A sad few days

I’m staring at a screen, wondering if there’s a point in even writing this post. Which is fitting, considering how apathy and general mistrust of politics is why we are in this position in the first place.

Let me reiterate, in case you are not up to speed with recent developments: on the 23rd June, the UK held a referendum to determine whether to leave the European Union or not. The Leave camp won with 52% over 48% Stay. The Parliament now has to vote as to whether they will follow through on the people’s decision. David Cameron, the country’s PM, resigned on the morning of the 24th, and stated that it would be up to his successor to implement Article 50 of the European Treaty, thus starting the formal process of the UK leaving the EU.

At the time of this writing, there is still a lot of uncertainty on whether or not the UK would actually leave the EU. There is a petition to launch a second referendum, as less than 75% of the population voted and the margin of winning was so slim. Political analysts describe how an actual leaving of the EU would be a disasterous political move. Reports of “buyer’s remorse” from Leave voters flood my Facebook timeline. A lot of people are calling for “keep calm and carry on” attitudes, cooperation and tolerance…

But at the same time, racist and xenophobic attacks are on the rise. People may have voted to leave the EU because they genuinely want the best for their country, but they have also legitimized the attitudes of a scary faction – one that doesn’t shy away from hurting others.

As an EU citizen in the UK, I have a lot of feelings about this. Right now, it’s near impossible to write objectively about the situation, because all of it – the campaigns, the vote, the follow-up – it feels like a giant kick in the teeth.

“It’s not personal,” said the Leave voters who presumably weren’t racists and xenophobes. “Besides, it’s just a vote, it doesn’t mean anything.”

You’re wrong. It is personal, and it does mean something. It means something to the Polish families who received threats in their mail. It means something to the EU citizens getting harassed on buses and trains. It means something to the British citizens of color who are being stopped on the streets and told to “go home.”

It means something to me, to know that 52% of this country would sit back and let me be harassed, bullied, threatened, assaulted. “Treated as collateral” as Jennie Stevenson put it on Facebook. 52% of this country thinks it’s okay to legitimize the views of racists and xenophobes. 52% of this country rejected me and everyone who is like me. If they saw me being attacked on the street, they walk on and let me fend for myself. How am I supposed to not feel frightened and rejected? How do I not take this personally?

The real icing on the cake is that I, and every other EU citizen that I know living in the UK is here, contributing to the economy in some way or another. My parents paid for me to go to a UK university. I worked for UK firms and organizations, paid taxes, and now I do research that contributes to the wellbeing of UK citizen and makes my UK institution more competitive on its respective market. I don’t claim benefits. I volunteer and fundraise for the NSPCC, and give money to Cancer Research and Unicef every month. To my knowledge, there has never been a time where a British citizen had been passed on for a job in order for me to be hired. The same is true for everyone I’ve ever met – we are not a burden to the system, we just want to exercise our human right to work and live good lives.

And we had no say in the referendum.

We did not get a vote. Our voices were drowned out by racist rhethoric. The leaders of the main political parties never stood up for us – instead, they kept saying how we needed to talk about immigration, discuss immigration, reconsider immigration. Nobody tried to humanize us or dispel the fearmongering myths about us. Nobody addressed the issue head on, even when it was at the heart of the referendum debate.

We cannot say anything now to defend ourselves. We know that 1 in 2 people at least in this country would sit back and let us be abused, or worse, attack us, if we dared complain that we are being treated unjustly.

And yes – I get it why some people voted Leave. We live in scary times and we are all scared. We don’t like the EU and how it’s being run. We have barely crawled out of the recession and now it seems like we’re ready to plunge right back in.

But before you tell me how we all need to “work together” and “stop being negative” and “think about the future”, check your damn privilege for a second. You’re not the ones getting hate mail and being harassed on the street. You’re not the ones who have to reassure your children that you’re not getting deported. You’re not the ones wondering what’s going to happen to your family if the borders close up. You’re not the ones living in fear of what the next day will bring.

It’s been a sad weekend. I cannot yet see the light at the horizon, and I’m tired from navigating my boat in the dark. Don’t deny me the right to pull up my oars and rest. From what I can tell, I’ll be rowing against the tide a lot.


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