Since the EU referendum there has been a documented increase in hate crime and xenophobia in the UK. This disturbing pattern is unfolding across Europe and North America, and the upcoming general election might just be our opportunity to reverse the trend here in Britain.
The increased hostility is not something that can be reduced to a few hate crime stats; it's something palpable that people across the country are feeling every day. We have documented testimonies of unapologetic, bold racism; and we ourselves have seen our lives change in the course of the last year. Our friends and family have been told to "go home" and "pack their bags"; perhaps yours have too. Two weeks ago a 17-year-old Iranian asylum seeker was beaten to within an inch of his life in Croydon, and just yesterday two Latvian men were viciously attacked in Coalisland. For many Brits this is the first time in their lives that they feel unsafe on the streets of their own country.
The normalisation of xenophobia in our political discourse and media is having a real impact on the lives of real people. If you value equality, respect and human dignity, then this election is the time for you to step up. Your vote is your pledge - your pledge to stand against the bigotry that is being mainstreamed in our politics and public spaces.
Here are five ways that you can directly challenge xenophobia in the course of this general election:
1. Call it out.
Call out bigotry. Say something, do something, vote with your feet; but do not just pretend it's not happening. There will be times when an individual is not even aware of the implications of their words or actions; not everyone has the lived experience of understanding the less obvious forms of racism and xenophobia. Get creative with ways to call them out - remember that these smaller forms of racism create the culture that enables more serious incidents such as hate crimes to occur.
2. Talk about bigotry. Talk about racism.
If you are living in an area where there is little ethnic diversity - start conversations with your friends and family on the issues around bigotry. Be aware that even if someone seems unreceptive during a discussion, often they will later reflect and privately adjust their opinion. It is not easy- we all have family members with views that we may find difficult to digest, or even abhorrent. Find a way to challenge these views that doesn't exhaust you.
3. Consume media and politics critically.
Recognize xenophobic rhetoric, understand why it is so damaging, and challenge the narrative. Words really do matter. Portraying migrants as a "flood", or refugees as "terrorists", dehumanizes them and misrepresents them as an existential threat to our society. Anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric among politicians in the UK has emboldened people to carry out racist attacks. Even the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance have made appeals to the government to clean up their speech.
If you're angry about your MP's use of language - let them know. Call them, email them, heck, even tweet them. Let them know that their constituents will not tolerate fear-mongering and scapegoating.
Get busy. This is our country. Ain't nobody coming to rescue us. We have a voice, so let's use it. Find out about the election process. If you want to stand as a candidate - do it! We need a democracy that represents our diversity now more than ever.
Absolutely no excuses. Go and vote. And get your friends and family to vote too. But at the same time realise that this a marathon, not a sprint. After voting be sure to continue your efforts to raise your own consciousness. In other words, stay woke!
You can be damn sure that we too will be doing our part. Post Ref Racism and the Everyday Bigotry Project are partnering to put combatting xenophobia firmly on the agenda for all political parties. We're going to make sure they know what's at stake, and advocate for policy that can heal the division in our society. We want you to help us hold them to account.
The politics of fear should have no place in our country. As we gear up to face this general election, we must stand together and demand zero-tolerance to bigotry and show solidarity with marginalised people.
Shaista Aziz is founder of the Everyday Bigotry Project
Karissa Singh is founder of Post Ref Racism