A few years after the UK had opened up its labour market to eastern European EU members, I had an interesting chat with a British citizen of Nigerian descent. The young man was an entrepreneur whose parents had emigrated to the UK in the 1960s.
When he heard I lived in Poland, he said he employs “a lot of Polish people because they’re very cheap workers, the Chinese of Europe”. Born to a Polish mother, I found his contemptuous tone annoying and inquired whether he’d forgotten his parents were probably referred to in similarly unflattering terms when they came to the UK.
“When my parents arrived, they couldn’t even find a roof over their heads,” he retorted. “Then, you still had British accommodation signs that read ‘No coloureds, no dogs.’ Polish people don’t have to go through all that, so don’t expect me to feel sorry for them. Today they’re at the bottom of the economic ladder. But in a decade, they will be lording it over the next big immigrant group – that’s just the way this country works.”