Clever Girls pp 257-270 | Cite as

“But you’re not really foreign”: An Autoethnography of a Working-Class Canadian “Passing” in England

  • Kristin O’DonnellEmail author


This chapter explores my lived experience as a young working-class Canadian immigrant in the twenty-first-century Britain, drawing on memory work and autoethnography to interrogate notions of class belonging inflected by race. As an immigrant during a period of heightened tension over immigration, my position as a white native English speaker from a former Commonwealth country mitigated my “foreignness”. Instead of being conceptualised as “other”, I am able to “pass” in both working- and middle-class surroundings. But my “double migration” of class and country—one always slightly obscuring the other and making me hard to place—constitutes a liminal and unstable space. Through reflexive vignettes, I chart a transition from self-conscious working-class Canadian to comfortably passing in middle-class academic environments. Through my status as not-quite-different and yet not-quite-British, I offer a broader perspective on questions of class, race, identity and the inclusions and exclusions that arise from such categories.


Canadian immigrant Memory work Englishness Whiteness Belonging 


  1. Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, Rev. ed. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  2. BBC News (2019). EU Referendum Results. Retrieved from
  3. Berg, A. J. (2008). Silence and Articulation—Whiteness, Racialization and Feminist Memory Work. NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, 16, 4, 213–227. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Davis, K., & Nencel, L. (2011). Border skirmishes and the question of belonging: An authoethnographic account of everyday exclusion in multicultural society. Ethnicities, 11, 4, 467–488. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dodd, P., & Colls, R. (2014). Englishness: politics and culture 1880–1920, Second edition. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  6. Lapiņa, L. (2017). Recruited into Danishness? Affective autoethnography of passing as Danish. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 25, 1, 56–70. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. McDowell, L. (2009). Old and New European Economic Migrants: Whiteness and Managed Migration Policies. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 35, 1, 19–36. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. McNeil, R. (2014). Costs and ‘benefits’: benefits tourism, what does it mean? Retrieved from
  9. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2000). Knowledge and skills for life: first results from the OECD program for international student assessment (PISA). Retrieved from Paris:
  10. Preston, P. (2004, 29 February 2004). Tabloids brimming with bile. The Observer. Retrieved from
  11. Samuel, R. (2012). Theatres of memory: past and present in contemporary culture (2nd ed.). London: Verso.Google Scholar
  12. Schilter, C. (2018). Hate crime after the Brexit vote: heterogeneity analysis based on a universal treatment. London: London School of Economics.Google Scholar
  13. Skinner, G., & Gottfried, G. (2016). How Britain voted in the 2016 EU referendum. Retrieved from
  14. Stewart, H., & Mason, R. (2016, 16 June). Nigel Farage’s anti-migrant poster reported to police. The Guardian. Retrieved from
  15. Vargas-Silva, C., & Sumption, M. (2018). Net migration in the UK. Retrieved from Oxford:

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of BrightonBrightonUK

Personalised recommendations