Three-D Issue 32: Discourses of immigration and citizenship: from Windrush to Brexit

Naida Redgrave
University of East London

The first REaPN event under its new Chair Mita Lad (and Deputy, Dr. Noor Halabi) took place at De Montfort University on 27 June 2019, organised by previous Deputy of the network, Gurvinder Aujla-Sidhu. Across the afternoon the conference heard a selection of timely papers alongside fruitful discussion, culminating with the bringing together of ideas from keynote speaker Patrick Vernon OBE.

Organised in collaboration with the Media Discourse Centre and recently established Stephen Lawrence Research Centre, delegates were welcomed and invited to a guided tour of the latter, which proved a sobering and thought-provoking exhibition, containing details of the case and exclusive family archives.

The conference was opened by Kenyatta Hammond Perry, Director of the Stephen Lawrence Centre, followed by the day’s first panel, ‘Discourses of Race and Racism’.

First up, Early Career Academic Fellow in Media, Race and Social Justice, Shardia Briscoe-Palmer presented her paper, ‘The Politics of Knowledge Production Knowledge Hidden, Histories Lost’. Opening (rather refreshingly) with a sound clip from ‘Israelites’ by Desmond Dekker — a song Briscoe-Palmer fondly recalls her grandmother playing — Briscoe-Palmer transitioned into an examination of passing down generational knowledge, and how power structures dictate “what knowledge is hidden or lost from mainstream dissemination” and what is shared and maintained. 

Next, Gurvinder Aujla-Sidhu, Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Associate Head of Leicester Media School, presented ‘Framing the Nation — the BBC, Immigration and Race’. Aujla-Sidhu evidenced the ways in which the public broadcaster “remains deeply influenced by its historical roots and ideologies when it reflects the UK in its media content” and argued that the BBC’s “vision of the nation…is due to the fact that the BBC is positioned dangerously close to the State, economic powers and other elite groups”.

The third paper in the panel, ‘The ‘migrant children school crisis’: examining the intersection between media framing, neoliberalism and schooling in Leicester’, saw Dr. Indrani Lahiri and Dr. Claire Sedgwick present initial findings on examining media representations of the matter against how it is perceived on the ground by local authorities and schools. 

Following a lively Q&A session, in which an interesting discussion arose pertaining to hierarchal perceptions of immigrants (who gets to be seen as a ‘good’ immigrant and why?), panel two addressed ‘Hostile Environment Politics’.

Professor of Media and Political Discourse and Director of the Media Discourse Centre, Stuart Price faced head on fascism and racism within the broader context of state power. His paper, ‘Hostile Environments: racism and fascism in political ideology’ posited that “racist policies (attributed to the wishes of hard-working people) are implemented without serious resistance from the political class.”

In Daniel Burdsey’s paper, ‘Race, nation and English football in the hostile environment’ he highlighted the intersection of race, racism and migrations with regards to the experiences and media representation of two black England footballers, Eniola Aluko and Raheem Stirling, and explored what it uncovers in terms of race relations in English football and its connections to the wider political climate. 

Following on, Anna Waistnage considered the current state of immigration relations in the UK, with a focus on perceptions and prejudice. Having conducted a series of walking interviews in Grimsby, where 70% of the population voted to leave the EU, Wastage’s research asked how people come to perceptions, how perception of hierarchy position affect this and where does the hierarchy position idea come from. 

In the final paper of the day, Fathi Bourmeche of the University of Tunisia joined us via video call (the wonders of technology!). The Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies explored ‘Brexit and immigration in the media: the case of A10 migrants and the Windrush generation prior to and in the aftermath of the June 2016 Referendum.’ Using qualitative analysis across a variety of newspapers, he explored the role the media played prior to and following the referendum, and its impact on Britons’ attitudes to foreigners. 

Closing the conference, we were delighted to be joined by Patrick Vernon OBE, Clore and Winston Churchill Fellow, Senior Associate for OLMEC and fellow at Imperial War Museum, fellow of the Royal Historical Society and former associate fellow for the department of history. 

The first director of Black Thrive, a multi-agency agency tackling mental health in Lambeth amongst being active in a number of other organisations addressing mental health. Vernon was a Hackney councillor between 2006 and 2017, and was appointed by Jeremy Corbyn as Race Equalities Adviser to Shadow Equalities Team from 2015 to 2017. 

Since 2012 he has been leading the campaign for Windrush Day and kick started the campaign for an amnesty for the Windrush Generation, which led to a government U-turn in immigration policy.

Vernon’s lecture, entitled ‘Many Rivers To Cross’ was a historical discussion in which he argued that Enoch Powell initiated a “repatriation policy” which was subsequently adopted by Teresa May during her time as Home Secretary. In relation to the Windrush scandal, he posited that since then, the impact of these policies on ordinary people has not been properly assessed, however, ironically the scandal enabled attention to be paid to the contribution of the Windrush generation and other minority communities to the UK. 

Vernon stressed a need for national history to engage with the oral histories of minority communities, and we need learning resources because ultimately black history, migration history is “British History”.

Over the course of the day was a real sense of academic interrogation of power structures and an energy to challenge hegemonic discourses across disciplines. All in all, there was an underlying sense of empowerment shared across speakers and delegates alike, where unpicking the status quo stood to pave the way for positive change.

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