I wrote last week that we had sleepwalked into a nightmare. 17,410,742 people have voted to preserve that nightmare, insisting that Britain reject its membership of the European Union. Half of you don’t like us, that’s the bottom line. Racism and xenophobia triumphed.
Had we viewed a Brexit as a legitimate opportunity to advance progressive politics in this country, then I’m confident many of us would have embraced the opportunity. But to do so amidst such a palpably toxic climate would have been reckless, false even. So we opted for the status quo. Those of us who have been on the cutting edge of poisonous sentiment hoped we had enough allies to safeguard against this hideous outcome. Perhaps we were naïve. We certainly did not view the European Union as a gallant defender of our rights and the rights of those most vulnerable, but we understood that the voices of hatred would be amplified and empowered by our exit from it. And now we must persevere amongst the chorus of emboldened nationalists as they imagine a return to thuggish ‘past glories’.
Those pro-Brexit nostalgic nationalists, the 49% of 50-64 year olds and the 58% of voters over 65, have devastatingly minimised freedom of movement of younger generations. The children with whom I work, daughters and sons of Afghanis, Congolese, Iraqis, Poles, Sri Lankans, Somalis and Turks, dynamic and vibrant young BRITISH citizens, will not have the opportunities they deserve. What a terrible loss. Collective punishment for the colour their parent splashed beautifully across our landscape or the lilt of their ‘foreign tongue’, perhaps.
The Vote Leave campaign was built on xenophobic lies. Bigotry was the bait that undoubtedly lured millions of voters in. Vote Leave advocates channelled the terrifying surge of racism that we have endured in recent years towards the polling booths. The significant majority of those campaigning for Britain to remain a member of the European Union were not prepared to counter such bigotry. They were not prepared to wholeheartedly commit to the ideal of free movement. They were not prepared to defend the rights of those fleeing poverty and war. The man leading the doomed campaign, our soon to be ex-Prime Minister, described those survivors as a ‘swarm’. Stronger In advocates shamefully pandered to the right wing and their odious hyperbole. It is precisely this limp pandering that exacerbates the racism that has once again seeped into mainstream political discourse.
Vote Leave posters depicted refugees as a threat to a Britain that supposedly teetered on the brink of implosion, a Britain at ‘breaking point’. Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, ranted that ‘we have lost control of our borders completely as members of the European Union’. Farage’s comments and the fierce obsession with control reiterates the full-blooded racism that nourished the campaign and that was aided and abetted by the press from the BBC to The Sun and Daily Mail. For what is racism but a system of control, of subjugation? He went on to suggest that if voting did not achieve the desirable result, violence could follow. And then Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in an act of terror.
In his stomach churning victory speech this morning, Farage had the audacity to claim that the bigots had won ‘without having to fight, without a single bullet being fired’, effectively washing his hands of the tragedy his wild rhetoric had helped incite.
So now what? How do we navigate the nightmare? The instantaneous economic trauma is going to be felt most acutely by our most vulnerable and we must do all we can to support them. Ironically, it will also cut deeply into certain segments of society so blinded by their prejudices that they act against their own interests. I am angry with them. I am angry with every single one of the 17,410,742 people who cast a vote in favour of racism and xenophobia. And I am scared of the uncertainty that now confronts us. I don’t know what else to say but this – to every other proud child of an immigrant, I’m with you. To our EU migrant communities, I’m with you. To every person that has arrived on our cold shores, fleeing conflict and destruction, I’m with you. In solidarity.
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Robert Kazandjian is an educator and writer. He works with vulnerable children in North London. His writing seeks to challenge inequality, in all its guises. He has previously written for Ceasefire Magazine on racism in Israel, gender politics and hip hop music, and the necessity of Armenian Genocide recognition. He blogs poetry at makemymark.tumblr.com. He cites Douglas Dunn, Pablo Neruda, James Baldwin and Nas as major influences. He tweets from @RKazandjian
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