May your choices reflect your hopes. Not your fear. -Nelson Mandela.
Never have these words rang more true in the world we live in today. As I write this, two days after the referendum, I am angry and disappointed and afraid. Angry that the old took away the future of the young. Disappointed that a place I have called home for most of my life chose to let hate win. Afraid because everything is uncertain. In the wake of Brexit a nation must now answer the question- how on earth did hate, fear, racism, xenophobia, win over common sense and compassion? This was a campaign based on lies, political ambition and a nation became a pun to serve such ambitions. Ambitions of fools and buffoons, cowards and clowns. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage and their cohorts- the den of thieves and house of liars.
I went to bed on Thursday night, June 23rd, confident that by Friday morning this nightmare train we have been stuck on for a long time will come to a stop and we will once and for all stop talking about this contemptuous relationship Britain has with the E.U., and move on to negotiating a better deal with them. I was confident it would be close, something in the region of 51-49 in favour of remaining in the E.U., I was so confident I didn’t for one minute, one second, entertain a thought that madness would win over common sense. For weeks, months even, my friends and I talked about the referendum, debated the pros and cons of Britain’s membership in the E.U. and out of it- what it means and how it affects the common folk like us. As students of International Relations we are knowledgeable to a degree about this relationship and understand that it is by no means perfect, but you know that saying, no man is an island, in the same vein, in the world of today, no nation can stand alone. Not in the tense climate we are in today. To that extent, being a member of the E.U. had its benefits for Britain- trade, free movement of persons and labour- Brits were able to live and work abroad as were other Europeans in Britain, shared belief in compassion, shared responsibility for humanity and security. It was far from perfect but we were better of IN.
What the actual fuck have we done?
I have had this headache for two days now, it is to one side of my head and it precipitates my migraine, but instead of the full blown migraine its that throbbing ache I have had since the new broke. My sister burst into my bedroom to deliver the grim news at 5:30am- “they have chosen to leave” she said, in utter disbelief and shock. “FUCK! FUCK!!” I screamed. I couldn’t believe it. What the fuck happened? I switched on the TV and watched horrified by the breaking news- Britain has voted to leave the E.U. Almost immediately messages came flooding through to my phone from friends and family, “what the fuck happened?! That was the tone of our day. Same question I have asked myself over and over, and have asked myself since, hoping by some fluke we can overturn this decision, that somewhere out there is a solution. But seriously, what the actual fuck have we done?
I grew up in an era of the Apartheid in South Africa, down the road in Nigeria. Uncertainty is a familiar feeling. I knew about the conditions that put Nelson Mandela in jail for 27 years, a regime not dissimilar to Hitler’s, that imprisoned blacks of South Africa, took their lands, raped their women, killed their children, stole their inheritance. Immigrants who lived as kings in another man’s land. When he was released from jail the world rejoiced. I remember every moment and feeling like this was also a personal victory, especially living in politically uncertain times. It gave hope to many, far and wide. It restored faith in humanity. Shortly after his release from prison I left Nigeria for the last time to Britain, given the chance to explore different cultures, meet new people, experience life different to what we were used to. Diversity- the way the world is and will always be. At the back of my mind however, I knew that diversity was too bitter a pill for a few to swallow, the future Leave voters I would imagined they were at the time, they don’t want to taint their landscape of perfection with what they deem unacceptable to their white palettes- blacks, brown, Jamaican, African, Asian etc. Nothing that doesn’t look or sound like them. Yet, today, I am surprised. And shocked. And angry. And disgusted at the way in which this prejudices have been confirmed without a shred of doubt. This is what we have become- a society governed by fear, ruled by prejudice, and living in hate.
I was eighteen years old when I settled in the UK, my parents decided they’d had enough of the unsettlement in Nigeria, and thought it was for the better. A better life, better prospects, better opportunities, a better future. Life in a new country was daunting enough but there was something about Britain that made it feel less like a strange place, and in time, more like home. Yes there was racism, and Stephen Lawrence had just happened at the time, but ultimately, this was a society that opened its arms to people like me. Tony Blair the Great British hope had just charmed the nation and won the elections, we were caught up in the hysteria of his win, romanticised by his words that made us see no barriers. It gave people from other foreign lands who came to settle, just like me, hope for a better future. Voting on Thursday, my choice was a no-brainer, REMAIN. If only for the simple fact that I wanted other migrants to have the opportunity for a better world because I had been afforded that and to deny anyone a chance at a better life would be unthinkable- nobody flees home unless home is in the eye of a wild fire, if the world were as it should be we would all mind our corners because everything would be perfect. There would be no conflict, more jobs, no great divide between the rich and the poor. Alas! the world isn’t perfect and it is thanks in no small part to countries like Britain who colonised the world, left ashes and smoke in the wake of their pointless wars, exploitation of man and beast for their gain, stolen identities and whole race of people wiped out. The irony and hypocrisy of it all. I voted to remain because UNITED we stand firm, everyday we wake up and are faced with dangers, some we can see, others we cannot so our elected officials are to deal with these dangers and with pulled resources, the world is safer because its a fight for something bigger than ourselves- World Peace. I voted to remain because xenophobia and racism are not opinions I respect. I voted to remain because, WHY NOT.
Europe as a continent is far too intertwined to be separate, the decision to leave was that of Wales and Britain alone, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the E.U., and now there is talk about another Indyref for Scotland to remain in the E.U. in essence breaking out of the United Kingdom. Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams is calling for a united Ireland, so it won’t come as a surprise when, not if, it too breaks away from the U.K. Why should they be punished for the decision they didn’t take? Britain is now caught in a cross fire of European nation states who want it gone as quickly as possible, no need to drag out the process and though Chancellor Merkel insists there is no need to be nasty, this will get nasty- article 50 was put together in such a way to dissuade leaving the Union, so the next two years will be chaotic and the years after that…Only God knows. Hours after the votes were in, it became apparent that Leave campaigners have no plan, no clue, no strategy. Various Leave voters have voiced their fears about and doubts about the future. The £350 million which Farage and his friends so glibly promised to the NHS has gone up in smokes because errr… errrr… sorry, our bad to say that it doesn’t work that way eh. Counties up North like Yorkshire and on the coast like Cornwall, who voted to Leave didn’t stop to think about how it would affect the monies received from the E.U. Cornwall to the tune of £60 million for the last ten years, want guarantees from the Leave vote leaders, Boris Johnson and co, which is not forthcoming. There is talk of jobs moving out of Britain, a lot of fear and it is not without justification. The pound fell to an all time low in 30 years wiping and as at 08:09 when the markets opened £140 billion was already wiped off the value of the FTSE. And France overtook Britain as the 5th largest economy in the world. What does this mean for people like me, everyday labourers? We have dissected this decision to a pulp without any clear answers other than we are royally fucked. The fear of what we don’t understand therefore cannot rationalise.
These are troubling times. The road ahead is bleak, it will be bleak for years before it becomes bright. And we may not be here to see that happen.
It is hard not to be angry when you think about Britain’s past- a country that colonised half the world now unwelcoming immigrants. Are you fucking kidding me? Who welcomed you into the Ashanti Kingdom? Who welcomed you into Nigeria where you swapped palm oil for bullets, and people for pennies? Who welcomed you into India whose jewels you refuse to return? I didn’t for one second think I was living in perfect Britain, history does not serve it well, a country that left so much devastation in its bid to colonise the world, but this was all meant to be in the past. Even as we faced a present that sometimes reminded us of times past, I never thought those feelings would determine the future. Its hard not to be angry when you read about the many migrants who risk their lives to get here everyday, the children whose dead bodies cause horror and shock when they wash up ashore, and those buried deep in the belly of the sea, nameless and faceless. What about those who suffered the wrath of the colonial masters by daring to stand up against them? The ones who fled their homes devastated by the wars waged by foreigners on their land? Its hard not to be angry when you think about the hand dealt by Britain as they waged their pointless colonial wars, countries that still suffer the consequence of colonial rule they didn’t want. This country’s infrastructure is built on the backs of immigrants- West Indians, Africans, Irish, Indians brought and settled here, by force and deception, for the benefit of the English empire. Identities removed and renewed to fit into the aesthetic of the colonial masters. Histories denied. The inglorious bastardisation of Britain’s past that has made it the super power it is today. Nigel Farage standing in front of that poster with the Syrian migrants fleeing from their war torn homes claiming Britain has reached its breaking point, that stupid smirk on his face, is more than enough said about the rhetoric that informed the vote to Leave. Every time there is an attack by ISIS, muslims the world over are persecuted for crimes they have no hand in. Hate, everywhere and everyday. And it is this hate that a generation, who will not suffer the consequences of its bad decision, chose above all else to condemn the coming generation who will no doubt have to deal with the fall out.
Here we are. Now what?
But here we are- angry and sad and confused as to what happens next. The experts warnings, experts whom Gove so foolishly dismissed, have come to pass- we leave at our peril. Jobs, homes, education, communities- what does this hold for us all? We count our pennies, re-work saving plans and pension schemes, plans and priorities tossed into disarray. Nationalism- what a fallacy. Lies have led us to this point of no return, when elected men who should have the most reasoned and measured argument whip a nation into a frenzy, racism laced as national pride, xenophobic rants and empty proclamations, back door deals and pats on the backs of the old boys- one day they will tell the story of how they sold a nation for the own ambition. History will not serve them well either.
What is so hurtful, more than the vote to leave, is the feeling that informed this decision. The blindingly ignorant and ugly statements that will always make me wonder- as I walk down the street, sit on the train, speak on the phone to the person who cannot pronounce my very African name as they try to place my culture, colour of my skin- is this really what you think of someone like me?
Poll source- Politico