I Feel Lucky to be Foreign

For some among us, there comes a time when we realise our teenage convictions were somewhat misguided. We discover that our parents’ dusty beliefs are not so terribly ill-conceived, having a much sharper understanding of the modern world than we had previously imagined. Luckiest are we who grasp this while still young, before our parents’ departure.

My father was born to a Jewish family in the early fifties. He grew up in the USSR, in what is now present-day Ukraine. His mother was a bookkeeper in a state-owned electric company, who lost her first-born child during the evacuation from the advancing German armies. His father, a schoolteacher, was conscripted as a minesweeper in the Second World War, a position which enjoyed an average life expectancy of three days. On duty, my Grandfather’s leg was blown off by a German landmine, granting him a ticket back to civilian life; his comrades were not so fortunate.

Being a Jew in a totalitarian communist state was, to put it lightly, a disadvantage. Enduring unthinkable persecution on account of their ethnicity, the family fled the USSR in the late seventies. They knew their destination – although unknown – could only be better, despite the censorship of truth and outside information. They arrived in New Zealand without a lick of English, stripped of citizenship, in possession of a suitcase and one hundred dollars. Ineligible for welfare my father, then in his mid-twenties, earned his degree while washing dishes to support the family, crammed into a tiny apartment in Wellington.

He was surprised to learn, once he could understand them, that many of his Bohemian peers were committed socialists. The cultural revolution of the sixties had not spared this sleepy Antipodean nation, and the dreams of middle-class Kiwi utopians endured the millions of innocent lives sacrificed in Bolshevik and Stalinist purges. Many alumni of his university, like elsewhere, filtered through the upper echelons of society. Even in the late seventies, my father observed in Western culture the widespread belief in the virtues of socialism.

In the late nineties – just before my seventh birthday – my parents, sister and I immigrated to Britain. My father once remarked that, if informed his child would go to the University of Cambridge, his younger self would not have believed it. But for all my education in this world-class institution, I grasped neither the profundity of this statement, nor the extent of my good fortune. I understood the difficulties of his life – the stories were repeated ad nauseum – but he did not understand the difficulties of mine.

I looked and felt foreign, my friends were all rich and white, and via the internet I observed the misery of society. And so, I became a socialist. I understood the rapacity of capitalism, the injustice of hierarchy, the evil of Christianity. Having absorbed the superior virtues of inclusion, diversity and equality, I knew the only solution was the enforced levelling of all groups by almost any means possible. Opponents to this were not only wrong, but wicked. This included my father, who could not possibly understand; what he experienced was not true socialism. We knew how to do it properly.

Allied to this idea were, as far as I could see, all fashionable young people and all respectable adults. I did not stand a chance in hearing a different perspective in my educated milieu.

As the years passed however, I noticed in my middle-class, academic surroundings a censorship that was eerily reminiscent of my father’s stories. Even observable facts, if deemed inappropriate, are unsayable: truth takes second place if conflicting with the (perceived) collective good. Instead, we exchanged public lies as a form of social lubrication. These approved shibboleths (“aren’t white people awful!”), once employed, can be used to identify fellow comrades and treacherous usurpers.

Indeed, the lie that we indulged the most is this false dichotomy: the evil and oppressive West vs. the virtuous and oppressed rest. The ‘West’ included Britain and America, Israel, white people, Christianity, capitalism and heterosexuality, while the ‘rest’ represented Asia and Africa, Palestine, ethnic minorities, Islam, socialism and sexual minorities. My white, middle-class British friends happily exchanged this lie (in its various forms) as lightly as restaurant recommendations, but for me it was particularly useful: belonging mainly to the ‘rest’ category I could explain away all my problems as structural oppression, relieving myself of any responsibility.

But the truth became impossible to repress. The idea that British society was deeply bigoted flew directly in the face of my true experiences, and indeed of fact. My life was filled with British people who were kind, gracious, self-reflective and often pathologically self-critical; this contrasted sharply with my experience of others (including my family) whose racism and homophobia were profound and unashamed: unconscious bias tests were not required. Spending ample time in Malaysia (my mother’s side) revealed a deeply prejudiced society, making the painful truth – one my parents knew – impossible to deny.

For the truth was indeed painful. Accepting that Britain is a thoroughly decent country, despite its faults, was not intellectually difficult – the evidence is overwhelming. Rather, it was emotionally difficult: it violated my quasi-religious belief in Britain’s wickedness. In fact, I held two simultaneous – and contradictory – beliefs. First, all of the world’s cultures are morally equivalent (cultural and moral relativism). Second, Britain and America had horribly oppressive cultures, and were amongst the worst in the world.

Although many intelligent people are indeed uneducated about history and the world, it is indeed often for emotional (and social) reasons that this false belief is so vigorously asserted. We must nevertheless begin to publicly state the truth, lest these widespread lies further dismantle the social fabric of our society.

Having long escaped the university, they are promulgated through all our major institutions, from Parliament to the BBC, from corporations to schools. For every person that explicitly advocates a socialist revolution, there are several who do so unknowingly under other banners (radical feminism, Black Lives Matter, intersectionality). Marx’s analysis of power and capital is extrapolated to explain the entirety of society and human relations, and a Leninist solution is promoted.

The deranged impulse of the young to unfairly deride and destroy is no longer resisted by adults; often it is condoned. These adults – the same students my father encountered in the seventies – have withheld from their children the ancient values they themselves were taught. And thus two generations of powerful utopians, ignorant of their cruel ideas and yet with the same dangerous Bolshevik conviction, are unknowingly pushing Britain towards a nightmare.

It is perhaps of great irony that, given the dogmas of our age, I consider myself lucky to be an immigrant with very foreign parents. My father’s outsider perspective, so intolerable to my teenage ears, finally pierced through the cloud of mindless hysteria that had previously corrupted me. I will never relent in admiring and defending the ancient values, history and traditions that produced the wonderful nation of Britain, even as my native contemporaries recklessly repudiate them. Our country can be rescued only if others break from the mob and re-assert the importance of truth. At this present moment, the stakes could hardly be higher.

This article was originally published in Bournbrook Magazine: https://www.bournbrookmag.com/home/i-feel-lucky-to-be-foreign

Lily Geidelberg Written by:

One Comment

  1. Trevor
    December 27, 2021
    Reply

    I have to admit I’m a native ‘Brit’. Unfortunately, the bias and repression of the truth that Lily describes appears to me (at 76) to be more a feature of the ‘right’ in Britain.
    There is not just capitalism and socialism (both Marxist terminology) but also the common decency the social democrat.
    Tony Benn, like many before him, was from the Christian Socialist tradition. Jesus of Nazareth may be the best example of a socialist (and revolutionary at that) that I can think of.

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