Brexit Britain: A time for national reconciliation

Brexit was a rejection of our political establishment.

Brexit was a rejection of our political establishment. Credit: Pixabay

Long seen as the most tolerant society on Earth the United Kingdom has some work to do.

As I cast my vote to remain at an African-Caribbean Church in Forest Hill I saw two flags standing proudly together that I hadn’t seen at all during the referendum campaign.

At the height of the church nave stood the flags of the United Kingdom and Nigeria. There was not a European flag in sight.

This symbolism reminded me of the too often ignored fact that Britain has a trans-continental relationship far-reaching outside of Brussels that is centuries old.

One of the irrefutable success stories of the European Union is its pacification of a continent that ripped itself apart twice during the 20th century.

Yet alongside this triumphant fact are Europe’s more sinister realities.

Europe is not a post-religious and racial utopia.

Jews repeatedly question their future in France and our nation’s most zealous bigots travel to the mainland to hone and perfect their craft as purveyors of intolerance. Tommy Robinson’s secondment with Pegida’s Islamophobic finishing school in Germany is the most obvious example.

I too, as a mixed-race Briton, have felt deeply uncomfortable on most of my trips to the continent.

Anecdotal microaggressions in the UK mutate into flagrant macroaggressions for non-whites visiting and living in mainland Europe.

Just last summer French teenagers in Barcelona clicked their fingers and whistled at me asking if I sold water and beer as I walked to find my family on the beach.

When I was 15 I travelled to Milan to play in an international football tournament. As a mixed race group of white and black boys from south London we were stunned and hurt as middle class Milanese parents heckled us while their children graffitied the toilets drawing us black players as monkeys with the comment that we should “go back to Africa”.

A few days later we watched in despair as Juventus midfielder Momo Sissoko and the then 17-year-old Inter Milan forward Mario Balotelli were heckled every time they touched the ball at the San Siro.

The rare but saddening experiences of bigotry from my 23 years living in England are small in comparison to the occasional weeks I’ve spent on mainland Europe and frankly felt dehumanised.

These experiences resembled the 1960s Jim Crow Deep South more so than my friend’s Facebook photos of interrailing trips and glossy Erasmus exchange brochures.

The referendum’s verdict represents a nation that is still unsure of its identity.

There is confusion in a country where in the lives of our grandparents the number of foreign born migrants was three per cent in England and Wales – this had risen to 12 per cent by 2011.

Three generations later, London has a Muslim mayor and the main talking point before the Iceland game was the fact that Raheem Sterling was selected to start in spite of his questionable form. Not the fact that there were six players of African-Caribbean descent in the Three Lions starting line-up.

Britain has changed fast. Too fast for some who voted Leave. But not everyone feels that way.

The argument that supporting Brexit automatically makes you a racist is unhelpful, unfair and untrue.

Above all, Brexit was a clarion call for socio-economic justice.

Although a forensic study of the voter data has not been carried out yet it is plausible to suggest Brexit was also an ethnic minority phenomenon.

In areas such as Newham, a borough which is one of the most multicultural in the UK, 47 per cent of residents voted to leave the EU.

The vote to Leave from the strongly Asian towns of Bradford, Oldham and Rochdale and the multi-racial Midlands cities of Birmingham and Wolverhampton strongly suggest that a sizeable minority at least of BAME (British, Black, Asian and minority ethnic) voters chose to leave.

For too long politics has relied on large, socially-constructed categories at the expense of complex and often contradictory individual voter concerns.

While UKIP desperately try to rebrand their intolerance over the coming months their aim to culturally divide Britain must be stopped.

Driven by the laughably fictitious bliss of The Blitz, the party is not too far away from relinquishing its USP to sow more seeds of injustice.

Farage in the past has called for the scrapping of the Race Relations Act, the removal of green subsidies from the Department for Education and Climate Change and the abolition of sex education for primary schoolchildren.

These are regressive steps.

I voted Remain because I was concerned about these facts.

As a member of the US Embassy’s Young Leaders UK group I watched President Obama earlier this year express his concern with a western democratic system where rival groups refused to genuinely engage with each other often hiding in the safety of groupthink.

That type of politics must be put to an end if we are to begin a process of national reconciliation and renewal.

While I was a history student at Cambridge I used to regularly visit my grandmother in St Leonards. A white working class community in the south coast blighted by drug addiction, educational meltdown and cross-generational unemployment.

Teaching now in a multicultural and mixed-class suburb of south London, it is undeniable that the sight of the Shard is more inspiring than the nightmare inducing image of Hastings pier lying burnt in ashes for years.

Tragically the European question has for too long been used to divert attention away from successive central governments’ inability to adopt progressive and preventive policies to tackle the urgent malaises of: unaffordable housing, educational inequality, a health service dangerously close to not being free at the point of use and poor working conditions.

In the era of post-truth and dog-whistle politics only fifteen per cent of the UK’s bills are directly enacted from Brussels.

This critical fact fell on deaf ears.

The current socio-political system is not working for many Britons. The will of the people must be respected. Top down ordering of what the public should think must stop.

But all certainly is not lost.

Retaining some of the benefits of the single market and limiting European scorn is not impossible. Brexit Britain also can look towards Asia and Africa, bubbling hubs of enterprise and soon to be the world’s indomitable social, political and economic influencers.

The victims of Westminster-centred politics have spoken.

Politicians would be wise to listen.

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