“In times of crisis, the wise build bridges while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.” – King T’Challa, Black Panther
If you are White British, racism is not a narrative you would be familiar with, as far as your daily existence is concerned. Whilst racism has always been a day in the life for people of colour, there was a spike in hate crime in 2016 with the Brexit vote. Brexit was triggered on January 31 in the same way it began, in the tint of racism and violence. And that does not always mean physical pain on another. Violence can be verbal abuse, whether that’s direct from the horse’s mouth in terms like “Paki” and “nigger” , or on a note in a Norwich tower block.
On January 31, or Brexit Day, CBBC posted a video from its Horrible Histories TV show on Twitter. British comedian Nish Kumar preludes the clip with an introduction. What was meant to be a child-friendly look at British things, flag-waving Brexiteers turned into something else entirely. They don’t take to being told that tea, cotton and sugar aren’t British things, but products of a very British means of production called colonisation.
In 2018, we began to feel the quakes of the Windrush crisis, which is still happening today. When members of the Windrush Generation were / are being deported under then prime minister Theresa May’s hostile environment policy, Amber Rudd simply fell on her sword. Despite this scandal being buried by “other news”, this hysteria simply echoes that of when they first arrived, well-depicted in Pathé film reels.
In Andrea Levy’s Small Island, this is Britain at its bones. Britain as I know it. Little Britain. This text is about deception; and the biggest ruse is that Britain is a tolerant place and all are welcome. This was just after the Second World War. However, the stories of the working class is at its core, irrespective of skin colour. It has often been said that Britain is the least racist society in Europe, but this is only really if you happen to be born into the calm of being affluent, White and British. And the people publicising these opinions are from this same demographic, those born into privilege.
Brexit won’t only make us poorer economically, it’ll make us poorer spiritually. Smaller. Brittler. Littler. Alone. Isolated. No longer a nation others looked to, like in the postwar years – now little Britain drunk in jingoism and nationalism. As Nigel Farage waves his miniature union jacks in Brussels, I see bodybags. “Get Brexit Done” was the phrase; yes, Brexit is done and Britain with it. I feel tremors in Scotland and calls for independence will echo, as the Act of the Union (1707) will be undone.
In the years to come, will we still be Britain? Or will we go back to being England? Little old England in the vice of America. Pals with real British problems like institutional racism, austerity and auctioning off people’s health to American businessmen. A hopelessness, sledgehammered like Jeremy’s Labour by billionaire-owned media. 14m people currently live in poverty and it will only get worse, a Red Scare and Depression at dawn.
In this winter of discontent, we will see how art runs tandem with activism. The next ten years will do wonders for arts. Some of the greatest art came at times of hardship and oppression, from the Slave Trade to the Vietnam War. Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator will be a solace of sorts for me. His final speech at the end of that film is a call to humanity to find their humanity. “One does not have to be a Jew to be anti-Nazi” says Chaplin in his biography. One does not have to be Black to be anti-racism, or a woman to be a feminist or pro-choice, or gay or trans to be pro-LGBT rights.
Forty-seven years of membership put to bed because a portion of the country wanted to be independent. Independent from whom? A country with a history of colonisation and paternalism, who celebrate with the Commonwealth Games and say The Empire is no more. Whilst the Third Reich harked back to the Golden Age of the Roman Empire, Britain harks back to its nostalgia for Slavery and Suez, colonialism raised at half-mast.
Whilst many think The Empire to be a good thing, I picture images of my ancestors hanging from trees in the Caribbean. I think about pilgrims and preachers pontificating the word of God whilst raping Black women slaves throwing them down a hole. I think about how stop and search began way back in colonial times, and: Partition, Boer Concentration Camps, Opium Wars, Easter Risings, and the genocide of the indigenous American peoples.
In the mid-twentieth century, author James Baldwin spent time in Paris, fleeing the violent Jim Crow America. When the Brexit vote went through, I was in Hyderabad, India. Another former-British colony. Say Churchill in India and you’d lose a hand. That’s hyperbole, but he is not loved there. And in India, I felt more welcome than when I came home, told to go home the day after the vote. My cultural bond for Britain thawed, my patience with it.
Whiteness walks into a bar and waves his flag. If you are not rich, you are closer to the poverty line than owning a Lambo. If you could not afford rent if you lost your job, you have no business voting Conservative or cheering come our exit from the EU. Race, gender, sexuality, disability… what unites us all is class but these characteristics make those issues ten times worse.
To say I am nervous about Brexit would be an understatement. To the working class and people of colour that voted against the futures of their children and grandchildren by voting leave, and Tory, (in the last election), I am speechless. Whilst racism has always been part of the British way of life, I never used to look over my shoulder walking down Northampton streets.
But Hell is here and devils walks amongst us; a long winter has come, and we are a long way from dawn.