I'm writing this because on the weekend, I was due to travel to Southend-on-Sea. From reading a story on the types of racist abuse people have experienced since the Leave vote a few days ago, I've found myself terrified of visiting an area that predominantly voted Leave.
I've been to Southend a lot. I know I'm a bit of an anomaly there. I know that it's considerably less diverse than where I live. But whilst I may have been stared at, I may have even been uncomfortable, I've never once felt fear.
Fool that I am, I convinced myself that the Leave vote wasn't about racism. So many Leave voters voted with good intentions, that although I can't fully understand, I can respect. The campaign was loud, it was emphatic. It spoke about our greatness as a nation, about our economy, it spoke about employment and British tradition.
I want to make it clear that I don't for a second believe that all of the Leave voters were voting from a place of hate. Were some of the Leave voters unashamed xenophobes? Absolutely. I am devastated to have to admit to you that two of my relatives, two of my immigrant relatives who weren't born here but have lived here and loved Britain for the longest time, voted Leave. Because they didn't think it was about them. When they spoke about "closing our borders" they didn't realise that they weren't exempt, that hate doesn't work like that. Nobody is going to look at them and say "You've been here for a while, you're not the ones we want rid of."
I am British. When I voted Remain, I wasn't thinking about myself as a British black woman in England encountering any problems. When I cried on Friday morning when I saw the result, I was thinking of people of other nationalities, who deserve to be respected and loved as humans, who add tremendous value to our culture and are being vilified for reasons that make absolutely no coherent sense. My own identity didn't factor into it. I've since very quickly learned that it's complete naiveté to think that racism and xenophobia aren't inextricably linked.
I'm not going to spin you a story about how my multicultural life as a black woman growing up in the home counties was wonderful and only now, as a result of this vote, I've become disillusioned and terrified. The hatred was always bubbling under the surface.
Before now, in what I'm sure I'll come to consider England's glory days, I've had a few people try to convince me my adult years that for the most part, racism doesn't exist. Sure there are some terrifying people in Ukip or the EDL but no one takes them seriously. Normal people aren't racists. What this referendum has shown us in no uncertain terms, is that that's not true and in trying to tell each other it's true, rather than productively addressing the issue, we're doing more harm than good.
Because none of this is new. Not one of these people who has abused strangers since the vote was a rational, kind person before the 23rd June. Lots of people think real racism, or any kind of predjudice is clearly visible, audible, recognisable. But the quiet, insidious hatred filters through everyday life. The trouble is, they've been encouraged by this result and emboldened. Their hatred has gone from a whisper in the comfort of their own living rooms to a roar in the streets.
I feel scared. I feel scared for my younger siblings. I feel scared that hatred is winning over tolerance. I feel scared that half of the people in the country I love so much, voted to Leave, and of that half, enough people made that choice out of prejudice.
I've been carrying around a discomfort, a sense of otherness since the 80s. Since the first time some kid at the park called me a Paki, or asked me if I was burnt, or I was told by my teachers as a four-year-old that I couldn't paint Bible characters as black because "I know you do nice pictures of your family, but these people were white". The idea that people are now feeling empowered by this vote to scream at people like me in the face, telling me to go home when this is the only home I know, is too much to process. Until now, I've never thought I needed to be afraid.
But sadly, hate shouts the loudest. Those who voted out of venom, out of downright callous hatred and ignorance, are the ones who are having their voices heard. Today, I've never been prouder to live and work in Newham, the most diverse borough in London. But I never thought I'd have to be here for my own safety.
But we have voices too. For every single person who is here, who is contributing, who was born here or moved here and loves this country as their home. I'm not saying things aren't horrible. I'm not saying I'm not terrified of what the future holds. I'm saying don't retreat. Be your own, proud self. We'll come out the other side one way or the other, but now more than ever, it's imperative that we do it together.
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