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Deporting Black Britons: the ordering of movement as race-making

Published 12 October 2020 / By Luke de Noronha

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Introduction

In the last two decades, the UK has deported thousands of people to Jamaica. Many of these 'deportees' left the Caribbean as infants and grew up in the UK. Luke de Noronha’s new book, Deporting Black Britons, traces the life stories of four such men who have been exiled from their parents, partners, children and friends by deportation. The book explores how 'Black Britons' survive once they are returned to Jamaica, and questions what their memories of poverty, racist policing and illegality reveal about contemporary Britain.

Based on years of research with deported people and their families, Deporting Black Britons presents stories of survival and hardship in both the UK and Jamaica. These intimate portraits testify to the damage wrought by violent borders, opening up wider questions about racism, belonging and deservingness in anti-immigrant times. In this edited excerpt, Luke reflects on the relationship between mobility ana race.

Racial difference is not reducible to skin colour. Skin colour is not the cause of racial difference but one of its markers, and skin colour difference is made meaningful, and weighed down, by the reality of material inequalities between people racialised as white, brown and black. For racial difference to mean the things it does in Jamaica and in the UK, it must always correspond to material differences in relation to the distribution of opportunities, resources and freedoms. These material differences are not only about wealth, but also correspond to who can move, how and with what effects. Thought this way, the government of mobility is central to the processes through which racial categories are produced and reconfigured, given life and social meaning in the present. This does not mean that race and mobility are directly correlated. It is not as if those who cannot move are necessarily black, or that those who can are necessarily white, but it does mean that racialised social relations are substantially constituted by relations of mobility.

Let me put it another way: what it means to be black, or to be from ‘the ghetto’, or to be a Jamaican in the world are all constituted by relations of mobility. The distinctions between black, brown and white in Jamaica, and between local and tourist, would not hold for long, or in the same ways, if the organisation of mobility shifted, and if different groups were afforded greater or lesser access to mobility. If Jamaica’s economy was governed not to export single commodities or package tourism, but to nurture liveable lives and ecologies on the island, then racialised social hierarchies would be transformed along with relations of mobility. If, somehow, the majority of black Jamaicans were able to move freely around the planet, not to toil as disposable migrant labour but simply to wander and travel, then it is hard to imagine that they would describe racism and historical injustice in quite the same way. What makes slavery so resonant for so many Jamaicans today is material hardship in the context of restricted mobility and global marginality.

These historical resonances and continuities are important. However, to talk about contemporary relations of mobility in terms the afterlives of slavery should not imply that nothing has changed. Of course it has. If race and mobility are mutually constitutive, then as relations of mobility change, so do racialised social relations. In Deporting Black Britons, I argue that race and racism are historically specific, and I am concerned with how racialised social relations get reconfigured in the present. The point is that race is both deeply sedimented and historically emergent, both persistent and mercurial, heavy and yet slick. The challenge is therefore to work out how racial distinctions and hierarchies are made and remade. The relevant point here is that if racial distinctions and hierarchies are always constituted by differential (im)mobilities, then contemporary modes of governing mobility offer a window onto historically specific configurations of race and racism.

As such, it is not simply that the same groups are being immobilised in the same ways and for the same reasons. It remains true that blackness is constituted by particularly violent forms of enforced (im)mobility, but there is also something emergent and new about the contemporary government of mobility. Bordering practices perpetuate colonial inequalities, but they also produce new forms of racial injustice – think about the refugee camp, the bordering of the seas and the implementation of enormous biometric databases, for example. As economic and ecological crises deepen, and increasing numbers of the global poor are deemed surplus to requirements, the demand for bordering everywhere intensifies. In this context, the racist world order gets reconfigured with terrifying consequences, both familiar and novel. For Achille Mbembe, the contemporary border presents a worrying sign of where the world is going, and therefore anti-racism, as the struggle for liveable futures, will increasingly have to contend with bordering practices, theorising racism not only in terms of the legacies of European colonialism but also in relation to the present and future of the border.

In the end, the struggle against racism has always been about the freedom to move and the freedom the stay – a struggle for autonomous movement, locomotion and flight. Therefore, as borders proliferate and intensify, anti-racism becomes necessarily the struggle against immigration controls and citizenship, which fix people in space and in law, and reproduce the racist world order. Put most simply, immigration controls inevitably enact and reproduce racism, and so the struggle against borders and against racism are one and the same.

 

Luke de Noronha is a writer and academic working at the University of Manchester. He writes on deportation, racism and borders. Luke completed his DPhil in Anthropology with COMPAS in 2018.

The book is available here: https://manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9781526143990/ and is 30% off with discount code ‘Deporting30’