The figure of the bogus asylum seeker is familiar. It is familiar because that figure is regularly exercised. The suspicion toward those seeking asylum has become a form of national citizenship. You demonstrate allegiance to the nation by the very act of being suspicious toward those seeking asylum: that they are not who they claim to be; they are not children because they are not innocent (or even if they are children, they are not innocent, which means they are not really children). Those seeking asylum become not injured but injurious: as if they are injuring the nation, bruising its vulnerable white body by the very act of being at all.
Yes I say white: because if once race and nation appeared to be separated (and to appear to be separated is not to be separate), now they are more confidently articulated together, which is why brown and black people, including those born here, can be told to “go home” or even just be asked where they are from, as if they are not from here.
Brown and black: foreign.
Not from as endangering from.
Suspicion becomes a form of national citizenship. Citizenship now functions like Neighborhood Watch: to be a neighbour is to be a citizen, to look out for strangers, those who do not belong, those who are “bodies out of place,” as I described in one of my first books, Strange Encounters (2000).
The good citizen is invited to become “the eyes and the ears of the police.”
Suspicion: it falls on those deemed fallen, dark bodies, passing by at the edges of social experience.
The stranger is stopped by being questionable.
The suspicion of asylum seekers as not really being asylum seekers is thus part of a more general suspicion of those deemed strangers, as not really being from here, whose presence is framed as loitering with intent.
The stranger is dangerous. We instruct our children on the danger of strangers.
Not just anyone: someone.
Brown and Black: as foreign. Brown and black: as stealing something from us, as reducing the value of our neighbourhoods.
Bogus: unless proven otherwise.
A politics of respectability: having to prove you are not like them.
Being not bogus: as a practical identification with whiteness as well as bourgeois culture. Property owners, owning oneself, neighbour not stranger.
Smiling, even, not us, we are with you.
Melancholic universalism: when you identify with the universal that repudiates you.
Bogus: by virtue of the effort not to be bogus.
The word “bogus” derives from counterfeit money, a bogus was a “spurious coin” and the word is assumed to derive from slang for the counterfeit’s apparatus: that is, from the machine that makes such coins through creating impressions. Just to quote from one early usage of the bogus machine: “One bogus or machine impressing dies on the coin, with a number of dies, engraving tools, bank bill paper, spurious coin, &c. &c. making in all a large wagon load, was taken into possession by the attorney general of Lower Canada”. The word “spurious” implies sham, “not proceeding from the source intended,” and refers to the illegitimate child, as the one who has dubious origins because their arrival has not been rendered as legitimate by law, who is outside wedlock. A coin would be spurious and bogus when it does not originate legitimately; a person too. Note also that bogus can refer to a coin and to a machine for making coins.
A machinery, that’s familiar. The fraud is a machine.
The figure of the bogus asylum seeker thus is not a lonely spurious coin. We are referring to how asylum as such become fraudulence: those who claim asylum are assumed to be bogus, to be passing their way into the nation through fraud, unless they demonstrate otherwise; every asylum seeker is understood as a singular impress created by a machinery that is intended to defraud the whole system. In these instances passing is understood as a deliberate willful act of fraud; a way of falsely receiving benefits. The welfare recipient and the asylum seeker are both bogus in this sense. You have to demonstrate that you are not passing for what you are not (that you are what you claim to be) in order to take up residence within a nation or to receive any benefits. The effort to establish that you are not a fraud has life consequences: a system becomes a hammer directed against those who are perpetually being rendered dubious because of their origins, because their bodies, their story, their papers, are not in the right place.
To be judged as bogus is to inherit a demand to establish one’s legitimacy to those who decide the criteria for legitimacy.
We sense what we know: this system is wearing; that it works by being wearing.
The figure of the bogus asylum seeker is thus generated by the system as a mechanism for legitimating itself: it is how legitimacy is legitimated; it is how persecutions becomes enacted as the pursuit of truth (as well as happiness).
And: the very act of survival is narrated as a way of falsely accruing benefits.
A life becomes a debt; you can inherit debt.
Poverty becomes fault.
Death becomes deserved.
This is not new. The moral distinction between the deserving and undeserving is not new.
The politics of suspicion is not new. Racism is not new. It is just that: racism as a politics of suspicion has been renewed by being given more places to go, legitimately, because it has been given legitimacy. Foreignness has become a ground for suspicion, something remarkable, a question you can ask anyone, even school children, are you foreign, declare yourself, reveal yourself to us.
Stop lurking in the background.
Background racism: the racism that is already there comes up as an explanation of what is not working. For those who have life experiences of being the object of suspicion, racism is not in the background. It does not recede; you do not recede when every bit of you is treated as a revelation. Racism is in the background for those who are not at the receiving end. Those who are not on the receiving end: when a viewpoint is shared it is not viewed. Background racism refers to the fact that racism is already there, structuring life chances and situations, by not being perceived. This is how racism is working when things are working. And this is how and why racism comes up very quickly when something is not working.
Racism is articulated as an explanation of what is not working.
If it wasn’t for them.
The asylum seeker is a national killjoy. Immigrants too are national killjoys. And as figures, they have utility. A killjoy has to fight against her own utility. It is not anyone who is a migrant (or even for that matter a refugee) who will be caught by this figure. It is those who are perceivable as not like us or not near us who are caught by the figures; to be caught by as to be caught up. A brown citizen more than a white migrant will be caught by the figure “immigrant.” So when people raise suspicion about immigrants we know who they are talking about and we know who they are not talking about by what they are not talking about (immigration is a useful narrative because it is about race by appearing not to be about race).
Which is why they say to us: you are making it about race.
Racism: hears racism as made up.
And these figures have utility as killjoys because they allow a fantasy of happiness to be preserved, as if without them, we would be happy, as if without them, we would have what would cause our happiness (jobs, wealth, security and so on). The killjoy becomes a container of unhappiness and incivility, as an explanation of why “we” do not have what is assumed as our birth right.
So much wrong: when birth is deemed a right.
Them: too many. Too many of them: we could cease to be us.
For postcolonial and decolonial studies, history matters. This is not new. Racism was a central mechanism after all for justifying empire itself as a moral project.
Not just a set of ideas but of interests.
Empire: a happiness mission.
The white man’s burden.
To bring light to the dark corners of the earth.
This is not new.
Old scripts; figures that are familiar because they have been exercised.
In my book The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004, 2014) I explored how the politics of hatred is often narrated as a politics of love: out of love for the nation, we defend the nation against those deemed to endanger the nation. I explored then the currency of the figure of the bogus asylum seeker.
Go back, go over what is not over.
I took as an example, William Hague’s speeches on asylum seekers made between April and June 2000 when he was the leader of the Conservative Party. During this period, other speeches were in circulation that became stuck to the asylum seekers through the repetition of the same words. In the case of the asylum speeches, Hague’s narrative is somewhat predictable. Words used like “flood” and “swamped” work to create associations between asylum and the loss of control and hence work by mobilising fear, or the anxiety of being overwhelmed by the actual or potential proximity of others. These words were then repeated in 2003 by the David Blunkett, when he was Home Secretary, who used “swamped” to describe the effect that children of asylum seekers would have if they were taught by local schools. When criticised, he replaced the word “swamped” with “overwhelmed.” Change the word, keep the association. Overwhelmed: a sensation of being over taken or taken over by others. Words are affective: they create impressions of others as those who have invaded the space of the nation, threatening its existence.
In the earlier speech, Hague differentiates between those others who are welcome and those who are not by differentiating between genuine and bogus asylum seekers. Partly, this works to enable the national subject to imagine its generosity in welcoming some others. The nation is hospitable as it allows those genuine ones to stay. This fantasy of a hospitable nation is just that: a fantasy. And yet at the same time, it constructs some others as already hateful (as bogus) in order to define the limits or the conditions of this hospitality. The construction of the bogus asylum seeker as a figure of hate also involves a narrative of uncertainty and crisis, but an uncertainty and crisis that makes that figure do more work. How can we tell the difference between a bogus and a genuine asylum seeker? It is always possible that we might not be able to tell, and that they may pass, in both senses of the term, their way into our community. Such a possibility commands us (our right, our will) to keep looking, and justifies our intrusion into the bodies of others.
Indeed, the possibility that we might not be able to tell the difference swiftly converts into the possibility that any of those incoming bodies may be bogus. In advance of their arrival, they are hence read as the cause of an injury to the national body. The figure of the bogus asylum seeker is detached from particular bodies: any incoming bodies could be bogus, such that their “endless” arrival is anticipated as the scene of ‘our injury’. The impossibility of reducing hate to a particular body allows hate to circulate in an economic sense, working to differentiate some others from other others, a differentiation that is never “over” as it awaits for others who have not yet arrived. Such a discourse of “waiting for the bogus” justifies the repetition of violence against others.
Not just not over, never over.
Hague’s speeches also worked to produce certain affects and effects through its proximity to another speech about Tony Martin, a man sentenced to life in prison for murdering a 16 year old boy who had attempted, along with one other person, to burgle his house (a boy who is racialised as gypsy). Hague uses one sentence, which circulates powerfully. He stated (without reference to Martin or asylum seekers) that the law is “more interested in the rights of criminals than the rights of people who are burgled”. Such a sentence evokes a history that is not declared. Histories are repeated when they do not have to be declared. The sentence positions Martin as the victim and not as a criminal. The murdered is now the criminal: the crime that did not happen because of the murder (the burglary) takes the place of the murder, as the true crime, and as the real injustice. This reversal of the victim/criminal relationship becomes an implicit defence of the right to kill those who unlawfully enter one’s property.
Murder: as self-defence. Not as murder, then. Justified legal killing.
Racism: justifies killing as self-defence.
The coincidence of this sentence with the speech about asylum seekers is affective. The detachment of the sentence allows two cases to get stuck together: burglary and asylum, which both now become matters of the right to defence. The figure of the asylum seeker hence gets aligned with the figure of the burglar. The alignment does important work: it suggests that the asylum seeker is “stealing” something from the nation. The “characteristics” of one figure get displaced or transferred onto the other. Or we could say that it is through the association between the figures that they acquire a life of their own as if they contained an affective quality. The burglar becomes a foreigner, and the asylum seeker becomes a criminal. At the same time, the body of the murderer (who is renamed the victim) becomes the body of the nation; the one whose property and well-being is under threat by the proximity of the other, registered as intrusion.
Suspicion: they are stealing something.
Not just that: they are trying to kill us or, if they had their way, we would cease to be (who we are).
The asylum seeker has historically been identified as bogus by being identified as a potential or the “could-be terrorist.” Fear sticks to these bodies that “could be terrorist” (brown, of Middle-Eastern appearance, Muslim looking), where the “could be” opens up the power to detain as a form of self-defence. Although such fear sticks, it also slides across such bodies; it is the structural possibility that the terrorist may pass us by that justifies the expansion of forms of intelligence, surveillance and the rights of detention.
The could-be terrorist becomes the might-as-well-be terrorist.
This violent slide between the figure of the asylum seeker and the terrorist works to construct those who are “without home” as sources of “our fear,” and as reasons for new forms of border policing, whereby the future is what is deemed under threat posed by those who may pass their way into “our” communities. The containment of the bodies of others affected by this economy of fear is most violently revealed in the literal deaths of those seeking asylum, deaths that remain unmourned by the very nations who embody the promise of a future for those seeking asylum.
This is a chilling reminder of what is at stake.
Death as policy.
Being identified as bogus: deemed to have caused your own death.
Bogus: a death sentence.