Growing up I would sometimes hear my parents talking about what to do if we were ever asked to leave the UK. They were immigrants who came cross in the 1960's. My dad owned a shop selling baby goods and pushchairs and my mum was primarily a housewife but helped him in the shop , both were university graduates from Pakistan.
They were well liked by all members of the community and worked hard to give me and my brother an education. Therefore I could never understand why they had this fear and brushed off their repeated requests for me to get a Pakistan identity card 'in case we are told to leave' because 'they will never accept us'.
That is until now.
Hearing the term 'Paki' that hasn't been used in decades has not only thrown this country back to the 1970's but it has made me realise why my parents had the fears they did, because many of my friends are experiencing the same. 'Update your CV'' or 'We need to start looking at other countries to move to' have become common conversations on WhatsApp threads as more and more stories of xenophobia appear on social media and the targets appear not to be the usual 'orthodox' looking Muslims but even those who consider themselves 'moderates'.
I understand many that voted Leave will have done so as a protest vote to voice concerns against the government and austerity measures. I know many felt they were doing the right thing for the economy and others fell for the lies being peddled as promises such as funding for the NHS or a control on number crossing the border etc. However there were some who voted Leave because they were racist and the xenophobic campaign appealed to them. I don't believe everyone who voted leave are racist but I do feel that those who were racist did.
Brexit has legitimised and normalised racism. It has brought many 'closet' racists out of hiding and given confidence to the far right to 'claim back our country' under the guise of 'national sovereignty'.
Islamophobia rose by 326% in 2015 (tell MAMA) yet it took attacks against Polish communities and others in these last few days for hate crime to be taken seriously, even Amnesty International have launched an urgent campaign. Only now that it has become a wider societal issue, I wonder whether people appreciate what it has been like to be a Muslim in Britain for many over the past few years.
Listening to David Cameron condemning a 57% increase in hate crime following Brexit seems insincere. Only recently he described migrants as a 'swarm' and has allowed far right media to denigrate and propagate hate towards migrants. The Tory party Mayoral campaign was scaremongering, divisive and Islamophobic so is it any surprise that the chickens have come home to roost?
I'm am, however, surprised at the paranoia I feel every time I meet someone and silently question whether they harbour any racist tendencies towards me. Clearly it appears I'm not alone as many others feel the same and are looking for reassurance even if it is through a symbolic safety pin attached to an item of clothing. What is upsetting though is that we are currently living in a society where one has to show they aren't racist, being decent isn't enough at the moment.
My parents were immigrants here and felt like they didn't have the right to speak out. I feel ashamed to be British but I used to be proud of a country that allowed diversity and once made me feel safe to practice my religion. At the moment I feel like I don't belong despite the fact I'm probably more Mancunian than those who throw the insults of 'Paki' and 'go back to your own country'.
Should I think about leaving ? For me the answer is no. I won't leave because this is my home and I am confident this rise in hatred can be tackled, so to all those who say 'leave if you don't like it' I'm here to stay.
The difference between the racism in the 70's and now is that is this is not the 1970's anymore and now hate crime or offensive language won't be tolerated. It can be reported and swift action can be taken as was demonstrated by Greater Manchester Police yesterday following the incident of hate on the tram towards an American lecturer. We need to ensure all incidents are reported and prosecuted. We need to hold the media and government to account when hatred is propagated. Only then can we work on tackling this problem together and children like mine have any hope of a safe future in the country they know as home.
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