Michaela Benson [MB]: Welcome to Who do we think we are? A podcast exploring some of the lesser known stories of British citizenship. I’m Michaela Benson, a sociologist specialising in citizenship, migration and belonging, and your host. Join me over the course of the series, as I debunk some of the taken for granted understandings of citizenship, and examine how this changes our understandings of some of the most pressing issues of our times.
Bolaji Balogun [BB]: For me, this really, really helps to bring into view the marked histories of being British and being black at the same time in Europe as a very, very complicated identity. Because both Britishness and European as they are often attached to whiteness. I think the presence of blackness in both identities is often seen as us some sort of interruption.
MB: That was Bolaji Balogun. He joins us in this episode alongside Marius Turda, to turn critical attention on to the question of who counts as a European. Bolaji is a sociologist based in the Geography Department at the University of Sheffield, and the holder of a prestigious Leverhulme Trust early career fellowship. And Marius is professor in 20th century Central and Eastern European biomedicine, and the director of the Centre for Medical Humanities at Oxford Brookes. I asked them to join me to talk about European migrations to the United Kingdom, past and present, and what we can learn about European identities from looking at that history. We’ll hear more from them later in the episode. Before I give you the lowdown on what we’ve got in store, in this episode, I just want to share the news with you that we’ve got a brand new website. It’s been designed and built by Evelyn Miller. And it contains all of our episodes and their transcripts. There’s a brand new hall of fame featuring all of our guests, and there’s some great bonus material. I particularly want to draw your attention to the active listening questions that we’ve had put together by our summer intern Niamh Welby. And she’s designed these with students in mind. So if you’re listening to this podcast in the classroom, or for other educational purposes, you might want to take a look at those that just help you to structure your listening and to think about the key messages of the podcast. You can also find out how to get in touch with us if you want to appear on the show, or approach us for any other collaborations. So do go ahead and check it out. It’s at https://whodowethinkweare.org and we’d love to hear from you about what you think. You’re listening to who do we think we are? A podcast all about British citizenship, hosted by me Michaela Benson. If you like what you’ve heard, and you want to hear more, you can subscribe and rate us on your preferred podcast platform. But it’s back to the episode for now. We’re picking up on the theme of migration between Britain and Europe that we started to explore with Nando Sigona in episode five of this series. George and I are going to discuss the disproportionate challenges that black and brown Europeans have faced when applying for the EUSS. And just a little reminder, that’s the status awarded to EU citizens who were living in the UK before Brexit. We’re going to consider what the challenges they’ve faced make visible about the assumptions of who is European. And in my explainer, I’ll be looking at the 1905 Aliens Act, which introduced controls that can be used to stop the migration to Britain of those who were deemed “undesirable”. I’m joined by Bolaji and Marius in an exploration of the significance of migrations from Europe to the development of the UK’s early immigration controls and the role of eugenics and race science within this. We’ll also be considering how these persist in the framing of who is European today, where assumptions of whiteness play a prominent role as made visible most recently in how European governments have responded to those fleeing the war in Ukraine. And for those of you who are interested in that topic, I’ll direct you back to the first episode of Beyond the headlines where Ala and I spoke with Yvonne Su, all about that issue. And finally, we’re going to be exploring how recognising this entanglement of eugenics and race science with immigration controls and restrictions might make us think differently about what it means to be European. Today is another case where going back into the archive really only means going back a few months and years. George, what have you uncovered, that can help us to understand the decolonization of European identities?
George Kalivis [GK]: I mean, Michaela we’ll go a bit back to Brexit, again, I think, because, as we were talking about the decolonization of European identities, you know, it’s probably worth reflecting a bit on the, on the challenges that black and brown Europeans have faced in getting their EU settlement scheme applications processed over the last three years. And maybe our listeners have already heard about the case of the Dahaba Ali Hussen, for example, which only after going viral was really dealt with by the home office. So briefly, Dahaba was born in the Netherlands and has Dutch citizenship. She moved to the UK with her mother when she was 10, almost 20 years ago now. She attended Cambridge University, and she is a journalist. As an EU citizen in post Brexit Britain, she initially applied for the EU settlement scheme in 2019. Really, quite obviously, just awaiting a confirmation of her settled status, a permanent leave to remain. Now, not only was her initial application unexpectedly and disturbingly rejected by the Home Office, claiming insufficient evidence of Dahaba’s presence in the UK during 2019, but even after a big media and social media coverage of the story, and more than a year long waiting period, and several reassurances by the home office, when the incident went public, her reapplication was again rejected earlier this year. Yes, that’s 2022. Dahaba immediately reapplied, because she just knew she had every legal right to get her status approved as a Dutch citizen. However, in the meantime, her employer told her that she could no longer work for them without having evidence of her rights to work in the UK. I mean, just imagine going through this, and Dahaba has been really one of the “lucky ones” for her case was finally sorted out a few days later. And again, after making everything public online, and working closely with relevant support organisations, such as the 3 million, a grassroots organisation for the protection of EU citizens in the UK, she finally got her third application for settled status approved. I don’t know what do you think Michaela about this?
MB: EU settled status application was critical for EU citizens who were already living in the UK, to secure their post Brexit status. So this was a really, really crucial element of them doing that. And we also know and I think that you’re going to be reflecting on this a little bit more in a minute that there are a considerable number of people who, for whatever reason, were not successful with their first application, and people who are still waiting for that approval that they have the right to live in the UK as people who were previously resident here as EU citizens. Now, another thing that really stands out to me and I just want to highlight is that the way the system is set up is a little bit like snakes and ladders. So you apply, if you don’t get it the first time, you’re actually told to make a new application, you can’t amend the existing application. What this means is that there’s no connection between any of those applications. So you’re going through that process all over again. So it’s perhaps not surprising in some respects, that she’s found herself in this situation of having to reapply, reapply, reapply. And in each case, as I understand it, being asked to address why she’s overdue in her application, because there’s no actual record that she was overdue, or that she previously made that application should I say. But what I really want to draw out here is the real life impacts and the real world impacts of being caught up in this prolonged period of waiting and anxiety, as well as what we can see in the case of Dahaba as this waiting period is having the potential to impact on people’s lives, because they lack the ability to prove status while they’re waiting.
GK: I mean, at the moment around 300,000 applications to the EU settlement scheme are on hold, with people being in limbo and really in no position to plan about anything, facing problems at work and potentially with their housing situations as well. And, you know, I wonder how many of these people are racialized black and brown Europeans. For example, it was only earlier this summer that the Home Office also recognise the rights of Zambrano carers to apply through the EU settlement scheme, after relevant court decision found errors in previous lawmaking. And just a little note, as a Zambrano carer is a person from a non European Economic Area state, often a person of colour, whose residence is required in order to enable a child or dependent adult who is British to live in the UK or the rest of the EU. And while this carers right to remain in the country was protected by European law, pre Brexit, no sufficient effort was made to protect their residing status post Brexit until now. But also know just to be clear racism against black Europeans is not a new post Brexit thing, obviously. Achi Ache I catchy a black French citizen and founder of organisations such as migrants at work, and the newly formed Black Europeans has, for instance, described how in 2009, long before Brexit, his employer became anxious about his right to work because of his French citizenship, and requested that he supplied evidence to his work permit, which simply did not exist as he just had the right to work as an EU citizen at the time. All of those examples George are a really important reminder that while there’s an assumption that Europeans are white, that just simply isn’t the case. Because of colonialism, among other things, there are a citizen born Europeans who are people of colour, and I face this, in my own research with British citizens living in the EU. We were interviewing British people of colour about their experiences of Brexit, how they felt about about that process, and through that some of their experiences of being black and European in Europe came to light. And what stood out to me was those people who were talking about their experiences of working in and around Brussels, in a context where 60% of the people of colour within the European parliament were British. And they highlighted the kind of early stages of a movement that’s become known as #Brusselssowhite. And the focus of this movement was about highlighting the absence of those European people of colour in those spaces of the European institutions. As we’re going to hear in my discussion with Marius and Bolaji, not all phenotypically White Europeans have equal access to claims of being European and the rights relating to this. And if we just refer back to the conversation I had with Nando, in the previous episode of Who do we think we are, we can see this very clearly in the case of the Roma, and how they’ve been treated in order to understand this. Now in Britain, as we’ll hear from Marius and Balaji, there’s a longer history to this, that dates back to the Aliens Act 1905. But before I move on to that, I was wondering, George, if you had a few reflections drawn from your experiences, or rather, shall we say your research interests in the case of Greeks in the UK. So I think I should mention then that I very recently have been looking into the archives for queer Greek people in London. And, you know, in the Greek diaspora archives, It is notable that there are no queer stories because they did not fit the particular heteronormativity of the Greek state apparently. But also in the queer British archives, I couldn’t find any Greeks. It is as though queer Greeks are seen as not white enough to be included in these archives as “our queers”. So, you know, this whole thing just raised questions for me about where Southern Europeans might sit within racialized hierarchies of Europeanness really.
MB: I think that’s a really good point to end on, George, it offers some interesting reflections that help us to think further on this idea of what Europe is and isn’t and what Europeanness is and isn’t, and to push beyond those kind of normative assumptions of whiteness, to question this idea that there’s some kind of universal European, or that that’s in some way homogenous, and to think instead how even the idea of being European might be caught up in processes of racialization. So thank you very much.
GK: Thank you.
MB: Talking with George made me think about the longer history of migration from Europe to the United Kingdom. And I think that this is a history that sometimes slips from view. But it’s critically important for understanding where our immigration controls originate. And in particular, for making sense of the Aliens Act 1905. This is a really long time ago. And back then, alien meant something different to the little green man that might be coming into your mind right now. At that time, there were no British citizens, just subjects of the British Empire, and so-called ‘Alien others’. The Act marks the introduction of immigration regulation, and particularly the power to restrict the entry to the United Kingdom of some aliens, on the grounds that they were “undesirable”. It also led to the establishment of the first dedicated immigration department to enact these powers. Now, I’m just going to pause here to reflect on what they meant by undesirable. To be honest, they gave a pretty clear definition, and I’m going to read it verbatim from the legislation. The Aliens Act of 1905 reads, “that for the purposes of this section, an immigrant shall be considered an undesirable immigrant: (a) if you cannot show that he has in his possession, or is in a position to obtain the means of decently supporting himself and his dependents; or (b) if he has a lunatic or an idiot, or owing to any disease or infirmity appears likely to become a charge upon the rates, or otherwise a detriment to the public; or (c) if he has been sentenced in a foreign country with which there is an extradition treaty for a crime not being an offence of a political character, which is, as respects that country, an extradition crime within the meaning of the extradition act of 1870; or (d) If an expulsion order under this Act has been made, in his case”. This is definitely a product of its time. First of all, I can’t really look past the gendered language that was there, or some of the terminology that would raise a few eyebrows in the present day. But we’ve got it all there, the grounds on which entry can be denied, but also the grounds on which so called aliens could be deported. And I think it’s a salutary reminder that the regulation of migration or immigration in this case is about the state’s powers to control movement into and out of the territory. But there’s a broader context that explains why this legislation came about at this particular point in time, and it relates to the pogroms. Now, this is a phrase that describes the attacks against and massacre of the Jewish populations in Russia from the 1880s onwards. Fleeing persecution, many Jews emigrated to the US, but also to Britain, which at the time had a reputation for accepting refugees that was not matched by other countries in Europe. Very simply, it had a more liberal approach to this issue. At the same time, the stratification of people into separate races was taking hold through the imposition of racial theory, where very simply, some groups of people were deemed superior to others on the grounds of “natural racial difference”. Importantly, this system of stratification also included the identification of Jews as not only a religiously defined group, but also biologically defined. Now, let’s head back to thinking about what happened when the Jewish refugees started to arrive in Britain. They were initially welcomed, and I think it’s fair to say they were highly visible. But what we start to see at this in this period of history is how negative stereotypes of Jews and conspiracy theory that had started to circulate through British popular literature from the late 19th century onwards, had started to take hold, and they’d led to prejudice towards this new population in the UK. And together with attacks on other migrant populations, these became the grounds for anti-alien campaigns essentially calling for restrictions on immigration. Some politicians got behind these what started as populist campaigns. And they drew on rhetoric about how aliens brought overcrowding, and might lead to miscegenation. This idea that racial mixing would, in inverted commas, “dilute the national stock”. They drew on the idea that migrants brought crime and disease and took working class jobs. All these narratives became commonplace. And it’s fair to say that several of them still exist in present day anti-immigration rhetoric. To some degree, it’s clear that antisemitism was masked by these campaigns, under the guise of opposing the entry of aliens for the protection of the nation, for the country as it was then. The Royal Commission on Aliens was established to consider the impacts of immigration. And to evaluate some of these claims. They ultimately concluded that fears about immigration had no basis. In fact, what’s bizarre is that despite this, they concluded that there was a need for controls. And it was this conclusion that led to the introduction of the Aliens Act 1905. It’s over to Marius and Bolaji to tell us a little bit more.
Marius Turda [MT]: Yeah, the Aliens Act 1905 is a phenomenally important piece of legislation, because the first time that immigration restrictions, as we understand them in the modern sense of the word, have been introduced in in Britain. But with the profound transformations happening at the end of 19th century, particularly the pogroms in Eastern Europe and Russia, that led to a wave of people moving from those parts of the world between the 1880s and the 1910s, or something like that. So you had about 120 or 150,000, European Jews, East European Jews, Jews from Eastern Europe, settling in Britain, and many of them settled in major cities, and a big group of them settled in the East End of London. And it was a conversation amongst politicians and various thinkers about the decline, degeneration and the survival of the race. And then of course, eugenics fit in very well. Some important eugenicists and anti-immigration writers such as Arnold White, that’s a quite prominent character, they would connect the two, they would connect that kind of conversation. You know, how we can strengthen the race by preventing people from coming into the UK. Until then immigration and eugenics were not really working together consistently in the British context, they operated in the American context. But after that, of course, two things happen. There’s an increased rhetoric about the potentiality, the negative potentiality of emigration coming from Europe. So this rhetoric about Europeans being different, the Northern Europeans are better than Southern Europeans and Southern Europeans are backward, Catholic, and of course that connects with the debate about the Irish question in England where the Catholics are the Irish, so they have the intro of British racism directed, or English racism directed to the Irish. Then you have that the East Europeans who are very different. And then you have the Jews from Eastern Europe who were difficult to integrate, at least initially. Now, at the same time that happens, another interesting thing happened, you know, east Europeans or Europeans become a subject of research by racial scientists. And so the East European Jews in London, have they fascinate the eugenicists such as Karl Pearson or Francis Galton. They want to go and see these people and they want to study them. So you have another interesting aspect developing here. It sparks a racist flame which of course was there, but finally they have the objects of their study in front of them. And so they begin researching the intelligence of the Jewish children in London, the height of the Jewish children in London. So these are the some of the classical studies published by eugenicists in the early 20th century, which benefited from the fact that there was immigration from Europe into Britain. So you have a political or politicisation of the immigration subject.
BB: It’s so interesting that Marius, you mentioned then some of the roles played by eugenics, on I think some related to the Jewish community in East London, the way Karl Pearson when there to do, you know, some sort of experiment. A similar thing actually happened in the 1960s and 50s, you know, when they started talking about immigration, and there was this really large, interesting group of eugenicists actually went to Birmingham to actually do some sort of measurement of mixed race children, mix race Chinese children as well, which we can see that we’re not actually too far from 1905, which really brings to mind contemporary issues related to what’s actually going on in Poland at the moment, with the Polish border, or the Polish government granting special treatments to a particular group of people. So for example, a lot of people are actually allowed to come from Ukraine because of situation in Ukraine at the minute. Well, the argument is, based on the fact that these are people that look like us, these are people that really sounds like us, no, these are people that probably been defined in terms of the way they look in terms of oh, they share our culture, but the same privilege is not actually extended to other people camping outside the border between Poland, you know, and Belarus and this really double standard, there are so many ways in which the laws and eugenics actually play a very, very important role in defining people.
MB: I think there’s a really very good points, Bolaji about how eugenics continues fundamentally underpins a lot of the legislation. And I think, you know, you made a call there also to shift beyond Britain. And I think Marius mentioned this briefly in his response as well. But at the same time as Britain’s about to enact the Aliens Act 1905, you have the kind of the initial provisions in Australia, the immigration restriction act in 1981, which set the foundation for the White Australia Policy, a very similar act happening in South Africa. And, of course, those white Britons that we talked about who were moving from the islands, the British Isles, to those parts of the British Empire, which at that stage, were trying to find ways of securing their own sovereignty, their own independence in lots of respects, were given privileged access in ways that I think are quite similar to what you’ve described there, Bolaji in respect to Poland and Ukraine. But of course, as in the case of Poland and Ukraine, there have been other times where people have not been allowed to cross that border because they’re too different. So you can start to see the kind of the contingency around this. And there were also when we start to look in the archives around emigration from Britain, that kind of the export of, of this “good British stock” and I do have my thing in inverted commas. I want to be very, very clear about that. You also see that there’s some people that get shipped back or you know, and it’s people with mental health problems, it’s people with who can’t work for a variety of reasons. So…
MT: It’s why you need to look at it in a conjoined way because you have what I call internal cleansing happening within Britain, put forward by the eugenicists. So the whole discussion about you know, the unfit. Now what is interesting just the other day I was looking one of the major books published in 1905. And then republished in 1914, which is about the mental derelicts by the major physicians in Britain who, it’s a very big book, and they use exactly the same language that we use, is used by politicians to describe people of inferior stock coming into Britain, they use to describe the unfit the disabled, the subnormal British population. So this is what we need to look at, we need to look in symbiosis, how the political rhetoric of exclusion-inclusion works with a eugenic rhetoric, eugenic rhetoric of inclusion and exclusion, because it’s not always, it’s never been always about the others, it’s all the discussion about the other is basically a starting point of a conversation about the self. Whilst they’re doing this, they do at the same time trying to prune, cleanse, you can see that when they tried to export people they believe to be, as you put it, “inferior racial stock” although British, to the colonies, and they were rejected. And this is where you can see how the eugenic and racist rhetoric is already at work, both here and there, because they were rejected. And more importantly, because we’re talking about today and the relevance of these conversations, historical moments today, is how much of that actually continues to reemerge and to dominate. And the kind of argumentation that continues to be formulated within these parameters is extremely troubling. It’s extremely troubling when you hear it again and again. And how little effort has been done to actually come to terms with these legacies? I mean, it always strikes me that the content of the arguments don’t change, the content of the anti immigration arguments don’t change. But the people do. I mean, I wonder Bolaji, do you have some more reflections on how this plays out in the present day in commonplace understandings of migration?
BB: I mean, when the whole issue between Ukraine or Russia happened, when people of colour trying to move to, you know, to Poland for safety, what most people actually told me was the fact that various ways in which, you know, being black really play a very big role in many of these things. Even to have an English passport as a black person, it’s very strange for people in Central and Eastern Europe, because they never really attach your personality to that passport, they often see you as somebody who’s actually acquired that passport in a very questionable ways. And with this kind of thinking going on the migration of a minority group is often problematized, through the assumption that these are people that actually belong to a particular geography or particular origin. And that really got me thinking about, you know, the ways that we migration and citizenship are a process of inclusion and exclusion, at the same time. Because otherwise, as a citizen, you’ll think you’re actually free to move around but the same process of citizenship has been used to actually exclude and to reduce also, what you can have access to and what you cannot. And actually eugenics provided tools for that to actually happen.
MB: And it naturalised all of those processes as well in so many ways. Just before we draw to a close, I was just wondering if we could go back to kind of the original question, which has to do with that idea around what it means to be European or this thing called a European identity. How does kind of looking at this history of the kind of that relationship between eugenics, migration and race help us perhaps to think differently about what it means to be European?
BB: That’s a very, very interesting question. I think the first thing to start thinking about is the recognition that there are many shades of whiteness that actually create some sort of hierarchy within the concept itself. I think the point I’m trying to set out here is the fact that the boundary of whiteness is never fixed. It expands and contracts and it’s shaped by particular events, conditions and situations that are actually happening around the war, for example, in the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia, again. This idea of whiteness, now contrasting and expanding, you know, allowed, you know, a country like Ukraine … now a country which is a year ago will not even be associated with the notion of whiteness, now it’s now benefitted, no matter how little it is, you know, from that tiny expansion of whiteness, as we’ve seen in the commentary about, you know, about what. On the other hand, you know, we’ve seen the same whiteness has not been able to protect many people from Central and Eastern Europe during the whole Brexit campaign. You know, even before Brexit, and even after that, you know, they still experienced, you know, very, very, very terrible racism and exclusion in Britain, not only in Britain, you know, in mainland Europe, as well. So whiteness in this sense is not a fixed category, it’s constantly evolving, you know, it’s negotiated and renegotiated at different times in different places. And it’s actually used for, for different purposes.
MT: Yeah, Bobby provided a very good answer, so I would only add a couple of things, I suppose. Firstly, is that the whole European identity is being the result of, you know, centuries of constructions, which involves not only colonialization of other parts of the world, internal or intra European colonisation projects happening, you know, throughout the centuries, then racism and eugenics so all of these, and in the 20th century, the whole debate about immigration, the way we speak about it today, all of that fed into the construction of what we call European identity. I mean, I certainly mean, you know, it all depends how you look at it. Some people are very proud of the possibility of tracing back genealogies in a particular location. And that could be used in a number of ways. I mean, my family goes back to the 16th century, I have been interrupted historical documents going back to 16th centuries. Now, how European does doesn’t make me I have no, I have absolutely no idea. But to other people. Of course, these are always sources of creating projections and building mechanisms of inclusion exclusion is because it can’t be no matter how much well you learn English, you know, how white you are, you can never be that particular type of English person or that particular type of polish or that particular type of Transylvanian or Romania or Hungarian. And that is because, of course, we attach so much importance to history, we attach so much importance to you know, historical needs of origins. And those continue to fuel both positively and, regrettably, now you see across the world, often negatively. fantasies of belonging. And white supremacy and whiteness is based on the fantasy of belonging. These ideas have never gone away. Whiteness remains, I suppose, as Bobby pointed out, one of the most elastic concepts we have at the moment. And it’s difficult to see how that in middle way.
MB: In my conversation with Bolaji and Marius really highlighted the relationship between eugenics and the initial development of immigration controls in the United Kingdom. But it also gave a sense of how the racial logics underpinning those developments persist in the present day. How we can witness them in conversations about migration going on across Europe, but also in considerations about who is European, and relatedly, who is unquestionably white? To my mind, the discussion gives us a sense of why for some European citizens, being European is not a comfortable identity. Indeed, for many of those within Europe’s racialized minorities, the racially exclusive understandings of being European that privilege whiteness means that the Europeanness is constantly called into question, as they are asked, but where are you really from? And it goes deeper than this. It translates into being questioned for and sometimes denied access to rights status and entitlements. Now, I hope that the episode has given you pause for thought about the story of migration to Britain from Europe, and the significance of its chequered history for immigration controls in the present day. But that’s all for today. And we’ll be back with one last episode of Beyond the Headlines to keep you going over Christmas. And just a little spoiler alert, we’re taking our inspiration from the World Cup. Finally, don’t forget to check out our new website for the episode notes, transcript and much much more. Thanks for listening to this episode of Who do we think we are a podcast series produced and presented by me Michaela Benson. Special thanks to Emma Houlton at Brilliant Sudio for her production and post production support. And to George Kalivis for the cover art, social media assets and archival research. You can check out our show notes for further resources, transcripts and links to all our socials. If you like what you’ve heard, take a moment to subscribe on your preferred podcast platform. And you can also find us at https://whodowethinkweare.org That’s all for now, but we’ll be back with another episode very soon.
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