This past year I have had the realisation about what it means not to have a legal nationality that benefits you in any way and having the opportunity to change your nationality to one of the most powerful countries in the world.
I migrated to the UK when I was 13 years old and I had a very tough time. Having lived in a very racist part of the UK and attended one of the most racist school environments I have ever experienced among British folk. It has culminated in a seven-year struggle with my identity and nationality. I am often mistaken for many different nationalities and I am constantly being stopped by complete strangers asking me “Where I am from?”. I want to answer “I don’t know” because I really don’t know, I don’t feel Iranian or British. None of my values are in line with Iranian culture or British values and this has been a decision made by me personally. As my identity has been rejected by both cultures I do feel very unwanted in this country and the casual encounter with anti-immigration people does not help this feeling. As an immigrant most days I feel like it’s a fight to be liked and a fight against all the voices saying “Please leave” and your mind telling you “But I have nowhere to go”.
Travelling is a Privilege
Travelling is a real privilege and most people do not realise this. If you are from a “Third world country” living in England, chances are you have realised how different you are treated among British folk who own a British passport.
The process of planning a trip tends to make my anxiety attacks so much worse. As an immigrant travelling has given me post traumatic stress disorder. Leaving my home country behind, sitting on a plane knowing that I won’t be going back was too much for a thirteen year old to handle. So the idea of applying for visas and going past the border is very stressful for me. Last year I required a visa for a holiday and after overcoming panic attacks for a month while my visa was in process, finally the day of my travel arrived. Just when I was at the border the queue was held because my visa had to be checked, leaving a few of my classmates behind me in confusion, I had not felt so embarrassed in a long time. Even though I own a residence permit and a visa I paid for out of my student loan, I was still treated differently.
The day of crossing back over the UK borders was not any better, I was separated from my friends and had to join the non-British queue where I was asked by the staff “What I was doing in England?”
The only answer I had was “Living” as the UK is my only home! It was so intimidating to have this conversation with a white man at border control, it felt as if he wanted to deny me the right to go home.
Recently on my return journey back from holiday, I was faced by staff of colour at border control, this experience was not intimidating in any way compared to my previous experiences, this time thankfully, I was treated with so much more compassion, and was told that they also knew the difficulties of being a non-British citizen. It made me think why it was that the treatment I received from the white staff was so different.
Applying for University
I do not look passable as white British, some people have the privilege of white passing which gets them out of sticky situations like many I have encountered. The first University interview I attended in London was a group interview among only white and British students, who were all given the opportunity to talk about their art work. But when it was my turn, I was only asked about my immigration status and the fees that applied to me as a non British person, even though it was stated in my documents that I was a home student. I felt very ashamed and surprisingly enough I was not offered a place on that course. I was confused that I had been treated in this way when I had been studying in this country since GCSE’s as a home student. Sometimes the treatment we are given is much more than security, it’s about being othered because of your skin color and your original nationality.
This situation is quite different from the others as it is about my full legal name. I have a full Iranian name which I have always been proud of, It is a part of my country and culture that I adore. But living in Britain has changed how I feel about my name. It is not very much adored by shop managers whose main concerns with me at the interview stage is where I am from, what I do here and when I will leave. I believe this is mainly because I don’t have a white sounding name which sounds scary to them. It has been so difficult to get call backs after I hand in my CV and I have come to the conclusion that it is not the experience I lack but the whiteness. This was proven to me after having been given jobs by organisations who have an unconscious bias where I was treated very differently and with much more respect.
Barclays is Horrible
As an owner of two different bank accounts for the past 4 years, I did not think I had to worry about opening a joint account with my housemates who are a mix of residents from Europe and England. I did not think I was any different from a British person as we are both legally allowed to inhabit the country permanently. However, Barclays bank thought differently, they refused to include me as a part of the joint account because I did not own a British passport. Even though I was able to open two other bank accounts a few years ago before I was even entitled to a British passport. Institutes are not trained about the different types of citizens who live in this country, as a result this leads to terrible customer service.
You might be thinking, why don’t you just get a British Passport, to which I’d like to say; It is not as easy as it may sound.
The process of applying and receiving a passport is very difficult, especially for a full-time student from a working class background who suffers from anxiety and depression.
To receive a British passport I will have to read a whole book about Britain, a full history lesson on the pride of colonisation and Stonehenge. This is just another burden amongst all the feminist art books written by white women which I have to read for university research. Added to this, I will have to pay nearly £200. All the other costs attached to the test will total approximately £900, which is more than my rent at the moment.
So the question remains, do I want to be British and be treated better? Or do I want to continue feeling mistreated because I lack a small booklet in my pocket?