I voted remain. Simple as. I thought it was the right thing to do for the country and certainly on a bigger scale than that, for international stability, order and peace. If that sounds bombastic, well, in part it is. However, since the vote came in, and we all start to digest what some of us had been mentioning before the vote as now being born out I’ve noticed some other trends too. The one I want to write about here is racism.
I’m a person of mixed heritage. I’m generally unable to fit in among people with my mother’s Indian heritage (although she’s Anglo-Indian and by that I mean that she has English, French and Irish genes in there as well as Indian). Nor am I able to connect with my father’s Jewish heritage as they were all killed in a concentration camp, not to mention that missing Italian part with ancestors we can’t trace. A friend once said I could go anywhere in the world and find someone who’d hate me.
I’m hoping by writing this then, not to pull rank by saying, ‘I’m browner than you’ but from the perspective of someone who has only known one national identity – British/English and that as a person with brown skin but no other cultural background except Dr Who, Blue Peter and Dad’s Army. As someone who’s known racism and racists, whose faced it in many places around the world and who you can, I hope, accept knows of what he’s talking.
Let me start by saying that mistaking a vote for leave as a vote for racism is a tragic thing. There is an argument that says that all the racists voted for Leave. I cannot say whether that’s true despite it’s narrative appeal. However, what I’m seeing is that people are going from there to say that anyone who voted for Leave is a racist, even if only be association. This is as absurd an argument as saying that all Christians are guilty of racism by association with the KKK or Muslims by association with IS. Last week most Remainers would have called that argument out. Now I’m seeing far too many of them deploying it as an excuse for staying angry. It is as poor an excuse now as it was when they were calling it out.
I understand the grief. I understand the anger. Yet it HAS to find a home that isn’t demonising others magis fere. That isn’t any more acceptable than if the targets of the argument were actually guilty. Which they’re not.
Here’s another thing – a lot of people are saying there’s an upsurge of racism, and they’re documenting it on Facebook etc. They may well be right but anecdote is not evidence. Even evidence of single events is not proof of a trend. I hate to break it to you but I suffered from racist comments relatively frequently before the vote and I suspect it will be the same afterwards. If you look at the evidence in the crime statistics, racism has been on the rise in this country (from a low basis criminality wise) for a little while. You can blame the media if you like but that’s simply finding another scapegoat. This IS a tolerant country, and I love it for that. It’s MUCH less racist than my experience of the US or almost any other country I’ve ever been too – not simply because our communities are not, by and large, segregated but because most people here, regardless of their colour, have absorbed that indefinable thing that we all recognise as being British. Queuing, Cricket, Football, discussion of the weather, whatever you want to call it.
What I do worry about though is this: people who voted remain declaring that all Leavers are racist. Do you know what this does? It further alienates the two sides but it’s worse than that. It emboldens the racists because they hear those they despise giving them psychic space to express what had previously been unacceptable in polite company. They find disgruntled and offended people whose energy they can feed off. They find that those who were tolerant in one breath are neither magnanimous in defeat nor gracious towards those with whom they disagree – and they feel justified in their own hatred feeling that no one’s really all that different underneath.
In classing an entire portion of the nation racist, you create the conditions for racism to thrive.
Can I ask, as someone who suffers for the negative consequences of racism, that you do this instead – work with those on the Leave side to stand up together and say “the vote wasn’t about racism and we, as British people, won’t stand for racism.” I ask that you stand up to it, that you reject it consciously even when you don’t see it. There are those, a minority to be sure, who will use this discord as a space for their offensive and retrograde views. Don’t give them the dignity of confusing them with people who voted Leave for their own reasons. Leavers – please, I know it’s annoying but resist being tarred as racists (unless you are – then please leave the rest of us alone before we come for you), resist racism too.
The vote may have been about immigration for a lot of people, but this doesn’t mean racism unless we create a space in which that’s the only way to hold this class of views.
If you’re angry – GOOD, now put it to work. Less time on Facebook, more time getting involved in your community, in politics, in meeting the people who live next door to you. Stand up to actual racists, not people who’re stupid in your timeline. Stand up to politicians rowing back on promises by calling them out via letters, emails and in public. All that the powerful need is for the rest to say nothing for them to do as they wish. Anger is marvellous and frightening, but what will you do with it? Will you make it count or will you be another mumbling discontent looking for each scapegoats?