) of praise for others today. Following Amber Rudd’s resignation as Home Secretary last night politicians (including some from the opposition benches) and media folk sympathising with Rudd and ignoring evidence on who has been doing the most work for the Windrush generation is more than shocking. Clearly some people are not worthy/deserving whatever they do just because of who they are:
Many ‘MSM’ outlets are attempting to credit Labour back-bencher Yvette Cooper for Rudd’s downfall – and certainly Ms Cooper played a part, but she was not one of the few MPs who voted against Theresa May’s 2014 measures that created the abuse of the Windrush generation. . . .The real driving forces behind Amber Rudd’s departure this evening have been three black Labour MPs[Dianne Abbott, Dawn Butler, David Lammy] – now being conveniently ignored by the MSM – who combined the emotion of genuine indignation with a forensic dissection of Rudd’s – and her leader’s – guilt in the Windrush scandal and created a weight of evidence and outrage that the now-former Home Secretary was unable to withstand. . . .
And then there was this: @D_Raval: Well done @HackneyAbbott putting Tory spokesman (part time Sky presenter) Jonathan Samuels in his place. Diane got one figure wrong in one interview a year ago. Rudd and May responsible for the wrong deportation of hundreds of British citizens.
Curiouser and Curiouser one might say. Well not really.
As a sociologist I am well used to discussions of laws, policies and practices that separates people by their perceived worth. As Holly Firmin (2016) notes it is the 16th century Poor Laws form the basis of our modern notions of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor with the ‘deserving’ poor being the elderly, the infirm and the sick http://historytothepublic.org/changes-continuities-english-welfare-state/ As Firmin argues the notion that many poor people are ‘undeserving’ still persists. The government’s insistence, despite evidence to the contrary, that ‘the best route out of poverty is through work’ serves to demonise those who do not. And the representation of the ‘feckless’, ‘benefit scrounger’ is (gleefully it often appears) furthered by the media. The sociologist Erving Goffman’s concept of stigma is relevant here in that:
Society establishes the means of categorizing persons and the complement of attributes felt to be ordinary and natural for members of each of these categories…. While a stranger is present before us, evidence can arise of his(sic) possessing an attribute that makes him different from others in the category of persons available for him to be, and of a less desirable kind...in the extreme, a person who is quite thoroughly bad, or dangerous, or weak. He is thus reduced in our minds from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one. Such an attribute is a stigma, especially when its discrediting effect is very extensive … (Goffman (1963) Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Prentice Hall p3).
And indeed there is much evidence of historical and continuing stigmatisation of whole groups of people, of 'othering', of dividing into the worthy and worthy, the deserving and the undeserving. The Windrush generation are one example here. Tomorrow I'll write about some more...
To be continued
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