Black History Culture

You’re a settler; I’m an immigrant

13/02/2014

The name of this post came about while I was researching context for a short story I plan on posting later on in the year which is based on the aboriginal people in Australia. While researching, I was amazed by the amount of times I came across the phrase “British Settlers” from a great deal of sources.

There is a definition of what settler means “a person who settles in an area, typically one with no or few previous inhabitants” (Google dictionary).But if there are a vast amount of people already living there… how can this definition stand? These “settlers” swiped out many of the natives so that there weren’t too many inhabitants left.

Now, call me different and all, but I see that phrase in a slightly different light – from an indigenous person’s perspective – I can guarantee many of them saw that the British or any of the Western European travellers weren’t exactly “settling.” Instead, they were intruding or a better description invading their land and calling it their own! Isn’t that stealing?

Last year, many discussions in British politics had been about Eastern European “immigrants” coming into Britain – mainly Bulgarians and Romanians and how they were going to flood into the major cities of Britain. There was great concern that these immigrants were going to either sit on social security or “take the British people’s jobs.” The discussion goes into a lot more depth than my gentle brushing of it but those details aren’t relevant for this post. My point is these “immigrants” left their land for whatever reason and travel to a country to work – and of course there are some people who don’t but many do! Those who have been called “settlers” reside in a land clearly not their own, steal its resources and killed many people on the way.

Yes I get it, if you’re leaving your home country to live somewhere else you are in fact emigrating to the foreign land. BUT it’s the language used by the media to describe these people coming into England as if these people searching for a new job or starting a clean slate is seen as a negative thing.

Why can’t an Eastern European person come here to work for the next 20 or 30 years? No one loses out, no job has been taken, neither has anyone wrongly claimed benefits… Why is a British couple going to retire in Spain or the South of France always overlooked? Aren’t they immigrants?! How is this British person adding to the Spanish or French economy? How does the Spanish person benefit from this extra British couple or family in their territory? Am I being fair?  Do you catch my drift?

I can no doubt imagine that those people who came from the Commonwealth TO WORK in the 40s, 50s and 60s were getting the same treatment. Perhaps this social stir has something to do with who gets to write stories that are published in main stream media. Perhaps the media is more powerful than we know it as they seem to have the power to evoke fear and anger towards a group of people.

Writing this post, I remember reading the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad at university. It came back to me simply because I remember the way that the narrator describes his observations of the native people in Congo. If you have never read it, you could Google the synopsis, I won’t spoil it for you.

The novella is all dialogue and it is through the narrator’s speech the audience can see that Western Europeans, during the late 19th and early 20th century, had made a clear distinction between the “civilised” and “uncivilised” societies outside their immediate realm. Nine out of ten times, blacks (Native American, African, indigenous people of warmer climates) were flung into the “uncivilised” category.

As Europeans voyaged to these foreign lands, their goal was to not only use the land for its resources but create societies that would replicate their homeland, demonstrating what a “real society should look like”, which they hoped would in effect “civilise” the native people.

Perhaps the terms ‘settler’ and ‘immigrant’ are subtle, modern equivalents used to create a social divide similar to the harsher ‘civilised and uncivilised’ descriptions that was used during the late 19th and the early 20th century.

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