“Integration has never been any good” writes Jan Blommaert in De Standaard 8 / 11. I agree with this and I would say it’s a flop concept that for years was unjustly implemented by the responsible ministers and institutions, supposedly to to ‘integrate’ ‘certain groups’ in society.
“You are a good example of integration” I often hear from people around me, not only of Belgo-Belgians, but also those who have another origin. Many of the latter see themselves as enlightened and integrated copies and would be happy that you see yourself as one of them. My response to this is simple: a ridiculous comment.
The effort I have done, the energy I have invested and the way I have made have never been to me to ‘integrate’. I have therefore never attended integration or – what is called today – acclimatization course and / or passed sleepless nights thinking about how I should ‘integrate’. According to the dominant discourse it is always the same people who have to ‘integrate’ Personally I have chosen simply to ignore it. And I invite all the people who are unjustly categorized to ‘certain groups’ to do the same.
After all, why must there always be pointed to the same groups? ‘Society’ is not something that changes for all its members? Why are not all the members (all of us so) asked to be put together in this dynamic and changes that society goes through? What it should be about is not ‘integration techniques, but how we can we ensure that all members of society (without distinction of creed, religion, culture, background papers or without papers …) can participate, engage and improve their lives within the society they find themselves.
To participate and get involved where you are you should be taken seriously. This means equal treatment. What is the point of integration and acclimatization packages which supposedly approach diversity as an enrichment, while this diversity, where it means something, is nowhere to be found. When are we going institutionalize diversity? Unless that happens there can be no question of equality or ‘enrichment’. The current integration discourse does not allow this institutionalization, and this is why it failed and is doomed to failure. Not because ‘some groups’ have failed to ‘integrate’, but because those who invented and introduced the concept ‘integration’ have failed themselves. Integration is a failed word that for my part may be deleted right away.
I already hear the question: “What instead?” Well, certainly not some nice-sounding concept. Besides, we have not previously tried with ‘acclimatization’ and how much further it has brought us? For this is the problem. We try to find concepts instead of actions to push forward to change things. This is in fact not surprising, because this is how the problems and challenges are being approach: by culturalist and Darwinian concepts which put people against each other. These are much easier to sell to the general public and a lot easier to achieve than tackling the structural problems, with rising inequality as the greatest challenge.
Someone who has a decent job, obtained a higher education diploma, speaks the language perfectly, lives in a ‘decent’ neighbourhood etc … don’t we say she/he is ‘well integrated’? If the answer is yes, then it should still be obvious what needs to be addressed? Let us be clear: this is not merely to those who have a different origin, but also those who ‘fully’ are from ‘here’ and are excluded. These are (often) women, many of the elderly, youth and the poor of this society that we must take concrete actions rather pointless discussions about empty concepts like integration. Because not only they are of no good, but they are the barrier that we see things differently and do differently. Therefore away with those words, back with actions. Actions that tackle the problems of asylum seekers; people who cannot pay their rent; people living in abominable circumstances in social houses; people loosing their jobs; the cutbacks of the cultural sector, shortage of schools etc… Problems and challenges we have enough and these are not just problems of “certain groups”, but of all members of society.
Bleri Lleshi, Brussels political scientist, documentary maker and co-author of the recently published book “Identiteit en Interculturaliteit – Identiteitsconstructie bij jongeren in Brussel”, published by VUBPRESS