Friday, July 1, 2016

The Brexit referendum - what it felt like

The safety pin - a hastily improvised symbol to oppose post-referendum racism

If you live in Britain and especially in England you won't need to read this because you will know it, and have felt it yourself.  But for those elsewhere I just want to chronicle some of the shock and disbelief that greeted the Brexit referendum. It was on Thursday 23 June, the result coming early on Friday morning. Hard to remember this was only 7 days ago, so much has happened since.  Yesterday I heard an elderly Englishwoman on the radio describing her reaction on Friday morning.  She said it was the most shocking news since the declaration of the Second World War.  A New Statesman columnist wrote “I woke up in a country I do not recognise.”  And myself here in Ireland?  Well, I was so angry and upset that day I couldn’t bring myself to contact anybody even though there were various people I ought to have been in touch with on unrelated matters.

Here are some comments I had from friends over the following couple of days, directly or through Facebook … “Heartbroken, where has my country gone?” … “Terrible. I'm ashamed and embarrassed to be English, and I'm angry and upset” ….  “Feeling gutted, upset and as if living in another country” …. “Cannot believe that Britain has been so *** stupid. Very depressed” … “We had a party here yesterday for our local old friends and they are all very depressed”.  
Two days later in the European soccer championship Iceland faced England and beat them 2:1. I was delighted.  Seeing the England flags and hearing the England supporters singing God Save the Queen turned my stomach. I'm not normally a follower of football; but I know some English people who are, and they had much the same response to the Iceland match as me.  All those I've quoted are English, so far as I know anyway. (I'm stressing English because Scotland voted clearly to remain in the EU, so did Northern Ireland. Wales followed England, why I ask myself.)  

I'm recording all this partly for the benefit of anyone who hasn’t experienced it first-hand, and partly for my own benefit to come back to in years to come.

Something I should like to do and maybe shall in the next few days, is to analyse just why I and so many others feel this way. I've been sucking my pen wondering what to write next. Won't comment on the current political situation in Britain as it's moving too fast.  But one thing does need mentioning, and that’s the reports of racism unleashed by the Brexit vote. 

There's a 6-minute interview worth listening to, from a Canadian radio programme called As it happens.
It's a young British woman named Singh.  She describes racist incidents witnessed in the past few days. The referendum she says, has emboldened people to be racist. They don't feel ashamed to come and hurl this abuse at you like they maybe would have felt before,  they feel they now have a democratic mandate for it. “Go home we voted Leave”.  In a similar vein, here are some reports of racism collected from Twitter over the past few days; all directed against those perceived as being of Muslim heritage - so, absurdly, the racists either don't know or don't care that the referendum was about Europe not Asia or North Africa:-

This evening my daughter left work in Birmingham and saw a group of lads corner a Muslim girl shouting “Get out, we voted leave”. Awful times.

We were accused of bringing sharia law in whilst distributing Remain leaflets yesterday in Southampton

Just arrived at 78% Muslim school. White man stood making victory signs at families walking past. This is the racism we have legitimised.

My 13-year old brother had chants of “bye bye you're going home” at school today. He insisted it was “a joke” but it worries me.

Maybe it's to soon for analysis. Maybe when history comes to be written it will emerge that this spike is post-referendum racism was very localised and short-lived.  I hope so but the signs are not good. There's a Facebook group worth a look called Post Ref Racism.

Linguistic postscript re the word “Brexit”.  Everyone is using it so I've fallen into line, though I resisted it as long as I could.  

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