The people have spoken, and and those people have said they are afraid of the “other”
I didn’t think I was capable of crying over Westminster politics. When I went to bed on Wednesday evening, sated by a thick splodge of yellow which signified Gibraltar’s 95.9 percent decision to vote Remain, I barely considered the fact that I could genuinely wake up to a country which I, as an ethnic minority and third-generation black immigrant, no longer recognised. But it was 5.30am when a spike of fear pierced my dreams and I woke up to see the results were in. The UK had decided, by a margin of 1.9 percent, to leave the European Union. Tears pricked my eyes.
My devastation in the first few hours of today has been acute. The people have spoken, and those people have said they are afraid of the “other” – as part of a Leave campaign that has been utterly tainted by racism and xenophobia. I cannot help but feel more of an outcast than ever, even in the safe haven of London. Sky News reporter Afua Hirsch tweeted that she had spoken to a black woman today too afraid to leave her house with her newborn child as people chanted nationalist slogans outside. In France, England football fans scream “fuck off Europe” and abuse refugee children. Britain First supporters gloat about “shutting the borders”.
While there have been more nuanced arguments to be found as to why we should leave the EU, they have been drowned out by the debate on immigration. Voters in the UK have repeatedly said that it is a key concern for them, with one poll showing that 47 percent of Leave supporters thought it was the most important issue in the EU referendum, compared to 21 percent of Remain supporters. This is despite the fact that European migrants pay in more in taxes than they take out in state benefits, and that EU immigration has been proven to improve the economy.
As part of the scaremongering, we had Nigel Farage’s Nazi-esque poster, released earlier on the same day as the murder of MP Jo Cox. This was alongside the tabloids’ ongoing fixation with “those illegals, coming over here and taking our jobs”, which culminated in the Daily Mail’s non-apology last week when it initially claimed that a group of migrants who arrived in the UK in the back of a lorry declared: “We are from Europe – let us in”, when actually the picture showed migrants from Iraq and Kuwait.
The hypocrisy of the UK, as a country that colonised half of the world, hasn't gone unnoticed. UKIP leader Nigel Farage wants to name June 24 as our “Independence Day”, with no hint of irony as he talks about reconnecting with the Commonwealth rather than fostering relations with our nearest neighbours. This display further proves his ignorance as he disregards the bloody battles, pain and death the British colonisation of countries such as India, Zimbabwe, and Australia caused. As the amount of non-EU migration has always been higher than EU immigration, it is incredibly unlikely that Farage is actually keen to see an increase in Commonwealth migrants, nor that the incumbent government will be looking to further that policy either.
“Young people were not swayed by the same propaganda and small-mindedness as our elders, and maybe in the future we will be able to enact the change that is needed”
With the resignation of David Cameron, it is likely that Boris Johnson is going to take over. This is a man who has been on the record making racist statements: he called black people “picannies” and referred to their “watermelon smiles”, as well as editing The Spectator at the time when they published an article which stated that black Caribbeans were “multiplying like flies” and, more recently, referred to “part-Kenyan” Barack Obama’s “ancestral dislike of the British empire”. The vast majority of the electorate will have no say in this decision. Scotland, where I grew up, will, in my opinion, almost definitely leave the United Kingdom to join the EU. I have plenty of friends who have already regretted their decision to vote No in the Scottish referendum, and although I’m not among them, I do understand their disappointment. Scotland is connected by a thread to a country whose values they seemingly disagree with on a fundamental level.
There are a few positives to take from this. Young people were not swayed by the same propaganda and small-mindedness as our elders, and maybe in the future we will be able to enact the change that is needed to create a truly open and welcoming society – not one where I feel as though there are now areas of the country, such as Skegness and Kent (the latter of which, ironically, is the ancestral home of half my family), where I shouldn't set foot. Since the recession, we have seen that young people take the financial hit from economic downturns, and despite the pound falling to 1985 levels this morning, it is still reassuring to know that out of those of us that voted, it’s reckoned 75 percent wanted to remain a part of the EU.
But how can we unite a country which is so utterly divided? How can I stop feeling as though I don’t belong here anymore? And is it time to stop calling out those who voted Leave as being racist (despite the fact I genuinely believe a fair portion of them are), and start engaging in reasoned discussion with them? It’s not like we haven’t been trying already, but one clear way we might be able to is by humanising the immigrants that they are so fearful of, and not letting whiteness dominate the media rhetoric. It's obvious, but people are less afraid of things once they understand them; that's why UKIP does so well in areas with little immigration. In the meantime, ethnic minorities in the UK need to make sure they look after themselves. One in four people witnessed a racial hate crime in 2015, and with the result of this referendum, I don’t think this figure will be falling anytime soon.