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It'll Take More Than the #SafetyPin Trend to Make Me Feel Safe Against Brexit-Related Racism

30/06/2016 10:45 | Updated 30 June 2016
Nicholas Rigg via Getty Images

In light of all the after-effects of Brexit, one of the worst has been the increase in racial attacks and hate crime since the vote. A whopping 57%.

It doesn't matter whether you vote Leave, whether you voted Remain, we don't feel safe in our own country.

As an antidote to all the hate spouting out from people who now feel emboldened to take racist views that once would have been confined to their back gardens to a more public place like a bus-stop, someone has come up the idea of wearing a safety pin as a pledge of solidarity.

While I think it's great - amazing, even - that people are protesting en masse against Brexit racism, and are saying it's not okay, this isn't how solidarity works. When I'm sitting on a train and I see your safety pin, I don't think: "Hurrah, now I feel safe."

My default expectation from you as a human being in society is to not be racist or call me a Paki on my morning commute.

Wearing a safety pin just reminds me that I'm not safe, and telling me that you're on 'my side' just reinforces the idea of sides.

I don't want sides. I want to go to work, do my job, go to the pub and not have to wear my race on my sleeve while doing it.

Racists want there to be a Them and Us.

As a person of colour, the thing I hate most is being reminded there is a Them and Us. It makes us feel different. It makes us draw lines, and surely the goal of any enlightened society is inclusivity: the rubbing out of lines rather than reinforcing them with tiny bits of steel.

Don't mistake people finally feeling empowered to write about being racially attacked in light of the referendum vote, as empowerment around anti-racism.

Your bog standard, garden variety racism - which happens in Britain every single day since the first immigrant stepped foot here - isn't tweeted about or Facebooked, because it is deeply shameful and marks you out as different from the rest.

I'm aware that some people have never known what it feels like to be racially abused. So maybe I'll lay out a bit of context.

The words explode from their mouths, the face is triumphant, often gleeful.

Then there is you.

First there is the feeling of deep shame. Fear. Embarrassment. Part of you wishes you could unzip your skin like a suit and put a different one on just to make it stop.

Your face grows hot, you feel like your head is going to explode, you are searching, panicking looking for a way to escape or rewind the moment so this didn't happen. And just when you think your head is about to melt from hotness of all of these emotions happening at the same time, it dwindles into a dense, intense pinpoint of terror.

It's darkness, it's fear, it is all your childhood fears realised. It is powerlessness. It is realising that the thing that makes you you, whether it's your mum's curry, the music your dad listens to, the very colour stitched into your skin, is the thing you are being abused for.

Perhaps it's a consequence of living in a London bubble, but it's probably been about 15 years since I was racially abused, probably about nine years since I was racially profiled and had my bags searched.

Airport security has gotten a little less WTF. I'm under no illusions that racism hasn't disappeared but we are getting better at calling it out when it happens.

Although it is awful that racist attacks have increased, the reassuring difference between racism then and now - like when someone yelled Paki at me from a bus or called me a coloured piece of shit in school - is that social media and the ability to film an attack happening using your phone, is making it a far less safe place for racists.

This is solidarity. Rising up when the situation calls for it, not pre-empting it ahead of time.

I think that racists keep on going unless they are challenged, and if the situation calls for it and I feel safe enough to do so, I will challenge them. So solidarity is that if I need your help, you won't stare ahead and look on, or turn up the volume on your iPhone, you'll step in and help me.

The founder of the #safetypin trend has said that this is meant to be a pledge to intervene, not just token solidarity. But trust me, I don't need a safety pin to tell me whether or not you'll step up.

As a Brit and proud to be so, I like to think I embody some of the values that makes this country great: the ability to laugh at a crap situation, champions of fairness, resilience and supporting the underdog.

It is absolutely an expectation that I have of you too.

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