An Archaic 'Nationality' Clause Is Barring Artists Like Rina Sawayama From the Mercury Prize and BRITs Awards

An Archaic 'Nationality' Clause Is Barring Artists Like Rina Sawayama From the Mercury Prize and BRITs Awards
Image:Dimitrios Kambouris (Getty Images)

As if the mere concept of borders weren’t absurd or violent enough, artists like Rina Sawayama are ineligible for U.K. music awards because of a racist “nationality clause” that upholds the country’s longstanding colonialist traditions.

Vice reports that Sawayama, who released one of the most masterful pop albums of the 2010s last year, SAWAYAMA, is being barred from two of the U.K.’s most lauded music competitions: the BRITs and the Mercury Prize. The outlet reports that this exclusion is due to a “nationality clause” in the ceremonies’ terms and conditions, like the Mercury Prize’s, which states: “Artists must be of British or Irish nationality. Artists are of British or Irish nationality if they hold a passport for either the United Kingdom or Ireland and/or a birth certificate from the United Kingdom or Ireland (“British” or “Irish” respectively).” By submitting your work to the Mercury Prize, you also agree to submit “proof of Artists’ nationality” through the “relevant documentation.”

Speaking to Vice, Sawayama says her exclusion from the ceremony is “heartbreaking”: “I rarely get upset to the level where I cry. And I cried.” As she tells the outlet, she has “lived here all my life,” having moved to the U.K. from Japan when she was a kid. Vice notes: “[Sawayama] has spent longer in the country than some of this year’s Mercury nominees – such as 24-year-old Dua Lipa – have been alive.”

The exclusion, as far as the ceremonies are concerned, is due to Sawayama’s visa category: indefinite leave to remain, which Vice reports “thousands of people in the U.K.” fall under. Those in this categorization aren’t given a finite time limit on their ability to stay in the country, but many can’t vote in the general election. It calls to mind recent research that migrants in the U.K. often pay more to the state than the average U.K. citizen. Deeper, it hearkens back to the U.K.’s deeply entrenched colonialist legacy of occupying lands the world over while stripping those who survived genocide, famine, and war of their humanity—let alone their “citizenship.” And that very concept, “citizenship,” is based entirely on the whims of the U.K. government.

Last year, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced she would end the free movement of people once and for all,” following on the heels of 2018’s “Windrush Scandal,” which brought the crimes of Theresa May’s “hostile environment policy” to the forefront of British politics, after she promised to “create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants.” The U.K. has also experienced a sharp rise in xenophobia, as the prime ministership of Boris Johnson and his Tory cronies rages on; studies show that over the past five years, hate crimes in England and Wales have “doubled.”

So while some may see the Mercury Prize or BRITs as just awards ceremonies, they actually act as extensions of the U.K.’s deeply violent policing of its haphazardly drawn borders. Sawayama tells Vice that she could have given up her Japanese passport to qualify for the ceremonies but chose not to:

“I was like, it won’t solve anything. I fundamentally don’t agree with this definition of Britishness. I think I’m really British, and I don’t like just sorting out a symptom of something and leaving the cause to someone else to deal with.

Sawayama rightfully points to the arts industries complicity in caving to, and propagating, racist designations of citizenship and borders. As she sees it: “If arts awards are creating their own sort of version of border control around their eligibility, I think that’s really problematic.”

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