L'Insatiable | Letter to a refugee
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Letter to a refugee

by Robert McLiam Wilson


Écrivain nord-irlandais, auteur du roman Eureka Street, Robert McLiam Wilson tient des chroniques régulières dans Libération et Charlie-Hebdo. Cette « Lettre à un réfugié » lui a été commandée par le Perou (Pôle d’exploration des ressources urbaines) pour la diffuser notamment à Calais.


A few years ago, in Marseille, I met a 17 year old black kid whose name I won’t tell you. He was very good at football. So good, that there were several professional clubs interested in him. He told me that he didn’t want to play football in France. He didn’t want to have to deal with all the racism, all the bullshit. He wanted to play in England instead, or in Spain.


Afterward, I cursed myself for not saying anything. He was a sweet, goofy kid and as dumb as all seventeen year old boys in history have ever been. I hated myself for having been too cowardly to intervene. The thought that this poor innocent might go to Spain to escape football stadium racism appalled me (few football cultures are more racist than Spain’s). But I had said nothing. Because i didn’t want to piss on his dreams.


If you are in Calais, you are probably planning and dreaming of going to the UK. You perhaps believe that it is the European country most at its ease with ethnic and cultural difference. The most accepting. You are right. But you are also wrong.


A lot has changed in a year or two. I don’t know if you know this but two opposing camps of white people (in the UK and everywhere else) are fighting a big fight about you. One side wants to welcome you without conditions or reservations, the other camp (much larger, I’m sorry to say) doesn’t want to accept you at all. Both these groups of white people hate each other with great intensity and wage a bitter war of invective and insult, using you and your stories as weapons in this war. It would amaze you how effective you can be as weapons in a war you did not choose and to which you do not contribute.


Of course, many of the people who don’t like you already (but not all) are assholes. But equally, many of the people who argue your case and support you (but not all) are also assholes. And most on both sides are definitely more interested in hating each other than they are interested in loving or hating you.


This might seem like bad news (and it’s true that the welcome in the UK may not be as universal and sweet-natured as you hope). But there is good news too. Because there is a third group. A group of people who have not had much to say about your plight. People who do not intemperately add to political or journalist debate. Ordinary people who get on with the ordinary business of life. They do not judge people whom they have not met and express little opinion about situations which they believe they do not fully understand.


And the great news is that you will recognise that third group instantly. Because, they are not assholes. And that is the most recognisable quality in the world. In every corner of the world, in languages one does not speak, one can see a lack of assholeism pretty immediately. Whether in South America, China, Africa or Europe. It’s always quickly clear. You have been doing this all your life, no matter where you come from. You’ve been making the distinction between assholes and non-assholes. This person, you say to yourself, is not an asshole. That’s great, you think, because neither am I.