I didn’t have the fortune of being born in the UK. I am not British by birth, but I am by choice. I have called the UK home since 2008. And from my very first days here, I fell in love with this beautiful vibrant country, with the amazing British culture, the endearing way how when living in Britain, history seeps into your bones and you pass by buildings older than America itself. Over this past week, the safe haven of my Britain suddenly became as volatile as the torn country I came from and my heart is broken. I find myself asking wondering: how to survive Brexit as an immigrant. I’m no stranger to racism. As a member of a minority race, I have experienced racism in most of its infuriating formats:
- Racism By Oversight: sly digs punctuated by hands raised to mouths and uncomfortable giggles
- Blatant, Quiet Racism: where people either stare slack-mouthed at any defining physical feature of your body common to your ethnicity yet so different from the body types prevalent in their culture
- Blatant, Outspoken Racism: where people refer to you as “that coloured girl”
- Racism By Default: where you are the token black friend and therefore the authority on all things ethnic
- Racism By Minority: where yours is the only black face in the room and your dark skin is unmissable in the sea of pale and pink faces
The UK needs to rise above this scary new chapter it has entered, where people feel emboldened off the back of a bad decision they were manipulated into opting for, and think leaving notes that say abhorrent things like “No Polish Vermin” is okay. Or where they shout at a Muslim woman on a train for not speaking English in England. When in fact, she was speaking Welsh in Wales. Or when gangs of boys jeer at brown-skinned women on the streets and tell them to eff off back home and to leave the UK. In my 8 years of living in the UK, of living in a big city, racism towards me has been mostly non-existent. Now, after Brexit and after seeing the horror stories posted on line about the abuse immigrants have been subject to, I am, for the first time in my British life, afraid.
The UK cannot become this place. It cannot become a replica of America with all its racial problems and its division. The UK cannot stoop so low as to reject people because they are from a different country, because they are “strapping young men, [dressed] in better clothes … who see money and benefits”.
Why are Brexiteers so afraid of immigrants?
What is it about us that makes us a threat?
How can a country, known for colonising anything with a pulse, suddenly turn its nose up at immigrants?
The UK is in danger of becoming a little USA. A country divided, a place with unrealistic double standards, with a bloody history of segregation and racism. There is never an excuse for hatred, especially hatred off of the back of skin colour, ethnicity, country of origin, sexuality, height, hair colour, eye colour, dietary preference or anything.
What can be done? What is there to do? How does the UK rectify this situation?
- Immigrants, minorities and targets of outspoken, racist Brexiteers need to be aware of their surroundings at all times.
- Immigrants, minorities and targets of outspoken, racist Brexiteers need to remember to not retaliate when they are verbally abused. Hold your head high and keep walking. It’ll wind them up more than your reaction will. Trust me.
- The law enforcement needs to be willing to crack down on verbal abuse and to punish it. They need to be willing to track down the anti-social scumbags hurling abuse in the street and put them in their place and give them an ASBO.
- The rest of you who aren’t a target need to be willing to stand up with your friends, colleagues and even those strangers who are targeted.
- Parliament needs to take stock of the aftermath of this Referendum. Look at the response many Brexiteers have had, look at the disdain with which they’re speaking to people and the trouble they’re causing and be willing to put an end to it. Do not initiate Article 50. Do not give them another reason to spew hatred and show themselves up as the intolerable, racists they are. Make them eat their words and live with their incorrigible actions by keeping the UK in the EU and forcing them to continue to live peaceably amongst those they feel so threatened by.
In the immediate aftermath of the EU Referendum, everyone screamed for unity. Everyone screamed for both sides to come together, hold hands and sing Kumbaya. There’ll be time for that eventually, when it comes time to heal, but for now, the unity we need is unity in standing against the racists spewing hatred and scaremongering and telling people to leave the country. That’s the unity that’s needed at the moment and that is the only way to survive Brexit as an immigrant.