I returned to the States from England after experiencing feelings of division. I experience it here too, of course, with the surrounding xenophobic rhetoric, police brutality, and talks of walls. But the UK showed me similar behaviors which I experienced while learning about Britain’s Exit from the EU.
My knowledge of Brexit actually began with political ranting from my English hostess. She expressed concern after concern about the future of travel, concern for our world’s people who need help from the more-fortunate, and inevitable concern for corruption and a misinformed vote. I still wasn’t very educated about Brexit at that point, thus remained neutral and curious about the arguments for “leave”. The major reason for leave seems to be stopping immigration, along with making other trade deals and boosting the economy (make Britain great again!). While in England, I also learned of the secret racist agendas for voting “leave”. Seems more like an act of nationalism.
For my birthday, my hostess gifted me an autobiography of one of the UK’s beloved poets, Benjamin Zephaniah. It was released this year. My hostess had recently returned from the anti-Brexit march in London, and handed me the book with a grin. She knows she’s excellent at choosing books for people. I ended up reading its inspiring contents in under a week. The book contains a striking chapter titled “A Year of Division”. It’s about Brexit. In it, Zephaniah actually admits to valid, left-wing, though untelevised reasons for leaving the union, but also says the Brexiters won due to the passing around of misinformation and “on a platform of racism and scaremongering.” After the vote, Zephaniah noticed how people started beginning their sentences with “I’m not racist but. . .” when speaking with him.
Even more alarming, he writes:
“Some people used the result of the vote to shout racist remarks at me. One drove by and shouted, ‘The Europeans are leaving, and you’re next, nigger.’ The worst things were finding a note in my letterbox telling me to get out while I’m still alive and having a “packet” of human excrement thrown over my gate, with a note! The extreme right rose up and racist attacks all over the country increased around this time. . .I felt very lonely and vulnerable then.”
There was a noticeable shift in my heartbeat at reading this. I grew up with the belief that racism was cured, and though I’m learning the invalid nature of this belief, I was yet to have such a drastic eye-opener. Zephaniah’s lines shook me.
I spent most of my time in the UK on a farm up the hill from Stoke on Trent. Between blueberry picking and smashing my head on low door frames, I’d hear engines revving up to go into Leek. My hostess was meeting with her member of parliament, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and setting up booths to have anti-Brexit petitions signed. She’d always come home with signatures and stories about ex-Brexiteers who had changed their minds.
After moments of deeply considering both sides, I’ve realized that “stay” is based off unity, empathy, and freedom, while “leave” represents selfishness and toxic nationalism. It’s easy to say “immigrants should stay in their own countries with their own problems.” It’s easy to want your own country to have more money. It’s easy to fall prey to racist ideology, especially considering how prevalent it is in our world today. What’s hard though, yet worth it, is realizing and practicing the words of George Washington Carver: “Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.”
During my travels, England lost the World Cup, Trump came to the protesting streets of London, wildfires prevailed in a near draught, a couple was poisoned by a controversial Soviet-developed nerve poisoning, and the white papers spelled out UK/EU negotiations. I was just glad the Thai kids got out.
Reproduced with kind permission of Jacob Lopez, Huntington Beach, California