The Blog

Brexit Has Lifted The Rock On Racism In Britain

Brexit shows that education is important, and history - told in its accurate full - really can help in mending wayward social attitudes. We think this is our country and no-one has a right to come here because we just don't know who else fought for us.

Whether Brexit happens, whether it's smooth or rough, Soft Brexit or Hard Brexit, there will be a sour taste in our mouths long after it is wrapped up. Something has changed in this country, attitudes shifting, divisions cracking open. Or is it that nothing has really changed at all and actually Brexit has just cast light over the darkness, lifted the rock to show us what was hiding there that we tried denying for so long?

A recent Channel 4 clip showed people in Barnsley who had voted Leave expressing their frustration with the slowness of the process, the fact that the immigrants were still here. They ranged from mildly typical British politeness in wishing these immigrants a dignified exit from the country they had made their homes for years, and others just wanting them all to go.

Has this always been Britain? Fearful of immigrants, ferociously sceptical of the benefits produced by immigration? We can say this has been a recent phenomenon, a post-financial crash economic anxiety paralysing the entire country, stirred relentlessly by endless newspaper scaremongering about the illegal immigration invasion that was never coming. The irony in this being when the migrants go, everything could go with them.

But if we are being honest, it hasn't only been for the past few years that we've been afraid to lift the rock and recognise the racism within the country. Brexit legitimised xenophobia, brought the far-right in from the margins to the centre of politics. It has left European migrants feeling unwelcomed and unwanted, stripped of any certainty or security in their own futures. This has been compounded by not only Labour agreeing to end Freedom of Movement but subscribing to the false narrative that migrant labour is used to undermine wages.

But racism as anyone will point out has existed here for decades. Before anger with the EU was even a thing. Back when black people and Asians were being attacked on the streets continuously and places like London felt like they were in the midst of a race war. Even then, like today, immigrants were being told to go home. After all, had the British fought the Nazis only to watch foreigners come and take over?

The xenophobic attitudes and what many British people perceive immigration as doing to their country and culture reveals many things and at the heart of it, is a sad and startling show of ignorance. One where we are proud of the British Empire and the supposed good we think it did. Why are the Indians complaining about genocide, oppression and colonial robbery when we built railways? Why can't the black people just get over the concentration camps and slavery? It's the same ignorance that genuinely believes immigrants take both our jobs and benefits, and drain the public services rather than massively boosting them.

Brexit shows that education is important, and history - told in its accurate full - really can help in mending wayward social attitudes. We think this is our country and no-one has a right to come here because we just don't know who else fought for us. When we speak of World War II we say Britain, as if this tiny island fought against fascism alone. But we don't talk about the struggles and sacrifices of the British Empire, of the African and Indian soldiers who died in their thousands for a foreign land who today tells their children that they're not welcome. We ignore that Europe led a bloody resistance against Hitler long enough for Britain to get ready. Essentially, they fell so we could stand.

The idea of Britain being able to go it alone, disconnected from Europe, erases what really happened. It ignores the sacrifices and contributions made by everyone else. And it helps formulate delusions of grandeur in what we are, and what we can do. Brexit is our Britannia moment, our return to greatness. Ignoring that when we were great it was through the exploits of others, and when we survived against Hitler it wasn't a lone effort.

Perhaps if we were better educated on how history really panned out, then we wouldn't be telling migrants and minorities to go home. Not when their ancestors fought, bled and died alongside ours so that we could still call this a home.