Friday 17 February 2017

"Native population", "indigenous people" - racialising talk about immigration

People who argue against immigration often use phrases like 'native population' or 'indigenous people'. When they use it on the media, it usually passes by as if people listening are all agreed on what they mean and that what's being said has some kind of universal agreed meaning.


It may seem obvious in a place that has had a largely stable population (apart from 'native' people heading to Canada, Spain, France, Cyprus etc over the last 50 years) and that more recently some migrants have arrived. Perhaps it's more obvious to them. But what about in big cities where people come and go, people arrive, take up UK citizenship, have had children here, while some 2 million Brits have moved abroad and had children overseas...Who's 'native'? Who decides? Quite clearly, from interchanges I've had with people who say they're 'not racist but...' they have ideas about parentage that are positively 'racialised' if not racist. That's to say they have unwritten, unsaid notions of who is 'really' British, and it usually means white, and with both parents and probably all four grandparents as having been born in the UK.

Ireland of course raised a problem here because clearly the big cities have large populations of people with at least one Irish grandparent in them. Hurrah for that. But this 'native population' bit often slides 'Irish' into the category 'native' partly because Irish people are mostly white, mostly speak English and because of the nearly 100 year arrangement re freedom of movement between the Republic and the UK. However, that obscures the fact that 'native' in this case, really means 'native' (whatever that means) plus 'Irish'. ie another inconsistency, another unstated anomaly.

Of course, none of this is stated openly, it just emerges from chat. By not challenging the phrase 'native population' and 'indigenous population' we leave this sort of racialised stuff going on under the surface.