Social integration and 'British values': what's human about that? Blog from Emma Brech, 2016 Fellow

Social integration and 'British values': what's human about that?

Posted on February 6, 2017

‘I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me.’

- Publius Terentius Afer

At the end of his 2016 Reith Lectures, Kwame Anthony Appiah left us with this striking quotation. Written by a man who was ‘ a slave from Roman Africa, a Latin interpreter of Greek comedies and a writer from Classical Europe’,  the words attest to a profound appreciation of what it is to be human, and how our humanity, once acknowledged, transcends concepts of nationality, identity or status.

The term ‘alien’, still used within US federal law to describe those born outside the country,  is rightly considered an embarrassing and  derogatory term in the UK, with connotations of dehumanisation and scapegoating that we prefer not to own.  But in my experience of working with marginalised  migrant and refugee communities, it’s often a term which recent arrivals, or even those who have lived here for decades,  use to describe their treatment by UKBA officials, UK  institutions, and even their lack of welcome by the Great British majority.

This painful reality is the opening precept to my Provocation Piece which I developed as part of my fellowship with Clore Social Leadership. The piece explores our current preoccupation with social integration and asks whether we can reconcile this with often fearful or nostalgic concepts of ‘British values’. If, as the Casey Review maintains, we are really looking for a ‘common life’, I argue that we need to be more questioning, more courageous, and more open to a reflexive discussion about ‘who’ we are and what ‘our values’ might look like in collaboration with those who arrive from abroad.  What can we learn from people who have experienced  themselves as ‘outsiders’; what reality checks can they give us about ourselves and our assumed  cultural values; how might their experiences of migration  and integration contribute to a dynamic model of cultural heritage for the future?

These questions have framed my Clore Social fellowship in a tumultuous year for issues and debates on migration, culminating in what can only be described as a crisis of national consciousness.  Amidst the confusion and strife, it has also encouraged me to look for good practice in advocating for a model of social integration which addresses how we welcome and learn from new arrivals at ground level.  From this, I’ve come up with four suggestions:

  • We need to acknowledge that citizenship is not a birthright, but is earned by those who want a stake in society.   Instead of an Integration Oath, why not use a Citizenship Celebration which brings together and rewards anyone who actively contributes their values and culture to their local community?
  • Developing relationships across cultures takes curiosity, empathy and patience.  Whether at work, in your neighbourhood or in the school playground, simply making eye contact, exchanging a friendly word is a great start; thereafter, accept that the normal social codes don’t necessarily apply – ask, explain, invite, explore, adapt, exchange and don’t give up.
  • You can’t support social integration simply by saying nice things on social media.  Stepping out of our comfort zone is what enables us to appreciate what it’s like to feel like an outsider: offer to teach English to your neighbour; ask them to teach you how to cook their cuisine; provide a night stay for a homeless refugee; join in with local or school activities which seem to be ‘for minorities’- you will be amazed by what you learn.
  • Let’s offer experiential diversity training for our statutory services which doesn’t balk at exploring cultural difference and can promote empathy, intercultural awareness and cross-sector collaboration.

Whilst it’s a good thing that we starting to have ‘difficult conversations’ about values and identity, we have a long way to go on understanding the dynamics of privilege and power.  Step into the shoes of a new arrival, question yourself and your assumptions in relation to those different to you, and you will awaken your own precious humanity.

Download Emma’s full provocation piece here.

Please share your comments about Emma’s blog and provocation piece below, or you can join the conversation on Twitter.


View / hide 2 comments

This is an incredibly useful piece. Thank you so very much. It will impact on what I do in the next few months...and probably so many others too!!  I will get in touch with you directly if you don't mind??

> Posted by Jenny O'Hara Jakeway on 14 Feb 2017 at 00:34

 Developing relationships across cultures takes curiosity, empathy and patience.  This is fundamental to engage communities, we need to asssess their life conditions & value streams at that given moment and in order to change there needs to a shift in many areas; if this is part of the devlopment process it needs to be identified and worked on and recognising the differences is crucial, it not just about diverisity it is about inequality, and the interdependecies therein.

> Posted by Bill Mc Allister-Lovatt on 7 Mar 2017 at 15:12

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Emma Brech

Emma Brech

Advocate for migrant communities

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