Eve Dickson, Rachel Rosen, and Kehinde Sorinmade (forthcoming) Hunger or indebtedness? Enforcing migrant destitution, racializing debt. In Clea Bourne, Paul Gilbert, Max Haiven and Johnna Montgomerie (Eds). Imagining the unseen: 20 pictures of debt’s empire, then and now.
“You owe £1200 for school lunches. Your son cannot go to prom before your debt is settled.” This excerpt from a school letter marks a new chapter in the entanglement of mobility and (neo) colonialism. While some of the most destitute families in the UK are migrants subject to “no recourse to public funds”, children from such families are excluded from free school meal provision, an intervention purportedly intended to mitigate the impacts of poverty. In the context of a rapid marketisation of education, including the rise of policy-setting neoliberal academies, children may also be barred from bringing packed lunches to school, required to either incur debt to eat or go hungry. An indebted subject is thus produced at the interface of an immigration policy of “enforced destitution”—designed to deter settlement of negatively racialised post-colonial subjects from Britain’s erstwhile Empire—and the global ubiquity of debt incurred to ensure sustenance in an era of neoliberal financialisation. In this chapter, we trace outward from this artefact of parent-school communication to examine its place within a web of survival debts and the historical and present-day circulation of people and capital between sub-Saharan Africa and the UK. We point to the ways that debt is racialised and implicated in the production of a “second” British Empire.