Racism After Brexit Is 'Celebratory' And 'Englishness' Is Becoming Exclusively White And Christian, Says Expert

The country has become 'more racist in terms of its public culture'.

02/07/2016 21:11 | Updated 03 July 2016

The UK is seeing a surge of "celebratory racism" after the vote to leave the European Union, as some white Brits feel they have "finally got something," one expert has said.

The result has encouraged a new kind of hostility towards "anyone who is different", as the idea of ‘Englishness’ becomes exclusively white and Christian, according to Dr Paul Bagguley, from the Centre of Ethnicity and Racism Studies at Leeds University.

Reported hate crimes have increased four-fold since the UK voted to leave, with 300 incidents in one week compared to an average of 63.

Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, Bagguley said the leadership crisis in both the Conservative and Labour parties had added to a feeling of lawlessness in which people do things they "frankly wouldn’t do" normally.

Daniel Watson
There has been a spike in anti-immigrant abuse

“The exit campaign won and there’s a generalised sense of crisis since then,” he said. “There’s no common sense of political leadership in the country at the moment.

"I think that’s given people a sense at which they can express racist ideas and do things they frankly wouldn’t do. It legitimizes people saying things that normally they might keep private, or just between friends and people they trusted.”

A similar effect has been seen after terrorist attacks like the 7/7 bombings, which saw a spike in anti-Muslim hate crime, Bagguley explained, but the current wave of attacks and abuse has “some important differences”.

“Whereas in the past, it’s been [directed towards] specific groups, for specific reasons, at the moment [it’s] hostility towards anyone who’s different."

Referencing the American man who was abused on a tram in Manchester after the vote, Bagguley observed: "It seems to be anybody who is different, anybody with a different accent, anybody from a different country, anybody who has a different religion … it’s very general kind of xenophobia.

“I don’t think we’ve quite seen that before. I think this is more a kind of celebratory racism. As if it’s in celebration that white England has finally got something.”

He said the racist abuse didn't seem to have a specific purpose. “I don’t think it’s instrumental in achieving something, I think it’s more expressive. It’s about expressing the dominance that perhaps they felt in relation to their grievances about the European Union.

"They felt marginalised and that their grievances haven’t been addressed, and then finally, here comes something which addresses their grievances and they want to celebrate it.

Bagguley was concerned that many of the racist attacks don't appear to have been spontaneous. “There have been semi-organised attacks, [such as] on the Polish community centre in London and a Halal meat shop in the West Midlands. It’s not just a knee-jerk reaction in the streets, there’s also a degree of planning behind some of this.”

Bloomberg via Getty Images
The British union flag near Big Ben

While he said British people's views are no more racist than they were a year ago, but that he does think the country has become "more racist in terms of its public culture, and what people are seeing and hearing on the streets.”

He claimed the recent attacks were the product of a growing acceptance of racism over the last decade.

“What I’ve seen in the last 10-15 years is a sort of glacial shift in what’s acceptable to say in public. There’s a general sense in public discussion and discourse that people are more willing to be critical of things like multiculturalism. Some of that is based on crude stereotypes. It’s almost like a ratchet effect."

Polling data showed a particular shift in the mentality of some English people, including a “shift from Britishness to Englishness", Bagguley said.

Findings from Lord Ashcroft show that the identity of 'Englishness' is almost only now expressed by white Christians, whereas a much broader range of people see themselves as 'British'.

"The majority of ethnic minorities [and] the majority of minority religions say they're British, but they wouldn’t say they were English. A shift has happened at the level of national identity, that has given Englishness a kind of white racialised meaning to a lot of people, I think.”

Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Remain supporters have been campaigning since the result

"There seems to be now a very kind of narrow, white ‘English’ identity that excludes everyone else, whereas Britishness is more inclusive.”

"Recent migrants have been quite shocked by this," he added. "It may give them second thoughts about settling in the UK. It might have an impact on where people choose to settle."

In comparison, longer-established ethnic minority groups such as those from India, Pakistan and the Caribbean may be less shocked at the abuse as "some of [them] will remember the 1970s and 80s and some of the things that went on then."

Bagguley said that recent migrants may now be "less trusting of white English people" in an effect that could mark “All those every day interactions".

"Until they really get to know somebody, they might be a little bit cautious in interacting with them."

Ryoko Uyama via Getty Images
Hate crime against Muslims - particularly women - rose by 200% in 2015 according to Tell Mama

He feels that those who oppose immigration were likely to find they would have little to celebrate after Brexit.

“When you look at it in terms of immigration policy, demand for labour, or needing people to do certain kind of jobs, there will still be some level of inward migration.”

If those 'celebrating' are disappointed by the results if Britain leave the EU, that could prompt a rise in support for far right organisations, Bagguley said, even though groups like the British National Party have all but disbanded.

"It’s possible that there could be a resurgeance of a right wing part of some kinds, in an attempt to mobilise those voters."

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
The BNP, previously led by Nick Griffin, centre, has weakened considerably in the UK

"Though Ukip’s certainly not equivalent to the BNP, some of the electoral support for groups like the BNP probably shifted to Ukip. You have to think, where will they go next?”

The difference in voting in Scotland and London - which both voted to remain while the rest of the country voted to leave - points towards a "general fracturing of the UK," Bagguley said, adding that Wales' vote to leave was more likely linked to the state of the Welsh economy rather than a shift in national identity.

He said there were some grounds for optimism because the current abuse should “tone down” and can't rise indefinitely.

He praised the public backlash against racism, which has been seen in gestures like people wearing a safety pin to signify they will support immigrants who are threatened. Bagguley added: "Already we see David Cameron talking about providing more support to the police and others dealing with hate crime – so there is a sense in which there is an official response that has actually been surprisingly swift.”

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