Act more grateful? Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and people of colour shouldn’t have to

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Act more grateful? Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and people of colour shouldn’t have to

This is not simply trolls doing what they do best (Credits: PA)

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‘How many foreign secretaries does it take for someone to come home?’ Nazain Zaghari-Ratcliffe said calmly in a press conference this week. 

I was struck by how poised she was. I’m not sure I could have mustered up the same level of grace if the government was partly to blame for me missing over half a decade of my child’s life. 

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But within hours, Twitter was ablaze with vitriol spewed towards her. She was accused of being ‘ungrateful’, an ex-Tory MEP even laid the blame on her for going to a country with ‘such a nasty regime’ in the first place, and the hashtag #sendherback trended.

It seemed that some sections of the British public expected Nazanin to thank the government for the fact that five foreign secretaries failed to secure her release by paying a decades-old debt to Iran – and that one of these foreign secretaries, who now finds himself in Number 10, even made a blunder that potentially held her case back. 

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Trolls online spew hate at public figures all the time. But this is something far more pernicious.

I believe that if Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe were a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman who had endured something similar, there would not be such outrage about her comments. 

I certainly doubt people would be suggesting she donates any money she makes through book or film deals to charity or calling her ‘politically-oriented’ for simply speaking the truth. 

And yet, I can only imagine the level of animosity if Nazanin were less middle-class and less eloquent, without white family members advocating on her behalf. 

This is not simply trolls doing what they do best. This is the ugly intersection of misogyny and racism. 

Act more grateful? Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and people of colour shouldn’t have to

From left, MP Tulip Siddiq, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her daughter Gabriella and her husband Richard Ratcliffe (R), posing with Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle (Picture: Getty)

Nazanin’s place as a woman demands her to be compliant and submissive – but her identity as a woman of colour means that this is compounded by the racist notion that she doesn’t belong here anyway, so who is she to speak out? 

Above this, she is from a Muslim country – some of which are imagined to be barbaric places full of draconian laws. 

This what I take from the comments by ex-Tory MEP David C Bannerman’s about her purpose for visiting Iran in the first place, which had the impact of inciting Islamophobic sentiment to strip her of sympathy in the eyes of the public.

Shouldn’t she just be grateful that she is finally back in this superior country? 

The vilification of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe by some on social media reaffirms a message familiar to all of us with immigrant roots: you do not belong here. 

If you do not like something, rather than claiming your democratic right to challenge it, you should go back to ‘where you came from’. Even if that is a place you’ve never been. Even if Britain is the only home you’ve ever known.

When I witnessed this hostility, I can’t say I was surprised. 

Some people might say this is just social media: filled with a disproportionate amount of hate that isn’t there in the real world. 

But this is entirely reflective of the experience of people of colour in Britain. As a visibly-Muslim woman of colour, I have faced systemic discrimination throughout my life – manifesting as everything from microaggressions at work to excessive checks at airports. 

My experience is not unusual. British passports, birth certificates and accents don’t protect us. 

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People of colour in the public eye are regularly berated for openly criticising systemic inequalities. When Stormzy voiced his support for the victims of Grenfell Tower fire, he was abused online for branching into politics and not focusing on music.

When Labour MP Dawn Butler vocalised her support for the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, she faced so many racist messages and death threats that she had to close her constituency office.

Nadiya Hussain even suffered horrific islamophobic abuse for having the audacity to win a national baking contest – abuse that spikes in the wake of every terrorist attack. 

The ‘grateful immigrant’ is a trope that demands those of us with roots outside of Britain should be so thankful for the fact that we’re allowed to exist here that we shouldn’t vocalise anything negative about it. 

We should turn a blind eye to the state systemically discriminating against us, to the inbuilt prejudices in our workplaces and schools, in the legal system and police force. 

We should ignore all of this and instead be grateful for the crumbs we have left. This is a damaging idea – rooted in a colonial mindset, erasing lived experiences and preventing the state being held to account.

Our position as people of colour in this country has never been more precarious. This is clear from recent revelations of racism in the Metropolitan Police and the national debate about the safety of our black and brown children at school in the wake of Child Q. 

And it is shown in this week’s passing of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which makes our hostile environment to refugees and migrants ever-more hostile, allowing the state to remove the citizenship of Britons like me who have the right to another nationality. 

The message that we will never belong doesn’t just come from Twitter trolls but becomes embedded in law by those in power too.

So, to those who say we should be silent and grateful, I say now is the time to speak out more than ever.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk. 

Share your views in the comments below.

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