Intelligent transcription of Framing Migration: Language, Alignment and Empathy
An online discussion with Senior Lecturer in English language and linguistics at the University of Sussex Dr. Charlotte Taylor (CT) and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at De Montfort University Dr.Simon Goodman (SG). Hosted by De La Warr Pavilion Head of Learning & Participation Ashley McCormick (AM)
Sunday 13 December 2020
AM I’ll begin properly with a very warm welcome and thank you to everybody for joining us this evening for Framing Migration: Language, Alignment and Empathy. We’re really pleased to be joined by Dr. Charlotte Taylor, Senior Lecturer in English language and linguistics at the University of Sussex, and Dr. Simon Goodman, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at De Montfort University. We’ve been waiting a very long time for this event to happen actually; Charlotte and I started talking about producing some sort of public event or workshop over a year ago now, in anticipation of the exhibition, Mal etre/Performance, which is a collection of drawings by the artist Marc Bauer, and that was going to be opening at the De La Warr Pavilion in February 2020. So, we scheduled an event for late April but our plans and were foiled by the pandemic and the closure of the De La Warr Pavilion and the furloughing of the majority of our staff.
Yesterday (Saturday 12 December 2020) was the 85th anniversary of the initial opening of the building on the 12th of December in 1935 and some of you might already be very familiar with an essential aspect of the origins of the organization, and how it chimes with themes in Marc Bauer’s’ artworks, and in Charlotte’s and Simon’s work. In 1933 in the wake of growing anti-Semitism and the rise of Nazis in Germany, architect Erich Mendelsohn fled to England. Here he formed a practice with the Russian émigré Serge Chermayeff, and together they designed the De La Warr Pavilion building.
Marc Bauer’s exhibition, which will remain on show in the first floor gallery until Sunday 3rd January 2021, features a motif of often stigmatized and vulnerable groups of people in transit on boats throughout history: refugees, prisoners, mad people, slaves, people in total desperation. And before we watch a short film, introducing Marc’s work, I’d like to hand over now to Charlotte and Simon to introduce themselves and their relation to the topics of this evening’s discussion.
CT Thank you very much, Ashley. And welcome to everybody. It’s really great to see everybody here, as Ashley says, because we’ve been waiting so long to be able to do this. As Ashley said, I’m a linguist at the University of Sussex, and my work is broadly concerned with the relationship between language, persuasion and evaluation. My connection with this event is that I’m currently working on a project, which analyzes how people who move are represented, and particularly from a kind of historical perspective, which hopefully I’ll talk about a little bit later. So I’m particularly interested in the ways that naming and describing phenomena become seen as common sense. So as a linguist, I take the stance that language involves choice, and these choices frame and categorize our world. So if we can take a fairly neutral example, like colour, we know that colour is a spectrum. And we know that where we draw the lines between colours is always going to be culturally situated. So I was looking for random books to illustrate. But if I say this is one, this is another, let’s try that side, this is another, and this is four, right? So I would say there are three colours here, I would say they were blue, and orange, and green, right? And my daughter who’s three would say that these are the same colour. As far as she’s concerned, this is all yellow, because she hasn’t learned where we tend to draw those lines. And my partner, if he was speaking in Italian would say there are four because for him, these are not one colour; these are two different colours, right? And so what I’m interested in is the way in which we have these names and the names categorize, they perform the categorization. And hopefully in this discussion, we’ll be able to see how this kind of naming applies to how we talked about migration as well? And I’ll hand over to Simon.
SG Thanks, Charlotte, and thanks, everyone for joining today, and thanks for the invitation to this event. I’m really looking forward to it, and it’s good to see you all here. So my work shows a lot of similarities with Charlotte. I’m also interested in language and I’m particularly interested in talk around refugees. Generally, I tend to look at the different arguments that are used to justify not helping refugees and unfortunately, as I’m sure many of you are, aware, these tend to be the dominant arguments that you hear about refugees. So I’m interested in how those arguments are presented, what those arguments do, and how those arguments which tend to be pretty unreasonable are presented as being reasonable, how people attempt to do that in a way that makes it look like they’re not trying to stop people who are fleeing danger from being safe. I share a lot of similarities with what Charlotte does. I’m also particularly interested in some of the terms that are used, because as Charlotte was saying, the different languages used to describe categories, and in particular groups, which is one of the most controversial types of categories, is always used to do something. And as we’ll be talking about today, we’ll see the different types of terminology that’s used to describe refugees have quite important implications. And the fact that I’m talking about refugees, when other people would be using different terms is in itself quite telling. Yeah? Nice to meet you all.
AM Great. Okay. So Charlotte, shall I show the film at this point now? I did want to ask, actually, who has – with a show of hands – actually been to the De La Warr Pavilion to see Marc’s exhibition, because I don’t want to make assumptions that everybody has. So if you have, can you just do a little show of hands. So a few people. That’s good, though. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to show a short film now, it’s about five minute film, and it’s available on YouTube. And it is also showing in the gallery, just before you enter into the space to see Marc’s work, and hopefully, for the people who’ve seen the show that will remind us and for the others that will introduce you to Marc’s intentions. So I’m just going to share my screen and find that film for you.
AM I’m just going to now put up another image that you requested Charlotte.
CT It was really difficult to choose, there’s so many really powerful images in the exhibition, if you haven’t seen it, and you’ve got the chance to see it, it’s, yeah, absolutely worth it. But one of the things that really captures, you know, the sense of it was that he starts with this idea of empathy, but that he’s not starting from an outward looking perspective, he’s starting by thinking about why he doesn’t have this sort of immediate empathetic response and what’s happened with that. So I thought that’s where we could start off with the discussion and I want to see if we could hand over to Simon, and Simon, if you could just tell us a little bit more about what we’re talking about when we’re talking about empathy.
SG Thanks, Charlotte. Okay, so empathy is really defined as your ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes, to see the world from their point of view. Now what’s quite interesting about empathy is it’s not necessarily the same as sympathy, which is actually caring about the plight of people. So it might be, for example, that you are able to imagine what it’s like to be a refugee, but you don’t care. Or the other way around, that you don’t necessarily know what it might be like to be a refugee, but you do still care, which would be having sympathy. So, it is quite interesting, because, from my point of view, many of the arguments that you see, when people talk about refugees, they seem to be lacking empathy and sympathy. I think in a way, having empathy for refugees could be quite a difficult thing to do, because it’s such an abstract, such a horrible situation to try and picture. So you know, the idea of having to imagine your life getting turned upside down, and suddenly, you’ve got to leave your home, leave everything and flee your life. I mean, I think I can understand why that’s a hard thing to empathize with. And my guess is that if you spoke to a lot of refugees themselves, they wouldn’t have expected that situation to happen to themselves until it did and I think because it is such an abstract and such a terrifying idea, actually, I think it is quite a hard thing to empathize with. But like I said, having empathy for the situation and sympathy, you know, you don’t necessarily have to have empathy for it to get that this must be a really difficult thing for people to go through.
CT That’s a really helpful distinction. Thank you, Simon. And I suppose what Marc was trying to do in that was think about how the images that he’d been exposed to and that he was revisiting and then producing how they shape our thinking. And I wondered if you’d like to talk a little bit about your work looking at the image of Alan Kurdi, which I’m sure a lot of people here will remember is a particularly upsetting and tragic image of the young boy being carried out of the water after he drowned.
SG My guess is that most people are familiar with those pictures, or unfortunately, that there are other pictures of other children and adults as well in similar situations. They were really horrifying pictures. What struck me about that, stepping back and looking at it in terms of how it impacted the way refugees were talked about, I had my own reaction to it, which was just like anyone else, that kind of horror, easily could have been my little boy… was sort of a similar age at the time, so it was particularly horrible to see. But what you saw, and I’ve already alluded to this, you tend to get very anti refugee arguments and dispositions coming from mainstream sources. So political debate tends to be about how do we keep refugees out, rather than how do we help refugees. But what was really striking was after that picture went viral and everybody had that response to seeing those really heartbreaking pictures, two things happened. The first is that, what at that point was being referred to as a migrant crisis, for a short while started being referred to as a refugee crisis. And that might sound like me being quite pedantic but I said, you know, like Charlotte, I’m interested in language. That was a really significant shift. It showed a move from migrants, which is quite a negative category to refugee, which is a much more positive category that comes with, attached to it, those notions of people that need help. The images that you saw, reflecting the refugee crisis, changed after the photograph of Alan Kurdi and, rather than pictures of predominantly groups of young men wearing hoods, and trying to break down barriers in that kind of threatening imagery, suddenly, you saw pictures of children being taken out of boats, the rescue that we all wish for, that we might have been able to give to Alan Kurdi. And for that short while you had very different image of refugees as children, they were people trying to get off boats, and it was a very different kind of perception. What also coincided with that, which is something that I’m not familiar with seeing as someone who’s interested in how we respond to refugees in this country, was that people were driving down to Calais to go and help refugees. Normally in this country, it’s all about how do we stop refugees? How do we prevent them from reaching here, but for a short moment, after that photograph, lots of people were collecting, and driving down to Calais to go and actively help. So, yeah, that photograph clearly had a massive impact. Although what happened since then is that it is quite a disappointing thing to see that slowly ebb away, and we went back to the more traditional representation of refugees, of the migrants, people to keep out, and as a problem, and the latest response to refugees trying to reach the UK now, is to put wave machines in the English Channel. So we’ve gone quite a way from that sympathetic talk about refugees that followed so quickly after those photographs, to back to the status quo, where we’re at now.
CT Yeah, and I mean, it’s incredible to see the shift in framing the debate. But then, as you said, this shift back again, to where it had been. But I wonder if we could then move on to think more about the way that the language and maybe specific names frame the debate in similar ways to an image can frame it. So I was wondering at this point, if we could ask everybody else or the participants here, if you could use the chat and could you just take a moment to write in there any words which you know, that could be used to refer to people who move? There might be words that you would use, there might be words that you would not use, but words which are around in the public domain to describe people who move and perhaps we’ll take a minute to see what comes up and then we can think about what those words do in terms of framing the debate…
Amazing, thank you very much, lots of different perspectives coming in and as people are commenting as well, it also depends where you are, as to what kinds of names you might be aware of, or names that you might be hearing. So, I mean, I wonder if we could take that, Simon, and start to think about what kinds of categories emerge from some of the names that we’ve got here?
SG Yeah, absolutely, and there’s some really great categories here, you can see people have picked up on lots of different kind of terms, which I’m familiar with seeing. I think some somebody put here that it all depends on the political circumstances of the movement. And I think that’s really important. But what I’d say is that maybe taking that even a step further, is so much of it depends on what the person who’s using the category is doing at that particular point. So different categories have very different types of inbuilt assumptions. Categories aren’t neutral. Categories very much do things. The distinction between some of the terms you’ve got here, an economic migrant, and an asylum seeker, for example, they have very different connotations. What you tend to see is that people that are arguing for refugee rights, I like to use terms like asylum seekers, which is a technical term, or refugee, which is a more common term for people who are fleeing their homes because of a lack of safety in their home, and a need any to go somewhere where there is safety. The opposite of that, you know, people that are arguing against rights for refugees are much more likely to use terms such as economic migrants or illegal immigrants, or more broadly, migrants, but much less likely to draw on terms like refugee.
Not only that, if you look at debates around refugees, which is something I’ve spent an awful lot of time doing, for better or for worse, is that you’ll find that these categories are by no means set. And people will very much argue over what category should be used. So people will explicitly within a conversation, say “You’re claiming this is about refugees, but actually, this is about economic migrants.” Or conversely, you’ll say, “Why you calling these people migrants or illegal or anything like that, when actually we’re talking about refugees?” So what we see is that the terms that are used become a topic of debate in themselves because people will argue over it. I’m much more likely to say that it’s a refugee, and as someone who’s arguing against refugee rights, you’re less likely to use that term. And the terms themselves then evolve the meaning that’s associated with that that category and will shift as the debate moves on. Terms, which may at some point have had quite positive connotations, may begin to pick up more negative connotations. People who are arguing for their rights are going to start to use different terms.
Equally, you know, positive terms might start to become more negative and so you see this kind of movement of terms and you’ll get explicit banning of terms even. So the term, bogus refugee, for example, that’s no longer allowed to be used in the printed press, because everybody has a right to claim asylum. Whether or not a government decides that someone who’s claiming asylum is entitled to that, that’s a decision that the government will make, but everybody’s entitled to claim asylum. You also may have seen campaigns more recently saying no one is illegal. So when people talk about illegal migration, we say well, no, there might be laws in place, but people’s existence can’t be illegal. No one is illegal. You get very explicit responses to that. So the categories are massively important. They carry with them all sorts of implications. Like I said, at the point, about a week before the photographs of Alan Kurdi, you’d see lots of coverage talking about the migrant crisis, the week after the photographs of Alan Kurdi, people were talking about a refugee crisis. That’s not a coincidence. These terms have massive implications.
I’m just going to respond to one quote, one of the terms that somebody put up here, which is that you may have noticed this when people come into the UK, they’re migrants or refugees or something else. When British people go abroad, they’re never migrants. They’re ex-pats. We’ve got a special word for Brits that go abroad which of course comes with totally different connotations. Again, that’s not a coincidence. These terms do a really important thing. Charlotte was talking about the choice of words that are used; the choice of terms that is used is not just different ways of talking about the same thing. They’re politicized, they’re contextually based on the argument that’s happening at that very moment. And they do things, they are really important.
CT Picking up on Rohan’s point at the end (in the chat) as well about, you know, different legal identities. I think you need to be really aware of the difference between legal understandings of terms and the everyday understandings of terms and a lot of negotiation about which terms, you know, some people think people should use is around that line and fuzziness across that line sometimes. And we’ve got a really great range here, as Simon was saying, from categories indicating people going away from the UK, people coming towards the UK, people being treated more sympathetically and less sympathetically in those movements.
But they’re also quite a few terms that aren’t here as well, and you might want to think about why those aren’t here. So there’s one, which Ashley used in her introduction, actually describing the whole foundation of the Pavilion, which was émigré. Émigré doesn’t tend to be used to refer to people today. It’s one of those very nostalgic terms that are used to talk about people who moved in the past and who we now value. And then there are quite a few other terms, which aren’t used today but could be. There’s no logical reason why they’re not used. So the fact that they’re not used says there’s something going on in terms of choice. We could think about a word like evacuee. Evacuee tends to have quite a specific historical dimension for a lot of people that we’re thinking about, predominantly British children being moved during wartime. But actually, it was used more widely than that. It’s in recent times that it’s narrowed and narrowed to the fact that it’s not really used to refer to people who are forced migrants today. There’s no logical reason for that, we could be using these terms to talk about people who’ve been forced out of places because of war or extreme climate change and so on.
And another category that’s not there, which is very much a historical category, are things like colonist and settler. So we can think about all these terms which we have, and we have a really rich selection for talking about people who move, but there’s also a whole set of terms that we avoid, or that we don’t use to refer to people moving now. We might want to think about what’s going on – why do we avoid those terms? So I wonder, Ashley, if we can move on to look at the other image, which we had set up.
Great, thank you. This is another really great image from the exhibition, I don’t know if you can see exactly what it says because I think the subtitle box covers up some of the things but what it says on it is it talks about patterns repeated through time and history. What this image is showing, it’s an image of the gallery, so it’s right at the center of the gallery, but also at the center of what Marc was thinking about with the exhibition and the historical dimension is something that I’ve been really interested in, as I said, and particularly this idea of repeating patterns through history. I guess this image really resonated because it’s something I’ve seen so much. I’ve been looking at representations of migration over the last 200 years, more or less. And I thought I’d just give a couple of examples of where we see these sorts of repetitions.
One of them is the press, and the press still has a huge amount of power in terms of framing debate. They might not sell as many copies, but they are setting the tone of the language that we’re using for talking about migration so if we think about what happens today, in the press, we don’t actually talk about emigration very much, we’re usually talking about immigration, and some of the ways in which we very frequently frame immigrants today, are metaphorically and very often in terms of water, so you get references to floods of migrants and more likely immigrants, waves and influx or surge of people pouring into the country.
One of the other really common frames you get is the idea of commodity, people being smuggled in, that we have people smugglers, that there’s a trade in immigrants with some kind of criminal group profiting from movement of goods, which is people. And if we look to the past, we find the same metaphors being used. So, we have this absolute definite cycle of the same sorts of frames being used to talk about people. But if we look at, for instance, the 1850s the same metaphors are being used in the press, but a completely different group in terms of how we would think about it now with our current frame, because it was usually referring to British people, it was British immigrants who were being talked about as commodities. You read about references to – demand for single female emigrants, demand for farm labourers elsewhere. And then discussions alongside that of how do you get a flow? How do you maintain an influx of people going to the colonies? So what you have is you’ve got a cycle, you’ve got repetition. But from our perspective, today, a real twist in terms of who’s been talked about, because today, there are all kinds of other descriptions. We don’t talk about waves of ex-pats particularly. But in the past, it was talking about the people we would think about as being OUR people in many ways.
The other sort of place that you can see these cycles very clearly is within political debate, as well. So if we think about what’s been happening over the last few years, one of the major migration related scandals has been the treatment of the Windrush generation, people who came to the UK as British citizens but have been essentially denied that citizenship. What we see if we look at how those people are talked about, how they’re framed today, it’s in very warm terms. If we look at the kinds of metaphors that are used, they’re often framed as builders, people who came and constructed or reconstructed the country, and so on. But of course, if we go back and look at the data from the 1950s, and how politicians were framing them then, there’s nothing in common with what’s happening today. It’s all about the same frames that we see today to talk about immigrants. You have the same kinds of things being framed, as you know, floods, animals, and commodities.
We’ve got the cycles being repeated, but in this case, it’s a cycle where what is new is always framed as threatening, right? So today, the immigrants are framed as a threat but the Windrush generation have been classified separately or framed as being a really good thing for the country. Then you go back to the 50s and those same people, the Windrush generation, were framed as being a threat, and other people from further back, perhaps the Huguenots were framed as being a really valuable part of the country. And so in this case, it’s almost like a cycle with no exits to it and I think that image helps encapsulate that.
SG Charlotte, it’s so interesting that you talk about these patterns being used when it was British people going out into the Empire. And of course Empire is something that’s never referred to when we talk today about refugees coming into the UK, particularly those coming from the former colonies, and I think one of the impacts of the Black Lives Matter movement coming to such prominence might be to actually start to make those connections again. But it’s interesting, isn’t it, that we see the same patterns, but that that’s something that’s completely missing from today’s talk, any reference to Empire.
CT Absolutely, and then that would be a really key category, if you want to think of alternative categories for talking about people or those who’ve been affected by the Empire of the country to which they are moving. Ashley, do you think it’d be a good time to move towards some questions?
AM Yes, absolutely. I think we’ll ask people to put it in the chat, if that’s all right, we’ll see what comes through. And, I mean, I can read them out or Charlotte, if you just indicate a name and we can unmute people, so it can become more discursive. Because I know that that was your intention for the evening as well. The muting was just for this first part, we’d really like people to join in with any questions or comments that they’d like to make on the issues.
CT We’ll give people a chance to type in the question or to say, I’ve got a question. I wonder if I could just respond to Lynne’s comment there, that what I was saying was not that [the Windrush generation] been treated positively. What I’m saying is the way they’re framed in political discourse is very warm and appreciative, superficially, and of course, what that does is absolutely hide a very grotesque mistreatment. But if you look at the words that have been used, they are talked about consistently, as being valued members of society, and the scandal, mistreatment is always framed as not being aimed at them, that they were innocent bystanders in some necessary fight against illegal immigration.
SG This also reminds me of this idea that you always hear politicians, as they come up with their anti-refugee arguments, that this country has got a long history of welcoming refugees. And of course, as Charlotte has just shown really convincingly, that that’s not the case. At every stage there has been the same kind of arguments about people coming in, that were used about the Windrush generation, they we used about Irish people coming into the country, they were used about Jewish people come into the country. But now, it’s used to precede all talk about refugees, that we’ve got a long history of welcoming refugees. I think that this idea that that Charlotte’s talking about, you know, that we were really welcoming to the Windrush generation, when actually what we’ve seen recently is that much more honest representation of how welcoming we’ve been to the Windrush generation. But that’s always there to precede this this kind of talk about refugees, that we’ve got a long history of welcoming refugees, always preceding something that seeks to yet again bar refugees from reaching the country.
AM I’m just going to invite people if they have a point that they want to raise or question that they’d like to ask, to type it in the chat or to raise your hand and … It might be me that has to unmute you might be able to unmute yourself, let me know if you have any trouble with that. Charlotte, have you picked up on this [question] from Karen?
CT There’s one from Ken, that we might want to address as well, I think, but I could start with Karen’s. Karen said, ‘If we don’t welcome refugees, historically, but then later, the story changes once they’re established and valued, how would we change the conversation about current refugees?” And this is a huge question. Absolutely. I mean, I think one thing is, becoming more aware that there are these cycles and challenging this move that Simon was talking about, of, you know, we are this welcoming nation, and they can understand it’s difficult in some ways. You want to tell people that because you want to believe it, and encourage people to behave in a way which we have a tradition, except the tradition is not there.
Thinking about what happened in the past, and then, you know, trying to see that mismatch between how we frame those people now and the way they’ve affected the past could be one way into that, because that’s about seeing them as something other than this single category of people coming towards you. But I think other things are much more challenging to do. I mean, I would say the most optimistic data I’ve ever seen is that the most hostile attitudes to refugees, and particular asylum seekers, tend to come from areas where people have no contact with people who are seeking refuge or asylum. So, in a way, that t is a really positive thing, because it suggests that actually contact is the thing that helps change the narratives. Simon, I don’t know if you wanted to add to that, or if you wanted to pick up on one of the others. I see we’ve got three (questions in chat function) coming through now.
SG I think one of the best things you can do is have the kind of work that Charlotte’s doing, which shows exactly how cyclical this is, and how all the arguments we use now are recycled. These were used to try and keep out people that are now seen as very much part of the country. I suppose one of the positive things is that with all that happened with the terrible treatment of the Windrush generation recently, is that overwhelmingly that was portrayed as a very bad thing. And of course, these were people who were given a hard time when they arrived, but I think it shows that although officially that treatment is still appalling the fact that the public were overwhelmingly upset by that, rather than supportive of that, shows that things do change and that, that the people that we’re trying to keep out at the moment will go on to be part of the country in a generation from now. It’ll be like, they’ve always been here and they their contributions will be recognized, understood and appreciated. So that’s the positive take from it but I think the best way to deal with it is, as Charlotte’s doing, to show up how cyclical this is, and this idea that we’ve always been welcoming of refugees, is absolutely not the case.
The other thing is what we’re perhaps being a little bit polarized about it, this idea that everybody was against refugees at this point. And of course, that’s not the case. You know, even now, amongst a lot of very strong anti refugee rhetoric, you still do have quite a lot of support for refugees. And actually, given how prominent the anti refugee arguments are, the fact that we have any pro refugee arguments at all, is a good thing, and should give us some kind of hope. But you know, it’s about really amplifying those voices, and really overturning those much more dominant, and I think, much easier to make, anti refugee arguments. I say easier to make, I still don’t really understand how keeping people away from safety is ever an easy thing to argue, but it seems to be quite effective.
CT I’m going go back up to Ken’s question, for which I don’t really have a long answer except Yes. Ken says, “Should we worry that behind politicians’ framing of refugees/ migrants as negative, there appears to be a willing audience?”. Which is a great, great point. Absolutely. I mean, that’s very much what I think we’re all concerned with. It’s not the individual frame but the reception of that, and the effects of that. And that’s one thing we said we wanted to talk about in this conversation, the impact of the framing. But I think there’s a couple of things to think about. One, the fact that we have these cycles, and that essentially you have any new group that arrives kind of being slotted into a set of frames for talking about the is, in some ways, quite depressing. It’s like we’re not learning anything. But in some ways it’s quite reassuring because what it tells you is that it’s not that individuals are constructing a hate filled rhetoric, but that they’re just using language that has been passed on. So I think if you can kind of disconnect, make people more aware of what’s happening with that, there actually is hope to do something different with it. But I think you’re absolutely right, that we should be thinking about the audiences very much and what the effect is on them, and how do you try and change those framing effects on the audience rather than the individual politician who is putting out that kind of language?
SG Yeah. Can I just add to that? Because I don’t know to what extent it’s a willing audience. I mean, part of me thinks, if you believe what you read in the papers, then an anti refugee response is a rational one. Right? These people are believing myths, they’re believing in lies. Ok? So I’m not sure that they’re necessarily super willing to be anti refugee. But I mean, if you believe these stories, if you believe what people are telling you that they’re here to take your jobs, to destroy your way of life, to blow you up to do all these terrible things, then taking an anti refugee position is not a crazy, hateful thing to do. It’s an it rational response. Unfortunately, it’s a rational response to misinformation. So I don’t know to what extent it’s a willing audience, I hope that it’s not a willing audience. And that actually, it’s a reasonably rational but very intentionally misled audience. I hope that’s the case. Obviously, I don’t know for sure.
CT If we can pick up on a comment (in the chat function) from the bottom, and then we will work our way back up again. From the refugee buddy project, who, of course, are doing this really vital work already “It’s important support and highlight positive stories of communities who welcome people seeking refuge by offering an alternative narrative”. That absolutely feeds into what Simon is saying, so the more that you can talk about these alternatives, the more people can be aware of that single story that they’re being fed, not being necessarily the whole story. There is some really important work going on with that. There’s another project I’ve been involved in, which is called the 1000 dreams where they’re collecting 1000 stories from refugees across the world, talking about their stories, and talking about those stories also in terms of their empowerment and resilience, and trying to reframe the debate both in terms of what they’ve got from that experience, which isn’t simply about being a victim. And I guess that can also come back to that idea of how you can align with people as well that the extent to which people are seen as powerless victims, perhaps distance them from an ‘us’ group who are reading about that or hearing about that. Simon, which one do you want to go for next?
SG I’m happy to move on to the next question. Well, there’s a few now.
CT I know! Where do you want to go?
SG Have you looked at the hostile environment question? “What is the link between the UK hostile environment policy and the negative narrative towards seeking refuge?” From my point of view that is clearly connected. Which drives the other I honestly couldn’t tell you, I think they are kind of self- perpetuating. I mean, the fact that a hostile environment is seen as a positive thing, kind of the good way to deal with it. It certainly perpetuates this idea that refugees are a problem, that they need to be kept out, that hostility is the way to go. It ties into this idea that there are, and you used to hear politicians say it, this idea between kind of push and pull factors, the idea that there’s push factors, which cause people to leave their homes. The Syrian civil war is a very clear example of that. Then people talk about pull factors, that make people come to this country. Politicians used to say we offer too much, we’re too nice, a soft touch, not that long ago. I guess that the hostile environment is a direct response to that. Of course, again, this is a total misunderstanding. People generally want to come to the UK because they already know people in the UK. It’s about going somewhere where it’s going to have some kind of familiarity. Or often it’s going to be to do with language, and again, the role of Empire, which is so removed from all of this discussion that overwhelmingly you tend to find that refugees coming to the UK tend to come from ex British colonies. You get a very different profile of people going to France. It’s not a coincidence that these are people coming from former French colonies.
Of course, that’s totally removed from the conversation. It’s all about this idea that that they come and get too much money here, the idea that it’s too attractive a place to come to the UK. So certainly the hostile environment is designed, all part of this idea that refugees are coming here to get something from us rather than it’s safe and it might offer some kind of familiarity, or they might actually know people that already live here. If the question is which drives the other, I don’t know if I have an answer. I don’t know if you’ve got a thought on that, Charlotte.
CT No. My feeling very much was the hostile environment depends which bit of the hostile environment we’re talking about, as well. That part of the hostile environment and the kinds of effects that had on the Windrush generation was just complete disregard for a whole group of people, essentially. They were just not considered important enough to have been factored into the policies that have been developed. I think in that sense it was very much focused on the current anti immigration rather than considering effects on previous migration movements into the UK but I wouldn’t be able to say which one was driving the other; I think they are a package really. It’s an ideology.
If I can just bring in Lynn’s comment that came in at the end, which was about the need to decolonize the curriculum and that’s absolutely the case that the more understanding people have of empire and what empire meant, they would have a much better understanding of the current situation, both in terms of how the British people who were moved around as part of the Empire were not considered to be in any way valued members or equals. They were absolutely considered to be objects, commodities that you move around. This is a very racial set of movements, as well, moving certain types of people to be in certain types of place so getting rid of that idea that empire ever meant something glorious for everyday people, even in the UK, never mind what was happening outside the UK. And then also, obviously, to the actual migration movements, it would make a huge difference to understanding why people come to the UK.
AM I think that links back to something from Nicole, as well. I’ll just read it out to you. “Simon commented that within a generation or so refugees who are now framed negatively, will no longer be marginalized in the same ways” but Nicole says “In the US this is the case for white refugees but not racialized refugees. Those who arrived from Vietnam continued to be marginalized in ways that Russian asylees, of the same or earlier eras were not.” So how is social inclusion shaped by racial bias in your context? That’s something more in relation to what Lynn was talking about as well.
SG I think that’s a really good question. I don’t think I have a definitive answer to that. Without doubt, talk about refugees is racialized. There’s also a very strong religious component to it. A lot of our anti refugee rhetoric is quite clearly Islamophobic. I think that’s definitely a part of it. Anti refugee advocates will go to a lot of trouble to tell you that it’s not racist, their opposition. They’ll tell you that they’re equally opposed to white refugees as they are to any other refugees. I’m not entirely sure I always believe that. But certainly it shows that there is a kind of requirement in their talk to present this as not about race whereas quite possibly it is. I mean, maybe in what I said earlier I was being a little bit over idealistic. Certainly, there are still racial divisions but overwhelmingly people in the UK would refer to the Windrush generation, and certainly their descendants, as being British. Not everybody, but I think, generally speaking, that would be accepted.
Outside of that debate around the awful treatment of the Windrush generation, we tend not to refer to the Windrush generation in everyday talk and I think a lot of those people are now seen as British, but maybe I’m being overly idealistic. In America and in the UK we have different takes on how we do racism, different histories of racism, and we talk about it differently. I can’t make a great comparison with the US, not being familiar with that context. Maybe I was being a little bit idealistic there but I think for most people, people from previous movements into the country are seen as British now, people of Irish descent, Jewish descent, Afro Caribbean descent, in the mainstream, are referred to as British as anyone else. But that might not always be the case.
AM I don’t want to go off on too much of a tangent. But it is interesting, because Lynne, who also works at a cultural organization, is involved in debates about language around race. There’s been a campaign recently, ‘BAMEover’ to stop using the acronym BAME, and to be much more nuanced and specific and respectful of people’s country of origin. So, not to take off into too much of a tangent, but I think that’s something that we all are quite aware of. Although people might have an option in a survey to define themselves as black British, that’s still that’s one particular box, and there aren’t quite enough choices. Also, often, we don’t know the right term to use, we’re struggling to find what are the right terms to use to not cause offence, to be inclusive, all of this. Charlotte, you’re a linguist so you know that language is evolving all the time and we are in a very particular moment around race in the UK, and probably in the US as well, where we’re struggling to find what are the correct terms that we should be using be fully inclusive and respectful of everybody.
SG That’s not a tangent at all. That’s a really clear example of how categories become topicalized, become politicized. And they change. They become challenged, they change and new terms will arise. And I would expect over time, there are new terms that will eventually become seen as a problem and new terms will be required to do new work. I don’t think that’s a tangent at all; it’s a really good example.
CT Ashley, do we have time to address a couple more?
AM I think we do. Yes. It’s just after five past so it yes. If there’s another couple that you can pick up on from there.
SG I’d like to get through them if you can definitely. There’s a question here about a different response across social economic classes. And it’s not a question that I can give a definitive answer to. I don’t know if you can Charlotte? What I would say is that I don’t think it is so much about socioeconomic status actually, I think there’s a big Left/Right divide here. And I think you’ll find it is a big Leave/Remain divide, I don’t know if we want to go into all that today as well. But I think there are some big divisions there. I’d imagine there probably is an age divide. But actually, some of these issues aren’t always about class. But as Charlotte said, often what you tend to find is that you get much more support for migrant groups where people live in migrant groups. And it’s the areas just outside of those where you don’t have the mixing that you get the most kind of fear, and it is seen as a problem. Economic class will definitely be relevant but I’m not sure it’s actually the main one here.
CT It’s not something that I have any evidence for, either; it’s not something that’s come up in things that I’ve looked at so it’s not something that’s jumped out.
AM If anybody else wanted to pick up on that as well. I’m thinking of Rosanna, who’s from the Refugee Buddy Project. Rosanna, if you wanted to join in and make any response to that or comment on that as well, please, and anybody else, please do feel free to.
RL I’m here. I’m listening. It’s brilliant, this discussion. I think, certainly from the experience of the Buddy Project, it’s definitely been about connecting people, and I know that we have people in our project, buddies, who could have gone against refugees, but because we’ve introduced them to people who are seeking refuge, they’re now outrageously totally protective of refugees. They’ve completely changed. It’s very much about people meeting, having spaces to meet to share to learn from each other. If we can try to work towards creating this culture of welcome or certainly a culture of empathy we would be 1000 miles in front with all of this. But I wanted to go back to something you were saying – are people naturally against refugees? Because there are some people that we come across that I know will never change. I’ve sat with somebody once trying to convince them and I looked at him at one point and I thought, ‘I’m never going to change you. There’s no point. There’s no discussion here. We can never ever change your viewpoint.’ But there are people that we can change and I don’t know what’s made that person that way. I don’t know why that person will never change, and is racist and does not want to welcome people seeking refuge. I don’t know what’s happened to that person in their life to have so much hate. But what I have seen through the Buddy Project is an amazing way in which people can change and learn, and people learning from each other is really the important thing. It’s all about language as well, because, in our conversations, we challenge the use of language sometimes. To protect people also is to challenge in a positive way so that those people don’t feel that they’re outsiders by using this language that that may be not acceptable to some people.
CT It’s an amazing project.
AM We have a few minutes left, if there was anything else that you can pick up on from the chat.
CT Well, I was just thinking that there was a link, I think with Roberta’s question, which was, she said, “You talked about empathy. What about solidarity with refugees? Can a show of solidarity change the discourse about them?
SG I definitely think it can help. It’s not always enough but it certainly can help. I think it’s going to have an impact on people but there have been some cases where celebrities have stood up for refugees, and they’ve come under really heavy criticism for doing it. Lily Allen? Gary Lineker? They both were quite vocal in their support for refugees, and they both came under really heavy flack for it. Maybe it’s different coming from some high profile people that the newspapers are perhaps more likely to really go for that than everyday people. Perhaps the newspapers are concerned that the show of solidarity would make a difference, which is why they went so strongly for the people that showed it.
I would imagine that solidarity will help. We know from other areas of psychology that having contact with people from what’s seen as an out group is generally going to bring people together, not even necessarily having contact from people in that group but knowing people that are friends in that other group can have an impact. So, seeing solidarity like that is likely to have a big impact. If I know somebody who is friends with a refugee, works with refugees, who enjoys being around these refugees, then chances are that could have an impact so I certainly think that’s a positive thing to do. Whether that’s enough, I really don’t know.
CT I wonder Roberta, if you wanted to say anything, I don’t know whether you think of any of the work that you’ve been doing with people who are homeless, were you thinking of anything in relation to that?
RP I quite like the idea, which you said before about the 1000 stories, the idea of actually, rather than talking about negative discourse, encouraging a positive discourse, whichever side it comes from, and I want to talk about positive discourse analysis, something that really is encouraging, good thinking, good positive things that people do in society and people receive in society as well. So I just want to comment that I’m quite fascinated by what you said about the stories, the positive stories.
CT Yeah, I think the positive stories are great and they’re also about allowing people to speak for themselves, which I think is really important. We always find ourselves in these difficult situations where you want to try and help maybe reframe a debate, but you’re doing it for somebody to some extent, and the more that you can give space to other people to help frame their own debate and identity, the better. And I think that ties in also Karen’s point of saying do we need to showcase celebrities that are or have been refugees. And that’s such a great point, you know, the more that you can have this sense of ‘they’ are ‘us’, I think the more you can start to break down some of those categories that are put up quite artificially by the sorts of language that gets used.
AM I am just looking at Ken’s comment there and thinking that might be an interesting thing to look at, and to draw the conversation to a close. He’s saying, “anecdotally, unscientifically, in my limited experience, I have found blue collar workers to be generally against migrants and white collar workers to be more sympathetic. There is a correlation here between Leave/ Remain and age”. He’s talking about younger people, perhaps being more likely to have experience of higher education. I thought, that might be a good moment to draw things together, because I suppose it does offer us some hope in terms of thinking of the future and the next generation, perhaps being more empathic, more enlightened, and more welcoming to people who are going to come to the UK.
SG I hope so. It does seem to be the case that that age bracket at which people seem to flip from that more progressive to less seems to get older and older, which is good to see. I also know how much that’s tied to the waning and influence of the press, which I hope is one of the main drivers for a lot of this negativity. And as that becomes less and less influential, certainly on young people, it’s much less important, and it’s like Charlotte said it is still agenda setting, but as it becomes less and less relevant, hopefully that will that will start to kind of ebb away and it might be that that is a hopefully a good turning point towards the generally more kind of progressive society. Because a society that can’t welcome refugees has got something seriously wrong with it. It should be a badge of honour to welcome in refugees and it’s anything but that in this country at the moment, so the sooner we get to a point where that kind of flips, the better it’s going to be.
CT That’s a nice, optimistic note to end on that we hope is a general driver towards more positive attitudes.
AM Absolutely. I am racking my brains to try to remember … I can’t acknowledge who it was that said, that ’empathy might create a revolution in human relations’ so we have to hope and stay empathic together. On that note, I want to thank you very much, Simon and Charlotte, thank you so much for your contributions this evening. And thank you to all the participants as well for joining us. I am going to send out a little survey after the event, and I’d be really grateful if you could complete it and return it. It’s a requirement from our funders, Arts Council England. Also to remind you that Marc Bauer’s exhibition will remain on show in the first floor gallery at De La Warr Pavilion, until Sunday the third of January. And we do hope that you can visit and please check out De La Warr Pavilion website for details of further programming in exhibitions, in live and learning opportunities. And I hope that we can all reconnect in the real world at some point in 2021. I do look forward to that. But in the meantime, thank you so much. Be well, and be empathic. Thank you very much.
CT Thank you, Ashley, for organizing it, and to everybody for joining and giving us so much to talk about.
SG Absolutely. Thank you.Posted by Laura Sayers on Thursday 7 January 2021