Brexit Day: Racism and Resistance

I’ve been up since 3am stressing about Brexit.

Of course I have. Having being a minority in the 80s, I am possessed with an absolute, utter terror of what awaits us socially, culturally, legally and economically. I don’t want to go back to being harassed, marginalised, unprotected and poor. And that is exactly what I see in the immediate future. The news over the last few days are making me feel as though everything bad about the world is bubbling out in a proper-Buffy-hellmouth fashion and I’m feeling helpless, exhausted and bloody furious. From Trump’s imminent acquittal to the ongoing lack of diversity in the publishing industry, the skewed stop-and-search racial demographic here in Travis County, ongoing attacks on abortion rights and a 50% increase in racist attacks on the football pitch, the world feels like it’s going to hell in a handcart. Brexit feels like the eye of the storm battering me down, and reading pieces encouraging us to accept what is happening and move on are really not helping. Yes, there is the practical reality of trade negotiations and visa stamps, but what Brexit stands for socially and morally is something much darker than that. Words (from white men) telling us it’s time to put leave/remain angst behind us are both patronising and wrong, and demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding as to what Brexit really means for minorities on the ground.

I’m not in the mood to take in considered, mollifying ponderings on the ebb and flow of history. I’m not up for hearing about how it’s time to put our differences behind us and move on. I’m really not interested in being told to make the best of a bad situation-been there, done that. Anyone who thinks this is the time to sit idly by and let things work themselves out is either delusional or deliberately hiding a regressive agenda. We’re about to step into a society that is so polarised that to play nice, keep the peace, sit on the fence is to be complicit with those who are right now celebrating the success of their nasty, hateful politics. The reactionaries think they have won and they are gloating, bold and piggish with their jingoistic tea towels and sneering St George flags – for many, today is about more than celebrating Brexit, they are celebrating a victory of racism and bigotry. Telling ourselves this is just a phase is not going to cut it. Seeking accommodation with those who are openly bigoted is not the answer.

This is the time to speak up, speak out, stop apologising for our opinions and stop pretending politics doesn’t matter. We need to argue, to fight, to vote, to march, to show them that they haven’t won. Just because enough of them crawled out of the woodwork to push through this nightmarish break with our most sensible, fairest political allies out of a sense of vainglorious insular nationalism, that does not mean it is time to throw in the (tea) towel. No, we should not be accommodating, listening, pandering to their sad little egos. Now more than ever we should be challenging them on the street, in the pub, at work, at home, and even (as unpleasant as it can be) online. Because if we don’t, if we take to simmering silently, waiting for the next roll of the dice, we risk being the people who fiddled while Rome burned.

And it may not even be another Thatcher in the wings, it could be so much worse. I may dose myself a little heavily with dystopian fiction but really all you need to do to see how bad the future can get is open a history book. Oh hooray, Mussolini made the trains run on time! Hitler, Stalin, Pinochet, Franco-how bad does the UK want its very own horror story of repression, racism, torture and murder to be? Of course, it can’t happen here. Except it can. Any country that’s existed under a dictatorship thought it couldn’t happen to them, let themselves slide gently down the slope of denial until they were in so deep there was no clawing their way out. Say I’m paranoid, over-reacting, scaremongering, then do some reading on what human beings are capable of doing to each other.

Even if we manage to avoid all-out Gilead, the descent from okay to pretty bloody hellish has already commenced. We need to grab every boulder on the way down, fight for every right, demand legal and medical protections and call out every instance of prejudice. Retreating into our little bubble of happy lefty echo-chamber denial is so much easier than facing up to the enormity of the disjuncture in our society, but every time we turn a blind eye it’s a tacit endorsement of a set of attitudes whose ultimate conclusion is a rolling back of tolerance, social justice, equality and human rights.

I’m as guilty as anyone-some days I feel too shy, too tired, too bloody lazy to speak up, to stand up, to get up off my arse and make a noise. To exercise the patience to explain right from wrong. To tolerate the eye-rolls, the sniggering, the ‘whatever’s. It can feel like being back at school, railing against unfairness and injustice to an audience of arrogant, mocking bigots. The tear-inducing frustration of knowing that you’re right but that it doesn’t matter cos no one cares and you’ve already lost. Easier to keep your head down, avoid a confrontation, wait it out. Except don’t. That’s what they’re counting on now. They think we’ve had our day. They think this is theirs. We’ve got a hard, sorry, shitty fight in front of us but it’s already started. Don’t back down, don’t shy away. Don’t hold up your hands just because you’re not directly affected. Yet. And maybe you won’t be. Maybe you are part of the elected elite and it’s okay for you cos you’re the right gender/race/class. But if you’re a real ally stand up and pitch in, otherwise you’re just a fucking collaborator.

I want to be part of a society to be proud of, a fair, progressive, society which prioritises equality and human rights. Today I feel ashamed to be British, afraid for the future, and deeply disappointed in the knowledge that what I feared most was right – the bigotry and prejudice in the UK was never really defeated and has just been biding its time, waiting for a break in our concentration, a lapse in our unity, to ooze out and regain its poisonous hold over our politics. Growing up in the 80s, I believed that life was a hell-pit of racist, capitalist inequality, but I also saw the power of resistance. From the miners’ strikes to the anti-apartheid movement, people stood up in the face of a huge, aggressive socio-political machine to fight for what they knew was right. Today is a bloody awful day, but we don’t have to accept it as the end. We need to get in that wheel and turn it ourselves and work together to halt this gross regressive resurgence and reclaim our democracy, our society and our culture.

January 31st 2020

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