Last month I was walking down to my local Sainsbury's supermarket with my two babies and as I came out of the store I suddenly heard shouting. "PAKI! PAKI!" A couple of kids were sat on the wall in front of the store and at first I was confused at who they were aiming it at as everyone around me was definitely white, until the realisation came that they were shouting at me. After seeing they had caught my attention they carried on shouting racist football chants down the road as I quickly scurried away, hot and red faced from humiliation. I was mortified. Not only because it was the first time in my life (and the 17 years of living in Midsomer Norton) that I had ever been confronted by racial abuse, but because it was in front of my children who had been subjected to listening to that vile language.
I had put it down to a one off until today, when I had someone push past me and mutter "You'll soon be gone". I don't look hugely Asian; I'm half Sri Lankan, half English. I'm proud of both sides of my heritage and although I'm aware I don't look completely English with my dark hair and olive (I'd say yellow) skin, I don't think I look completely foreign either. But that's not the point is it? Why really does any of that matter?
This xenophobic undertone that has been stirring in Britain has suddenly been given a voice since Brexit. A voice that bellows out amongst the people, so frequent that it's become white noise; you know it's there but it's the norm now so no one does anything about it. And it's in between Brexit and these horrific incidents I experienced, that I've started to fall out of love with my country.
I owe a lot to the UK. It's NHS has saved my life, it's welfare state supported me when I had cancer, it's student loans have educated me and opened my mind. But on the 23rd June 2014 it was like a relationship that had gone sour; the bit where you bitch and moan at everything the other does, waiting for them to tip you over the edge so you can finally cut the cord. I'd been thinking it for a while but it wasn't until Mike also suddenly said that he seriously wanted to move country and has been wanting tothat I realised that for the short term at least, Britain wasn't where our future was.
I was a 'Remainer' for many reasons that I won't go into, mainly because now it seems fruitless. But I thought, as I do now, that leaving the EU would seriously affect my children's lives and the opportunities they could have. Already it has affected mine; I was taking a break from my PhD to raise my little ones and now when I go back I have no chance of getting research funding because it came from the EU.
I also felt that a vote for 'out' was a vote essentially for the likes of Farage and UKIP. No way am I saying those who voted out are xenophobic or racist. But many of the key public figures who ran the campaign are; that advert with Farage next to a sea of immigrants was like something out of 1945. Coupled with media outlets like the Daily Mail and The Sun (great British literature...!) who consistently spew out hateful but sensational rhetoric about immigrants and foreigners and then print their retractions of their lies in teeny tiny sections where no one will ever read it, it's not unforeseeable how the tone of xenophobia and racism has spread throughout our country. For me, the murder of Jo Cox was a huge wake up call to how serious this has got.
The EU, leaving the economics aside, promoted so many social aspects of our lives; human rights, employment rights, equality rights, gender rights and LGBT rights. These are issues that are already lower on the agenda than they should be and without a third party to actively push them, I fear that they will slip even further down. Do I trust these precious rights that so many have fought for with the sole likes of Farage or Gove et al? Not at all. Especially when you have the likes of MPs such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is my local MP, consistently voting against gay marriage.
It may seem drastic to some to move country entirely. It may even seem cowardly to 'bail' on a country that has given so much over the years. But sometimes a break up should come when a relationship is no longer helping you grow as a person. And unfortunately, I don't think the UK is an environment that will help my children grow up as stable and tolerant people as long as their mother is getting racial abuse shouted at her.
Besides, Mike and I were planning to travel with the kids and the countries we are looking to move to have free education so I can finish my PhD. So in a way this is quite fitting.
I'll leave with the rather beautiful meme I saw on Twitter last week. (I can credit it as I don't know who made it!). It sums up exactly how I've been feeling.
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