The racist coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has exemplified how in the national imagination, Ukrainian refugees are constructed as being more worthy than other refugees, because they are “civilised” and “just like us”.
The language of “civility” is a proxy for whiteness, and is underscored by racist and colonial narratives. Read on to find out more about why we must avoid saying that certain migrants are “just like us”.
Why must we reject narratives of civility?
We are constantly seeing media narratives purporting war to be alien to the Global North, and endemic to the Global South. Inherent in this narrative is the idea that we in the West are too “civilised”, and that these wars only occur in other areas of the world because we have deemed these areas to be “uncivilised”.
The language of civility can be traced back to the Enlightenment era, where the West justified its genocide of Indigenous people and enslavement of Black people by constructing them as “primitive”, “uncivilised”, “savage”, “subhuman” and in need of enlightenment. Seeing this language being deployed to distinguish white refugees from African and Asian refugees is a harrowing reminder that anti-Blackness and racial hierarchies are deeply embedded within our social fabric.
The irony of the West calling itself civilised is a complete white-washing of history. As it colonises and bombs nations of the Global South, arms reactionary militias, and installs puppet governments around the world, it also creates refugees out of entire nations that are then drowned or killed by the violence of Western borders.
Whilst it commits unspeakable violence, it then deems the citizens of the Global South nations it has pillaged as a “threat”. The violence begins abroad, and then follows migratised and racialised communities to our shores…assuming they survive the route.
If they do survive dangerous routes (the only routes available), they are then subjected to “deathworlds…new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to living conditions that confer upon them the status of the living dead” Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics. These deathworlds manifest themselves through immigration control, bordering, state surveillance, marginalisation and racial terror.
The UK says they are civilised, but history and the present show us a different picture.
How can we be civilised when we refuse to reckon with our violent history? Windrush victims are still waiting to compensated. Institutional racism permeates every inch of our society. Anti-Blackness and Islamophobia subject racialised communities to state violence. Migrants continue to die in the channel, or experience deathworlds after they arrive as they are excluded and villified based on the colour of their skin, and oftentimes subjected to forced removal or deportation.