I was one of many who were surprised (to put it mildly) by the Brexit. However, we need to move beyond the initial reaction of shock, disappointment, anger, frustration and even shame. We also have to resist the urge to brand those who voted to leave as just a bunch of closet racists, Little Englanders and right-wingers. While undoubtedly there maybe elements of that, but would caution against simplistic generalizations of 17 million people who chose to leave. I would not frame Brexit as the triumph of hate (and fear) over love, reason, globalization and the enlightened liberal left. Doing so blinds us from understanding the realities of living in the same country but fundamentally having radically different experiences. It sets us up for further “surprises” in the future.
Some rightly worry about what will now happen to the economy, our research funds, student finance, interest rates, mortgages, stock markets, investments, pension pots, holidays and our foreign friends and colleagues. However, majority of the working class, who overwhelmingly voted to leave, inhabit a very different world. In most cases, the only funds they care about are to do with affording basic things and a basic standard of living. Mortgage is a distant dream when you live in derelict houses on council estates or hard-pressed neighbourhoods. The “economy recovery” has not trickled down and they have seen their minimum wages not kept pace with inflation for almost a decade. Now, this is not to suggest it is all the government’s or EU’s or immigrants’ fault. Nevertheless, Britain remains one of the most socially unequal countries in Europe. It has the lowest social mobility in the developed world – the European capital of inequality.
Further, disparaging those who feel demeaned, ignored and alienated is hardly progressive. Believing we are so right in our own worldviews that we are unable to understand others’ is, in itself, at the very least, unreasonable and at worst, a form of extremism. For better understanding, we need to deliberately reach out beyond our circles of friends, colleagues, the left-wing media, the South-East and London. This will be crucial in answering questions such as why some feel that the status quo benefited others not them, why things cannot get any worse and that they have nothing to lose and an uncertain future is better than the current realities? We may never agree nor find their feelings and reasons credible. However, we will understand and that can make a huge difference. Perhaps we may find that Brexit was not so much about EU’s membership but the rejection of political class, regional politics and the reflection of the kind of the society that we have now become.
Thus, to those of us who are immigrants and of ‘foreign’ origins, let us not take Brexit vote too personal. Maybe it is not even about us. Maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe we can use this as an opportunity to be more cognizant of the world around us. Maybe there are other ways that we can constructively and positively engage with the communities we live in beyond working hard and paying our taxes. Maybe we will be able to see what they see and feel what they feel. Maybe we wouldn’t be too surprised then. More importantly, maybe we will prevent other potential surprises. In my biased view and from my own limited experience of other parts of Europe, the UK remains one of the most tolerant and ethnically integrated countries in Europe. I believe my other European friends will attest to this. Let us not miss this teachable moment. A more equitable society is good for the cohesion of society, democracy and the security of the nation as a whole.
Stay tuned for my next blog article on what Brexit may mean for Africa and the Commonwealth including Africans in the UK..