Positive refugee stories that reach the press are commonly weaponised for the promotion of the “contribution” narrative. But we ask, why can’t migrants and their stories exist on their own terms without being co-opted for an agenda, especially a capitalist one? We know that migrants have a net positive impact on the UK and on society in general. Yet basing our acceptance of or desire to protect migrants and refugees on their ability to economically “contribute” isn’t really acceptance at all.
Beyond economic “contribution”
How can we shift the conversation away from economic productivity? Perhaps it is by recognising that “contribution” can look like many different things. But even if we broaden the kinds of “contributions” we legitimise (for instance a cultural contribution) there are still those, migrant and non-migrant, refugee and non-refugee, who cannot “contribute” in a way that is deemed to be the social norm: those who are disabled, struggling with their mental health, or simply trying to survive life in a new country. By basing our willingness to protect others on their ability to “contribute”, we insinuate that certain people are simply not worthy of protection.
Some sections of society will argue that many people (migrants and refugees especially) are just lazy: that they can “contribute” but really just don’t want to. This is, by and large, an anti-migrant, anti-refugee and capitalist myth. Laziness is just an idea sold to us to make us feel guilty for conditions outside of our control, such as psychological trauma or poverty.
“Contribution” under capitalism
“Contribution” is and should remain a byproduct of a healthy society. But our society is not healthy. It is plagued by compounded forms of oppression that require constant energy to navigate. With their energy depleted, some people simply cannot afford to “contribute”.
So what is the answer? One response has been to deliberately pit marginalised groups against each other, pitting the migrant or refugee that contributes against the migrant or refugee that cannot. Yet this is not a solution.
Perhaps the solution lies in rethinking what kind of society we want to live in. Should we live in a society that views people who cannot “contribute” as less deserving? Or should we live in a society where those less able are provided for and cared for? What is our role in society? Do we have duties to those we are in community with? This is what it comes down to. We live in a hyper-individualistic world, but we don’t have to.
It’s one thing to appreciate and recognise someone’s work and give them the credit they deserve, but it’s another thing to base your acceptance of that person on it. We all want to be appreciated and recognised for the things we do, especially if we put our time, effort and labour into something, but we also don’t want to assign so much importance to achievements that they become a determining factor in whether someone deserves respect. But this is what happens in a capitalist and racist system: we depend on the monetary value of our work in order to survive.
We need to rethink the way we are in community with each other. Capitalism encourages individualism, yet we need to realise that in the same way we have rights and entitlements, we also have responsibilities to ourselves and to each other by virtue of our shared world. We have to have each other’s back. We have responsibilities to those who cannot “contribute”, who require support, simply because they are human. If we couldn’t “contribute” for any reason, then we would deserve the same.