Mili [userpic]

I am an Eastern European

April 28th, 2010 (09:17 pm)
sad

current location: Home in Newcastle
current mood: sad

Words fail me. I have been staring alternately at my screen and keyboard for the last two hours in complete and utter paralysis, while inside I am raging. At one point I actually genuinely broke down in tears and great heaving sobs.

I have been watching BigotGate unfold - mostly on Twitter, a bit on LJ, a bit in mainstream media - since around lunchtime. Oh, I thought initially, finally someone's made a gaffe in this election campaign - just what the media have been wanting. Then I actually went and watched the clip - first the short version on the Channel 4 News website which only has the last 30 seconds of the PM's conversation with Gillian Duffy and his comments in the car; then I watched the full thing, which included Mrs. Duffy's comments on the flocking Eastern Europeans.

Then I watched the comments on Twitter. Some were mocking Gordon Brown for the slip-up. (Simon and Julia Indelicate, I'm looking at you. Simon and Julia have both contacted me - see below - and for the record I never thought or meant to imply that they were racists. I really appreciate them getting in touch and publicly standing up to be counted on the anti-bigotry side of this whole mess.) vampwillow said "I don't believe what Gordon Brown says either. I am therefore also a #bigotedwoman by his standards. Good! #election2010". I started feeling ever so slightly nauseous. A part of me knew from the start that what Gillian Duffy had said was unacceptable, it was directed against me and people like me, and it just wasn't right. But reading my Twitter feed I thought, surely if it was that bad someone there would pick up on her actual comments, and not just go for Gordon Brown. Maybe I was being oversensitive.

I did eventually pluck up the courage to tweet a shy, self-deprecating "Flocking eastern European here. Just sayin'." No reaction. Sod it, I thought, maybe I am just overreacting. Comments about immigration are inevitable, especially in an election campaign, someone will always make them. Just grow a thicker skin, Mili.

I follow about 90 mostly left-wing fluffy liberal people on Twitter and have another 60-odd LJ friends. Given overlaps, people I don't know terribly well, inactive accounts, minor celebrities, and people in foreign lands, there are maybe 50 people there whom I could legitimately expect to say something in defence of us flocking Eastern Europeans. It took six hours for one person to step forward and say that yes, Gillian Duffy was a bigoted woman and Gordon Brown has been right to call her that. One person. Out of 50. In six hours. That person has my heartfelt gratitude. (I am aware that I have named and shamed above, and now I'm not giving credit by name, but it was a locked post and they're a public figure. If the person in question would like me to identify them, I very happily will.)

At that point I completely lost it. I'm not sure I can explain how this whole sordid affair makes me feel, but let me try.

Anger. Anger at Gillian Duffy, anger at all the people who weren't willing to stand up to her.

Shame. Shame at the realisation that I had only allowed myself to feel this anger after I had been "given permission" by the comment from the native British person who stood up for me. Blaming myself for not standing up for myself earlier, more forcefully.

A desperate need to justify myself. I pay higher-rate income tax. I contribute to the UK economy, I contribute to UK society. I probably pay into the tax system more than I get back out of it. Extending that justification to other immigrants - parts of the UK economy probably would collapse without immigrant labour; I wonder how much immigrants contribute in total to the economy; we all come here to work, and we work damn hard. A range of other economic arguments, all around contribution, all around this incredibly Tory notion of my money being the only thing that entitles me to anything like decent treatment from this society.

More anger. This time at being disempowered and disenfranchised; at being a cheap target for political point scoring because Gillian Duffy and the 60 million people like her have a vote, and I and the couple of hundred thousand people like me don't, and therefore she will always get a grovelling apology from the Prime Minister, and we won't.

A desperate attempt to reclaim power, to find some leverage: I wonder if I can stop paying taxes, if I can get some sort of campaign going for all immigrants to stop paying taxes - I bet they'd notice us then. Oh, I wonder if I can challenge Gillian Duffy to take the citizenship test.

The slow, sad realisation that the political culture in the UK is such that no politician has any choice but to grovel to the bigots. Because standing up and explaining to them instead that immigrants make a massive contribution to the economy, let alone that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of nationality, citizenship or contribution, would be political suicide.

And finally a profound sense of isolation, hurt, and being alone. Tears and huge heaving sobs. I've not cried like that in about five years.

That's how Gillian Duffy has made me feel today. What did I ever do to her?

I am writing this because realistically it's the only way that I can get any leverage on the situation without landing myself in jail. I'm also writing this because you need to know. Yes, you. All of you with the British passports and the huge sense of entitlement. Regardless of whether you support the Tories or LibDems or Labour or any of the other parties - none of you covered yourselves in glory today, bar one single person. And maybe making a personal connection with an immigrant, understanding how they feel, and how they see the world will help you stand up and act like a decent human being next time this happens.

So here's what I want you to do. I can guarantee you that you know an immigrant: they might be a close friend, they might be the girl who makes your decaf skinny latte in the coffee shop, they might be a colleague. I want you to go up to that person and ask them what it's like being an immigrant in the UK. Even if you think you know them really well already, you probably have never thought or talked to them about these things. How does it feel to be so far away from home? To leave your life behind and start again from scratch? To be in the middle of a general election where you have no voice? Why did they come here? What do and don't they like about Britain? What's it like where they come from? Be nice and polite, approach them carefully, explain that you are trying to educate yourself, to understand and to become a better person. Listen. Don't judge. Maybe you'll learn something.

Comments

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Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC)
"Bigot and...

an idiot", was my summary on twitter earlier today. Why? Afterwards she said she wouldn't vote anyway. You're right to feel offended, imho; whatever she thinks her grievances are, she's part of a group of people ricocheting blame off all around them for wider failings. Easy targets, lazy politics.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC)

There are plenty of British people who vehemently disagree with that xenophobic woman, and her kind, unfortunately we do tend to be the silent majority. I hope you know that.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC)
:)

no i wasn't :) i think it was a silly mistake, but i think you must've misunderstood my tweets? :)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC)
Re: :)

Posted by: Mili (elmyra)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:21 pm (UTC)
Re: :)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:46 pm (UTC)
Re: :)

Posted by: Mili (elmyra)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:58 pm (UTC)
Re: :)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 10:01 pm (UTC)
Re: :)

Posted by: Mili (elmyra)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 10:04 pm (UTC)
Re: :)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 10:10 pm (UTC)
Re: :)

Posted by: seniorspeaks.blogspot.com (seniorspeaks.blogspot.com)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 08:44 pm (UTC)

Immigrants should not take what Gillian Duffy said personally. Gillian Duffy wasn't insulting or attacking immigrants. She was complaining about the amount of immigrants in the country. She wasn't expressing the opinion that all immigration should be stopped or expressing hatred of immigrants.

Posted by: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan (annafdd)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:53 pm (UTC)

"I'm not a racist, some of my best friends are black?"

OF COURSE if she was complaining about the amount of immigrants in the country she doesn't think that immigrants are contributing valuable and worthy things to the country. She'd be praising them instead of complaining against them else, would she?
(Another bloody foreigner, paying taxes here as well)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 10:15 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Doing simply dreadful things too (clanwilliam)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 10:50 pm (UTC)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 11:15 pm (UTC)

Posted by: gillo (gillo)
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC)

Posted by: White Hart (white_hart)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 08:44 pm (UTC)

How strange. The impression I got from my Twitter feed was 'Gordon Brown describes bigot as bigot. Right-wing press have field day.' (I didn't have time to check the news at work and didn't get home until after the 6pm Radio 4 news had finished so I haven't really caught up on how it's being reported and haven't commented myself.) I'm really surprised that people have taken it any other way, and I'm very sorry that I belong to a nation of idiots.

Posted by: Quinn (quinnypin)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 08:50 pm (UTC)

Well said, that woman. Gillian Duffy is a bigot and Brown should have told her so to her face.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 08:51 pm (UTC)
Get a grip

If a stranger making a fairly tame comment about unrestricted immigration from Eastern Europe - of which some negative consequences are felt disproportionately by the working class - caused you "isolation, hurt... tears and huge heaving sobs" then you should probably consult a therapist.

I don't agree with Mrs Duffy's comments, but the pathetic attempts to smear her as a racist, a bigot, a loon or a xenophobe are beneath contempt. I say that as the child of an immigrant, and someone who would doubtless be "repatriated" were the real racists ever to come near power.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 10:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Get a grip

nonsense, what kind of policy is implied by "there are too many immigrants", see BNP's voluntary repatriation crap for the answer.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 09:03 am (UTC)
Re: Get a grip

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 11:46 am (UTC)
Re: Get a grip

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 04:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Get a grip

Posted by: Romauld (romauld)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)

Thank you for writing this, it expresses something very important.

My problem with the Prime Minister's reaction is he should have said what he said publicly, and directly to her. He couldn't because he has been pushing the same hysterical line for 13 years.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 11:29 pm (UTC)

This. Which, for the record was what most of my twitter friends said. - miss-s-b

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 11:51 am (UTC)

Posted by: enemy of Leon (friend_of_tofu)
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 05:49 pm (UTC)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)
bigots

The sad thing is she probably really doesn't understand how offensive her remarks were. But now the subject is out in the open, perhaps there will be a proper debate about it. I'm shocked GB felt he had to apologise to her so profusely instead of taking the opportunity to explain why he said what he said.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)
cheer up hun.

don't be sad, this is just a fact of life, media hype most of it.
There are many fantastic immigrants working hard and enjoying life in this country. They are welcome here. As you rightly say, they contribute to economy and enrich society. I don't know how many 'bad' immigrants there are, or whether it is media spin, but a lot of people think that too many have come in, and are claiming benefit. That is how people get classed as bigots, because they voice these concerns. It would be good to know the truth of the matter, but I guess we never will.
If you are doing what you write above, then in my book you are a british citizen. Don't worry about having a vote, there is nobody worth voting for anyway. Live long and prosper, and don't be sad.
chris

Posted by: nr2bornot.blogspot.com (nr2bornot.blogspot.com)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
Flocking Europeans

I heard someone on Five Live say earlier "she's like everyone's Gran". I tweeted "She didn't look like either of my Grans. They were European immigrants!"

All a bit pathetic really - a hoo-hah in a jar.

Let he who is without sin etc etc but no, it's a media frenzy instead.

This is an election for our government not X-Factor.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Flocking Europeans

my gran was a bit of a bigot - but she's dead and hopefully so is acceptance of bigotry - though seemingly not

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 10:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Flocking Europeans

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 08:58 pm (UTC)
flash gordy versus the tory press

but - but -but - it must be true... the Daily Mail told me...

Being an immigrant (and fervent voter) myself, I found nothing wrong with Flash Gordy's statement that Gillian Duffy was a bigot... it did sound a bit like "The Thick Of It" though when I listened to the conversation after his meeting.

The press is taking a little break from Clegg-bashing - "leggo my cleggo". I guess Brown calling a bigot a bigot is a bigger story than Cameron et al not quite getting the whole sexual orientation equality thing.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:01 pm (UTC)
(elmyra) I'm an eastern european

I agree with and am sorry you didn't get the support from people you should have. The biggest argument in this has been Gordon Brown's Honesty! And that what he said was offensive or wrong, but we've ignored the comments which grouped every eastern european as being an issue or problem to this country. This is really not on how dare she!

May I also add that (elmyra) without migrant workers regardless of where they come from our NHS would collapse, hotels, shops, coffee bars would have no staff, we should be proud and thankful that migrant workers chose to come here and contribute to our society.

I'm sorry you were not defendant and hope this goes some way to restore your confidence in british society!

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:03 pm (UTC)
Made me think.

Thanks. You've made me think a bit harder about this. Take care.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:04 pm (UTC)
I have just tweeted

to say that we need more people like you in this country and thank you for choosing us. This election mania throws up the total stupidity of people in the world over. Our media is - on the whole - despicable in its terror of Mr.Murdoch. Nobody has yet asked whether Mrs.Duffy and her ilk arrived here from foreign shores (my ancestors did - Ireland), which is highly likely. I am less than religious, but forgive them, they know not what they do springs to mind!

Posted by: britswedeguy (britswedeguy)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:04 pm (UTC)
"A life-long Labour voter"

Unfortunately "Bigoted woman" isn't unrepresentative, boasting about how wonderfully caring she is, complaining about her state hand-out and then about flocking East Europeans - she is just the kind of person that has always, unthinkingly, voted Labour and could easily switch to the Tories or UKIP.
I cannot apologise on behalf of the people of this country but I can assure you that you are not alone in being disgusted,

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: May 2nd, 2010 11:13 am (UTC)
Re: "A life-long Labour voter"

"complaining about her state hand-out "

Of which she and her late husband have paid into for years you sociialist scum.

Posted by: Rich and me. (richandme)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)
small

Thank you for writing this. I thought I might have been overreacting, but I'm not. (although I've probably been inflammatory, both on LJ and on Facebook!) I'm a British citizen by my passport and what Gillian Duffy said was bigoted, and fundamentally ignorant.

I have friended you to watch you write, because your coverage of the election is interesting. Hope you don't mind.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:10 pm (UTC)
I agree with Gordon

Mili,

The woman was a bigot, quite frankly. Typical of those with lower intelligence. If that's the ordinary voter, then god help us all for the collective decision they're allowed to make.

Shame on the media for misrepresenting the whole story and giving it a negative angle against Gordon Brown. The whole thing should never have been broadcast, it was an off the cuff remark that was not intended to cause offence, because it was a private conversation.

This is not even the biggest "gaffe" of the election campaign. In the first debate David Cameron put China into the same group as a potentially war mongering nation. Surprise surprise, no media coverage for that. The right wing press have had it in for Brown ever since he became PM. He's just not stylish enough to be a media darling. Gullible people believe everything they read in the newspapers.

I guess you've seen how this media manipulation works first hand now!

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 09:14 am (UTC)
Re: I agree with Gordon

I also agree with Gordon, about the particular statement this woman made. But to extrapolate from one woman to all ordinary ( read: northern, working class) voters, and then to make the leap that all ordinary voters (read : speakers with non-london accents, speakers of dialect) are of lower intelligence is just as bigoted as the original statement. Elmyra is spot-on about the offence this woman's views cause, but you're just as offensive.

Posted by: Dantarian (dantarian)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:11 pm (UTC)

Pretty much my first reaction on reading the story on BBC News was, "He's right, she does sound like a bigot."

It would be nice if more of those who aren't far-right nutjobs felt they could speak their minds in public without instantly being leaped upon by Murdoch and his ilk.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 01:20 pm (UTC)
Fixed!

It would be nice if more of those who aren't far-left nutjobs felt they could speak their minds in public without instantly being leaped upon by Labour and their ilk.

Posted by: Dantarian (dantarian)
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 02:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Fixed!

Posted by: simonindelicate (simonindelicate)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:11 pm (UTC)

Hi, I'm a bit dismayed to be named among the culpable in this. This woman, in her nasty settled way, is obviously a bigot - you won't find any disagreement from me there. This morning I made a joke on twitter about the story (not, incidentally, mocking Gordon Brown for a slip up - but mocking the general ridiculousness of the situation). I take it as read that most of the (only 500 or so) people who follow me on twitter know full well that old women ranting about immigrants are racists and I would be alarmed to discover otherwise. As such, I don't think I have any obligation to make it clear that I think so in that particular medium.

I think Gordon Brown is in trouble today for allowing himself to appear guilty of being two-faced to a self-appointed 'ordinary person' - this is the thing that will damage him and is the main reason his words have been widely reported as a gaffe. If he (as I dearly wish he had) had called her a bigot to her face he would be in a much better position.

I am completely with you in being disgusted at the repellent attitude of this old fool and her kind - and I'll probably say so when her views are promoted to being the story in tomorrow's right wing papers. But not doing so today (on twitter at any rate, I have elsewhere) is not something that places me on the wrong side of anything.

Simon Indelicate

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:24 pm (UTC)

I disagree on one point. I don't think Gordon Brown was being two faced. This is a high stakes election, where the right wing media are twisting everything. You could tell the first thought on Brown's mind was that the interview would be received badly in the press and therefore by the public. He was expressing his frustration at the situation and why he was forced into that awkward situation.

He only called her a bigoted woman when he was asked by his aide what she said. So you can tell he was talking more about her comment than about the woman herself. Later on, in the radio interview, he even clarified that it was the immigration comment that he found "annoying".

We all form opinions about people based on what they say. Hey, I even hold some slightly negative opinions about views that some of my friends have. That doesn't mean I don't like my friends as people.

The media have spun this completely out of context.

Posted by: Mili (elmyra)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:47 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Mili (elmyra)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 10:01 pm (UTC)

Posted by: simonindelicate (simonindelicate)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 10:04 pm (UTC)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 30th, 2010 06:52 pm (UTC)

Posted by: randomgirl (randomgirl666)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:12 pm (UTC)

Hello. Found this post via Twitter. Gordon Brown has gone up a lot in my estimation today - it's a shame none of the major parties have the balls to face up to the bigots on the issue of immigration, but at least it's reassuring to know that he privately recognises a bigot when he sees one.

I've been angry for years that so many people from my homeland have this ridiculous attitude towards immigrants - after all the UK has reaped countless benefits from immigration and immigrants have nothing to do with the country's current problems. All the people who have ever wronged me, directly or indirectly, have been white people of British origin and the same goes for most people in this country.

I am genuinely sorry that idiots have made you feel unhappy in a country that you have every right to be in. There are plenty of us who are happy to have you here, and the bigots will just have to live with it.

Posted by: ailsa_chan (ailsa_chan)
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:12 pm (UTC)

It seems that even after all you've written people can't see the problem with making blanket statements about a large and diverse group of people based on nothing but personal prejudice.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:12 pm (UTC)
We're not all like it

Mili,

Please take heart from the fact that my Twitter feeds were full of people calling the lady bigoted… or if not bigoted then most definitely ignorant. Maybe we weren't all using hashtags for it to be seen, I don't know to be honest, but there were plenty of people expressing views akin to your own.

There are many, many people that are open, welcoming and warm-hearted enough to make this country a place worthy of its name of Great Britain.

Don't let the bastards grind you down.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:17 pm (UTC)
i think that perhaps the problem is

that sensible, lefty, normal people saw the news and thought, yeh, brown probably had a point, but this isn't news, so thought no more of it,
while only the people who agreed with the bigot thought it was an important issue and were vocal about it.
yes, the pervasive racism in our society is a great worry, and i empathise with your frustration and anger, but seriously, i would guess the reason that nobody on your twitter was having a go at the woman was more because they thought her and the "news" irrelevant and not even worth talking about, since there are and always will be racists.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:18 pm (UTC)
arghhhh!

I promise you that some of us aren't bigoted xenophobes and appreciate the contribution that different races and cultures make to modern Britain - part of me wishes Gordon Brown had just said 'I stand by what I said, the old bat is a bigot and typical of the latent prejudice, and sometimes blatant prejudice, that exists in UK society'. On behalf of as many people of right mind as there are in this land, sorry!

Alastair....

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 28th, 2010 09:19 pm (UTC)

as soon as it happened, i too was looking for any comments from people who saw it just the way brown called it. it is what is it. it's not wrong to call someone a bigot when they reveal themselves to be that way.

i found a couple immediate comments in forums, and that was encouraging. i found this: http://twitter.com/bigotedwoman - and that made me laugh.

i'm an american expat living in london. the vast majority of people here are not xenophobic, but i still get people talking to me in pubs about 'the immigrants' - like they assume i'm on 'team bigot'. it's weird.

i'm sorry you didn't find support sooner. it's here, though, and in big numbers.

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