It’s funny how home has become a dirty word, isn’t it? The phrases ‘go back home’ and ‘go back to where you came from’ are thrown around mercilessly these days. They’ve become the catchphrases of racists and xenophobes all over the world. Immigrants and people of colour in Western countries are met with these words often, sometimes when they criticise the countries they reside in, point out flaws and discriminatory systems, or go against national habits or customs. A lot of the time it’s just because they’re different. We should all just go back home.
Never mind that some of us are citizens here, that some of us are born here, that some of us have been raised here. Never mind that we work and go to schools and universities and pay taxes here. Never mind that some of us have built families and friend groups here. That doesn’t matter. This still mustn’t be our home. They tell us it isn’t.
What was once a concept of comfort and peace has become tinged with politics of geography and hate. We’re currently living in deeply divisive, troubling times. This year in America, the Republican president elect, Donald Trump, built his platform with hateful tactics. He spent the year loudly declaring he’ll build a wall between the USA and Mexico and that he plans to stop the immigration of Muslims into America. Never mind that the United States already homes many Muslims, both immigrants and lifelong Americans; never mind that many Mexican immigrants consider the USA to be their home.
People around the world watched on with anxiety as Trump won over his competitor, Hillary Clinton. While the nature of the electoral college helped seal Trump’s victory, he still received a staggering number of votes: 59.4 million– showing just how successful his troubling tactics were.
Earlier in June this year, the United Kingdom also voted to leave the EU in a nationwide referendum, after a campaign that was defined by its hateful, anti-immigrant rhetoric and fear-mongering of foreigners. All around Europe and America, far-right nationalist parties are popping up and becoming far more vocal, inciting hatred and making violence against minorities the norm.
Merely a few weeks after Trump’s victory, a recording of an alt-right gathering revealed just how alarming these groups are, modelling themselves after an extremely dark time in history and using insidious propaganda to incite hatred against religious and racial minorities.
We are increasingly seeing attacks on people who do not align with these hateful political ideologies online and offline, with people being abused through social media sites as well as being targeted in the streets. Post-Brexit, religiously- and racially-motivated hate crimes in the UK soared by 41%, while overjoyed people took to their social media accounts to celebrate and verbally attack others. It would be easy to dismiss these happenings if they weren’t so deeply tied together.
Fear-mongering about foreigners and emphasising rigid notions of home have become commonplace. Far and wide, hateful people lurking in corners have latched onto these political policies. They have been revitalised by media coverage and political speeches that feed into their fears. They’ve emerged from the shadows, full of life and clutching everything that makes them British, that makes them American, that makes them European, ready to tell those who don’t check all the boxes on their reductive, limiting lists to go on home.
But where is home? Home is usually considered to be such a stable, rooted concept that sometimes we can forget how elusive, unstable and confusing it can really be. How do we define home in an age characterised by geographic dispersal, immigration, rapid globalisation and today’s refugee crisis? How do we dictate what home is when homes aren’t just defined by where a person was born or where they look like they belong?
People are determined to create futile borders in increasingly borderless times. But in a way, the world has always been like this. The dispersal of people across countries and continents has been in motion since the world began. While some have moved to look for new homes out of personal desires, often it’s been brought about violently.
Throughout history, migration, colonialism and slave trades have led to the erosion of strict national and cultural borders and the development of new identities. Hearing Trump’s ideas about ‘making America great again’ makes it all the more troubling because it’s a country that was created and built in not-great ways, with the destruction of Native American homes and on the backs of African slaves.
Imperialist, colonial regimes over the past few centuries have warped national borders and relentlessly destroyed stable concepts of home. Many people of colour have been forcibly dispersed for these reasons, tasked with carving out new homely spaces for themselves in foreign locations. Others flee for better lives, for better chances, to travel the world they’re in. Either way, throughout history we have seen the borders of nation and culture, of home, being continually eroded, negotiated and moved.
Immigrants and people of colour are often told to go back home. But where are they meant to go when their lives, work and homes are in their respective, so-called new, countries and have been for countless years? Who gets to dictate what is home for another person? Are we to turn back the clock and go back to a time when everyone stuck to their rigid home nations? Because that’s not something that’s possible. People have been crossing borders since the world began – homes being created and homes being destroyed.
However, the rise of far-right movements in the Western world would like us to believe that immigrants and people of colour need to go back to an imaginary home, because their understandings of home are clouded by hate and nationalist ideals. Media-fuelled fear-mongering would like to have people believe foreigners pose a threat when they too are just trying to be at home and live normal lives.
It’s a hard thing to do, to build a home for yourself in places where you’re repeatedly told you’re not welcome. Forging homes among the tumultuous divisions of us and them, ours and theirs, home and foreign, has become normal for immigrants and people of colour. Our mere existences often become politicised when we too are just searching for our homes in a world that makes it increasingly hard.