“I just want to pack up and leave”.
You’re probably familiar with this sentiment by now, and I am sure someone in your life has said that to you in the past 10 months.
That’s quite possibly because, here in the UK, we are not only facing one of the highest covid-related death tolls in the world and a mutant strain of the virus, but Brexit – and its many implications.
Unsurprisingly, this potent combination has left some of us worried about our future in the UK, and whether things could possibly be better elsewhere.
I’m a British Muslim woman of Pakistani origin, and I know I’m not the only one thinking about leaving for pastures new.
Against the backdrop of a global pandemic and Brexit was a short summer where race appeared to matter. Yet, while we finally opened a national conversation about racism and xenophobia, discrimination, inequality and a lack of diversity, the virus hit Black and Brown communities disproportionately – an ironic reality. Now, months later, the conversations seem to have taken a backseat, while minorities continue to pay a heavy price just for existing in the UK.
Maybe being an outsider in a country that is not your home would be an easier existence than this.
It’s hard for Black and Brown Brits to detach race from their lived experience of this pandemic when so much of it is related to it. Feeling othered and alienated in day-to-day life is hard enough as it is – but it’s only exacerbated by the additional worries so many of us are facing, such as homeschooling children, or experiencing endless lockdowns in isolation.
What’s more, in Brexit-Covid Britain, unemployment is set to spiral upwards this year, especially once the furlough scheme ends in April. Redundancies reached a record high in August to October 2020, according to the ONS, and this was before the latest round of coronavirus restrictions.
In short, the economic impact of our Brexit-Covid present is going to be long lasting. And as the theory goes: there is a general rise in racism and xenophobia when people face an economic recession, and resources and jobs are limited.
If you were listening to any of the conversations this past summer you may have heard that discrimination and racism can also show themselves in indirect, unconscious ways. It’s a pretty grim reality for all of us right now. But non-white communities are dealing with an additional layer of difficulty.
This indeed brings about further worries for people such as myself, having recently been made redundant. I am now looking for work in a shrinking job market, meaning I may just have to work even harder than the already infamous “10 times harder” just to get my foot in the door.
I struggled to find work that matched my experience and background pre-pandemic – how are things going to be now?
In 2016, the Women and Equalities Committee revealed that Muslim women are three times as likely to be unemployed and looking for a job than women generally.
Recently, researchers found that hiring discrimination in the UK labour market is as prevalent as ever. They concluded that discrimination can exist even when applicants from white and non-white backgrounds have a similar educational and employment background. They argue that ethnic minorities are less likely to find “good work” in comparison to their white British counterparts, even if they are born and raised in the UK.
In short, their research highlights the link between discrimination at the point of hire, and the “overall lower probability of finding work.” This fundamentally means the odds are stacked against those from non-white communities. And things are only set to get worse as the economy shrinks, businesses shut down and redundancies rise.
Job hunting in this environment means that looking for work isn’t just about my experience and what I can bring to the job. Building my career, and fundamentally being able to keep a roof over my head is ultimately linked to things like: does the dominant culture like me enough? Can I fit in? Will they talk about skiing? Does anyone have time or money to care about diversity? And why do I even need to think about diversity when looking for work? Does my CV not speak for itself or am I only the equivalent to my white counterpart who is a decade younger?
Is it really about “having the right experience” or about being the “right fit”?
Granted, the grass is not always greener on the other side. Some may even argue if I feel this way, the solution may just be to “go back to where I came from.” But, being born and raised in the UK means you don’t really have a “home” to return to.
Instead, maybe being an outsider in a country that is not your home would be an easier existence than this.
We had similar conversations in 2016 after the EU referendum, so the idea of non-white individuals considering lives abroad as a direct result of socio-political issues isn’t new.
What’s different this time is that nearly 100,000 people have died of coronavirus at present – with BAME people disproportionately affected – and this is happening as Brexit is only just starting to expose its true consequences.
Opportunities are limited, and the economic forecast is bleak. If we do not value our non-white communities, at some point we may begin to see a brain drain, and vital skills and contributions leaving this country with people like me.
Nabeela Zahir is a freelance journalist.