A response to the British events on Friday the 24th June, a day called Independence.
I want to have words, words that mean something and words that matter. But I feel slightly hopeless on this morning that we start to break away from the world to become an isolated small island.
But I have a confession, I feel hopeless because my whole family voted to leave, not only my family but their friends and their friend’s friends. I feel hopeless because for the past, at least forty years, I have been trying to argue against their streams of inbuilt racism and xenophobia and their notion that at one point Britain was good because it was defined by the Empire.
I have failed. Most of them are over 50 and most of the over 50s and certainly the over 65s voted to leave Europe. I failed then, back in the 70s, and I’ve failed now.
I have always had a single, simple tenet , that you should only talk about the stuff and the people that you know rather than talking about whole groups of people or making vast generalisations. For example don’t talk about the Arabs or poor people or people on benefit or people who work in banks. Talk specifics because that way you have some control over the impact of your words and you can be held responsible for the stuff that you say.
But my central tenet failed to shift people’s minds, the spectre of Enoch Powell’s vile warnings I fear holds much more sway. But this isn’t about my failure, it is about a collective failure to get people to be kinder. People, often the poorest, are still willingly swallowing the pup that ‘others’, the ‘even poorer others’, are to blame. People struggling are told, coached and forced to look down and blame the space beneath them, it is a very human frailty that needs to identify and ostracise weakness.
Lower wages, people who don’t yet have the language, people who are forced to work in the black economy and people who are fleeing conflicts and civil structures that threaten the very fabric of their lives. A gay men fleeing persecution from any number of countries, a family from Syria whose whole town has been decimated and who are terrified on a daily basis of the men we call ISIS.
It is these people whom we have been taught are the enemy.
I, as a trans HIV positive ex-drug user have spent much of my life being seen as the enemy, someone to shout at, spit at, abuse and disenfranchise. Someone who wasn’t worthy to sit at the table, someone who should be shipped off to an island (drug addicts and people with AIDS). I get that feeling of being pushed outside by no fault of your own and being kept outside because structural doors close in your face. It’s no wonder at times the kindness of a dealer seemed worth chasing. Being talked about like you are dirty or like you are ruining the pretty patina of society is so damaging. So damaging.
In one foul swoop we have sent out this message to the rest of Europe, to people from foreign lands, to people who saw us as and our country as a brave new world and as a sanctuary, to them we have sent out the message that we don’t want you, we are better than you and to avoid you we are willing to cut off our nose to spite our green, rolling face.
Blair said ‘Education, Education, Education and built schools.
Farage said ‘Immigration, Immigration, Immigration and destroyed truth.
And not just any immigrants, a long line of brown faces, brown immigrants, the irony is that most people from Eastern Europe have white faces but then that doesn’t tap into the long held fears of the British about ‘those people out there, you know the ones we stole from time and time again in Africa and India coming here to take from us. We owe them nothing, what’s the chip on the shoulder for and why don’t they make their own countries work, why the bloody famines.’
That’s the fear that Farage wanted, him like an insipid, fag waving King Canute, the great white hope holding back the stream of ‘brown others’ behind him, trying to push their way in and ruin our lands.
Its insidious, yet I can hear my family debate this as a real thing. Never mind the data about Polish net contributions to our economy or the great successes of immigrant children in our schools, universities and jobs or just the bloody marvel of living in a land where diversity is something wondrous to behold and celebrate. Never mind the young bodies washed up on the shores of Europe, people terrified of war and bombs and limbs blown asunder.
The apple -pie image that Farage seeks is one harking back to days gone past, it’s Thatcher with her handbag and set hair, the pantomime’ Iron Lady’ destroying the fabric of the working class, it’s Trump bleating about erecting walls and trying to rally America back to a dystopian time where spies seek out commies, and blacks and whites know their places.
It is backwards-looking to a time that was built on fears, the fears of others that aren’t like us. It’s funny I’ve read a few things where ‘moderate’ people have said ‘let’s see what happens’ ‘no one will be able to take away the things, the rights we have won’. It leaves me flabbergasted. Our histories are littered with examples of freedoms won, lost, stolen, removed, extinguished and stamped on.
Do you really imagine that the people who fear immigrants will support trans kids at school having rights? Do you really imagine that those people care about the independent living fund for people with disabilities and do you really think those people, if push comes to shove. will care about you? Are you their kind of people, in my experience we can never be right enough. Since writing and talking about being HIV and my drug past I have lost almost half of my work. Despite my glossy hair and even glossier handbag and shoes I’m just not enough like them to be part of the pack.
No this path is a fool’s errand, it leads only to isolation and further fears. This exit from Europe is a mark of the worse of the English; an utter fear of everything across the sea, it’s as if the Age of Enlightenment never happened.
It’s our chip on the shoulder after all.