On the 23rd of June (just in case you’ve been living under a rock) the UK, or 52% of it anyway, decided to up sticks and leave the EU.
The Brexit, if you must.
The event itself is no longer news of course, nor, after weeks of social media meltdown and the meme-ification of politics, is it very interesting to me any more. In fact, I got so tired of arguing about it on Facebook (yes, this is ME we’re talking about, here) that I couldn’t even be bothered to write a blog post about it.
As for analysing the tedious process of lying, spinning, vilifying, bribing, begging, blackmailing and bullshitting that passed for campaign rhetoric is concerned, I’ll leave that to the panel show comedians, the journalists and the more erudite writers, such as the lovely Mr Adam Pain, who wrote this excellent post on the subject at the weekend.
No, I’m more interested in a phenomenon a little closer to home, one which stems from the worrying but sadly not unexpected increase in the belief that the sort of casual, lazy racism that has been bubbling under the slimy surface of UK politics since long before Nasty Nigel quaffed his first pint for the cameras, is now perfectly legitimate because “the people have spoken, deal with it!” as I was charmingly informed on one Facebook comments thread, the day after we apparently became Great again.
Because, you see, I married an immigrant.
Wait, come back! No, it’s ok, she’s…well, she’s the good kind.
Before you write and complain, let me explain.
Rhonda is American, I’m pretty sure most of you have picked that up by now. She hails from Michigan and still has a strong accent, (the good kind) having been in the country less than two years. And ever since her visa came through, she’s had that most English of jobs, working in a fish and chip shop.
For the first few weeks that she worked there, clearly a novelty in hardly-cosmopolitan, rural Devon, Rhonda fielded a great many enquiries from punters, mostly along the lines of; “We went on holiday to America, have you been to Disneyland?” or “Now that’s not a Devon accent, not from round here, are you?” These slowly morphed into more specific questions, as regular customers got to know the nice smiley American lady behind the counter, such as; “So, what about that Donald Trump, then?”, as if she alone was capable of deciphering the rabid drivellings of a shriveled, narcissistic raffia-topped satsuma, simply due to being born on the same continent.
But apparently the shop counter small talk has taken a change for the unsavory in the last couple of weeks, since the very next day after the referendum, in fact.
Suddenly, a few casual comments about the result of the vote could turn to; “Yeah, we finally get to send all those bloody immigrants back where they came from…” followed every time by a slowly dawning look of horror on the face of the outspoken punter, and some hurried variation on; “Oh, I don’t mean YOU, of course, I’m talking about THEM, you know, the foreign ones.”
Now, please don’t think that I’m defending any person’s right against that of another, to come to the UK legally and make it their home, by contributing to society and enriching it with their own cultural values, it is what made us “Great” in the first place, after all.
And obviously (I hope) I’m not a closet racist with some sort of inferiority complex and secret, directionless rage issues.
But this is what I don’t understand; how is my lovely wife, who never has a bad word to say about anyone, any different from the charming Polish bloke at work, who also seems to see the best in everyone, no matter how ignorant they are? Why is she not tarred with the same “bloody foreigners coming over here stealing jobs from honest British fish and chip shop workers” brush as she undoubtedly would be by some, had she been sporting a neatly wrapped hijab, instead of a smart baseball cap?
Because she’s white, she’s from a country which has English as its first language (yeah, I know, but just go with it, ok?) and she has most of the same cultural and social points of reference as “we” do, that’s why.
I’ve had similar conversations, myself, the sort that include phrases like “fucking yanks, think they know it all…” or.“bloody immigrants, just want to come here and scrounge on our benefits” and rapidly stutter to a halt when I say something like, “Actually, my wife never claims to know it all, and she’s an immigrant, from America. And she got a job as soon as the fiendishly complicated and inhuman visa process allowed her to.”
“Ah” they say, usually with a knowing, wink wink, nudge nudge expression, “but if it had been one of them (insert toe-curling racist epithet here) they’d have got in with no problem at all, you mark my words.” Indeed I will, I will mark them “ignorant bollocks” and ignore them with the contempt they deserve.
Well, maybe not that exact conversation, but you get the idea.
It seems that these subliminal racial hints and in-built preconceptions make Rhonda somehow less foreign than them, at least to the sort of person who instantly equates other, more foreign sounding or, dare I say it, more brown-looking people with “immigrant”, which as a word, is being increasingly used as an insult and, as a demographic, is more and more being seen as a threat to “the British way of life”, whatever that is.
And yet, by the very definition of the word, Rhonda is an immigrant, just as much as my Polish mate at work and the nice lady who works at our local Chinese takeaway are immigrants. Useful, hard working, tax paying and as valuable to society as anyone else who is fortunate enough to call this peaceful country, unravaged by wars, famine or tyranny, home.
The fact that the Brexitastrophe has in some way helped to unmask the petty fears and prejudices of so many people in this, the country I have always been happy to call my home, makes me feel rather ashamed, especially when my wife comes home and tells me she was “disgusted” by some of the comments she heard in the days immediately after the referendum.
So, if you really are that convinced that all immigrants should be sent back to where they came from, or be subject to whatever private version of the final solution has been festering in your head, until the rise of proto-fascist snake oil salesmen like Nicotine Nige and Orange Donnie came along and gave you permission to voice your odious opinions with pride, then please, either have the courage of your convictions and stand by what you say, or, and this is the important part, so pay attention; piss off and go and talk to someone else.
Thank you for your attention.