On having a choice

No one has ever spit on me, and told me to go home. Yanked at my clothing on a bus, informed me I did not belong. My passport is the same colour as yours, the maroon cover tells me I am British, I belong, this is home.

I was born here, but it’s not my home. Having my first home in Fulham, living in Marylebone now, having a British boyfriend: none of these things make me British to anyone but the government, the passport office, the conservatives of this country, all of whom would have me know that I am welcome, and that I can stay.

My home is New Zealand, which is what my other, blacker passport tells me, and my heart confirms. It has its flaws, but for all the failings I found, daily, for years, it’s the place my accent and all the cells in my body ties me to. The wide skies and the growing cities and the water, water everywhere, open seas around every corner.

I moved to London after years of pining for it, a yearning instilled in me by my mother and my movies and my certainty that New Zealand wasn’t quite the right fit. I wanted to be somewhere bigger and older and more full of possibilities; where everyone was a stranger, and strange. I wanted to be closer to other, and much much further than the familiar. I moved away as soon as I could, far, and then further. I settled myself. I was welcomed. It was easy.

The London I moved to was an invention of my own, but the place I found was better, much more swollen with things I never knew I needed – and then peppered, brilliantly, with the brightest sparks from home. A whole melted, mashed, marvellous pot of the unknown, laced always with the things that were hardest to leave, and ultimately refused to be left. Everything is much closer than I could ever have imagined. You can go half a world away and still be closer than ever before, and I did not know that.

The person I have become in London is much like that person who left New Zealand, but older, a lot more humble, more knowledgeable but less clever, and better for it. Blonder, and paler, and with a better palette for beer, too. I own a lot more raincoats. I’m more cautious. I’m more violent. You lose things, and you gain things.

The London I find myself, this new and changing person, in, has changed too. Suddenly, violently, like a personality switch, except that it’s not: it’s my old innocence telling me that. What bubbles up now has been there before, but I didn’t know it, or refused to acknowledge it: this white, well-employed, well-financed adventurer who after all has done nothing all that adventurous, and who has suffered nothing much worse than a round accent mocking. Don’t say “deck” to a British person, maligned fellow New Zealanders. You’ll suffer.

But you won’t suffer like other travellers, immigrants, movers, suffer. You won’t be sworn at, harassed, fired, chagrined. You won’t be sneered at, belittled, bullied.

London has changed and what I have now is a choice. In between shrinking from the racism and choking down the impossible rage, I have the choice to disappear. Waiting for me, a 35 hour plane ride away, is another land which hasn’t made this political decision, that mistake, a historical vote that might be a fuck up, could change the world, has shaken everything.

It’s easy to look at it now with longing eyes, that place where the dollar stands still, where jobs are un-compromised, and where my mother can look at me with eyes I know and tell me things will stay the same. It’ll take me back, no questions asked. It’ll have me.

There are plenty of people plotting their exit, because they can, and most of them are like me: the ones who can stay, if they want, but are choosing to go. The ones who run only because things have become worse, and harder – not because they might die if they stay. Not because running is marginally better than waiting to be chased.

The point of this is that choice is power, bound up with luck.

Alternatives and options are nothing but blessings. So I won’t talk about my choice anymore because I’ve already made it: to be here, to keep changing, to hope that London and England will do the same. Change isn’t always good, and choice isn’t always easy. I could run away, of course I could. I’m here because I ran away; that compulsion isn’t something that ever leaves you, but lies dormant, waiting for things to get difficult. I recognise it as weakness.

I came to London because I needed it. I’ll stay because maybe now it needs me – not the runaway, not the traveller, but the ally. And if I’m not that person yet, then I hope that soon I will be.

 

 

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