I have been aware of the phenomenal rise of UKIP over the past few years, but in a very abstract and theoretical sense. I know the statistics, the popularity gains and the opinion polls that show that increasing numbers of the population are convinced by UKIP's scaremongering. It wasn't until I experienced the product of UKIP's propaganda that I really understood the problem.
Yesterday I went to my Residents' Association AGM. They're usually a dull affair consisting of a handful of pro-active residents going through the motions and little else. But this year we were promptly informed about a local problem that sparked vehement opposition among all residents, and the meeting room was full to burst.
With a room full of people so invested in the timing of the traffic light crossing, it was all a bit hilarious. It was all a bit hilarious, until, that is, a local councillor mentioned a potential new housing development, and a shout came from the crowd "FOR IMMIGRANTS!"
It came out of nowhere, and it made me feel a bit uncomfortable, but I rolled my eyes and shook it off. Unfortunately, the gentleman's contribution didn't stop there. When the debate was opened to the floor, I experienced what I subsequently realised was my first real up close and personal experience of hate-filled racism.
He complained that local people were being pushed out of the existing houses, and plans were in motion to build more houses. And what could be the purpose of this new housing? Well, apparently, it's "FOR THE IMMIGRANTS. LOCAL PEOPLE LIKE ME ARE BEING KICKED OUT OF OUR HOMES TO MAKE ROOM FOR IMMIGRANTS."
In the several hours that passed that outburst, I developed an intense anger. But you know what my first reaction was, my initial response to being confronted by a large, stocky, bald man with distasteful tattoos, wearing a beater and yelling about immigration? I felt intimidated, and I felt upset.
I was sitting at the time with my clearly immigrant family, their dark skin offending his precious local community with its dark and invasive presence. And I was upset. I was upset that in a room full of pleasant residents that we get on with daily, no one said a word. I was upset that the chairman, also a non-white resident, had to stand in front of a crowd of predominantly white faces and look uncomfortable. I was upset that the most the community in which my family has made its home could muster was a sigh and the odd 'tut tut'.
Because that kind of racism, that kind of flagrant, hate-filled aggression, the kind that blames a new housing development on the very existence of people who are not white, needs to be stamped out. It needs to be confronted and called out for what it is: racist, and more importantly, completely inaccurate. That gentleman shouldn't be allowed to sit in a room full of people and spout his racist hate. We should live in a country where people are so ashamed to hold such views, that they keep them inside and burst them out when they get drunk at family occasions, like your grandpa at Christmas.
But we don't, as a direct result of the rise of UKIP. With their misleading rhetoric which blames much of the country's ills on a "foreign other", and with the mainstream parties either unable or unwilling to tackle this beast head on, such views have become normalised. Such views have become acceptable asides to local democratic processes. Such views have been made legitimate and unchallenged.
These views aren't legitimate. This country is facing serious problems, but not a single one of them can rightly be blamed on immigration, or immigrants. I myself have been guilty of dismissing UKIP, I've done my fair share of eye-rolling at its supporters but for the first time that evening I was confronted by its brainchild and I was intimidated, and I was upset. And for the first time, I realised that for the sake of good and honest people who are unfortunate enough to experience this intimidation every single day, it is time for something to be done.