quinta-feira, 30 de junho de 2016
A frenzy of hatred’: how to understand Brexit racism
A frenzy of hatred’: how to understand Brexit racism
Campaigners and victims are reporting a rise in racist abuse since the referendum. Has it always been there under the surface – and will this ‘celebratory racism’ cause lasting damage?
Wednesday 29 June 2016 17.07 BST
Brexit was a political earthquake, but its shocks were felt on our streets even before the polls closed. Lakshmi D’Souza felt the early fallout from the bitter battle over the EU referendum while pushing a pram through east London early on Thursday morning. D’Souza passed a woman who warned her to “be careful”. A man in the street was shouting racist abuse at a shopkeeper and passersby. As D’Souza walked past with her baby son, he looked at her and spat on the floor. D’Souza says that she fears the referendum has unleashed “a frenzy of hatred”.
“It takes a lot more than some idiot to bother me,” she says. “But the implication that this sort of behaviour will get worse because of a political decision … just blows my mind.”
True Vision, a police-funded hate-crime-reporting website, has seen a 57% increase in reporting between Thursday and Sunday, compared with the same period last month. This is not a definitive national figure – reports are also made directly to police stations and community groups – but Stop Hate UK, a reporting charity, has also seen an increase, while Tell Mama, an organisation tackling Islamophobia, which usually deals with 40-45 reports a month, received 33 within 48-72 hours.
In Great Yarmouth, Colin Goffin, who is vice-principal of an educational trust, was told about taunts and jeers being directed at eastern European workers by 10am on Friday morning – just hours after the results of the referendum had been announced. Goffin went to see a Kosovan-born friend, the manager of a car wash, to discuss the vote. In the Norfolk coastal town, 72% had voted to leave.
“I wanted him to know that I didn’t agree with the decision, or the way that the issue of immigration had been used in the campaign,” Goffin says. But when he arrived, the abuse against the multinational staff had already begun. “He told me people were slowing down to laugh at his staff, wave and mouth ‘goodbye’,” Goffin says. “They had clearly not wasted any time in deciding to be hateful.”
Unsurprisingly, European staff members were worried by the vote. “What was most shocking was that these guys are well liked and go out of their way to help people – up until then, they would have felt part of our community. Suddenly, people felt it was OK to suggest they should clear off ‘home’. I am angry and embarrassed by the way people from my home town acted.”
Architect Toni (a Spanish citizen living in Brighton) had barely touched down in the UK after a weekend in Alicante when he came across a group of men causing a disturbance at passport control. “There were four of them,” he said. “One of them shouted: ‘Why are these bloody immigrants in the same queue as we are?’ His friends were laughing. They were saying it loudly so people would hear. It was very uncomfortable. I have been here four years and I have never experienced anything like this.”
Although another British passenger challenged the men, Toni said he was shaken by the incident. “I am questioning whether I should stay – will I be a second-class citizen now?”
Reports of xenophobia and racism have piled up in the media: the firebombing of a halal butchers in Walsall, graffiti on a Polish community centre in London and laminated cards reading: “No more Polish vermin” apparently posted through letterboxes in Huntingdon. Asked about the rise in hate crimes during PMQs on Wednesday, David Cameron said the government would be publishing a hate-crime action plan.
Racist cards sent in Huntingdon.
Racist cards sent in Huntingdon. Photograph: Huntingdon Living Facebook
Why this sudden explosion? Paul Bagguley, a sociologist based at the University of Leeds, points to the gleeful tone of the racism: “There is a kind of celebration going on; it’s a celebratory racism.” With immigration cited in polls as the second most common reason in voting for Brexit, “people are expressing a sense of power and success, that they have won,” he says.
“People haven’t changed. I would argue the country splits into two-thirds to three-quarters of people being tolerant and a quarter to a third being intolerant. And a section of that third have become emboldened. At other times, people are polite and rub along.”
Bagguley stresses that it wasn’t racist to vote leave, and that many people were voting about “political control”, yet the Brexit campaign’s relentless rhetoric about “controlling our borders” has led people who might previously have kept their intolerant views to themselves to feel legitimised. A spokesperson from campaign group Hope not Hate points out that, while not all Ukip voters are racists, it does “swallow up the ‘respectable racist’ vote that might have once gone to the BNP”. Bagguley agrees: “People have to be prepared to be more critical of them and the implicit racism that runs through much of what they say.”
Brexit has given voice to racism – and too many are complicit
Simon Woolley, the director of Operation Black Vote, goes further. “The Brexiters, with their jingoistic rhetoric, have put the country on a war footing. By framing the debate as ‘we want our country back’, they have made immigrants the enemy and occupiers who need to be expelled.”
The turmoil that followed the vote – with sterling in freefall, and the leadership of Britain’s two main political parties in disarray – has also played a part, according to Bagguley. “At times of generalised social crises, people think they can get away with things in public that they would not normally do.” On Tuesday, video footage emerged that appeared to show a mixed-race man being racially abused on a Manchester tram. Police have made three arrests over the incident.
Corinne Abrahams, 24, witnessed a similar incident in London as she made her way home from the Glastonbury festival on Monday. As she sat on the tube at around 2pm, a man “began shouting things such as: ‘Russians are all scumbags’ and ‘Poles should all leave’”. Another passenger protested and the argument grew heated. Other travellers moved away, but Abrahams, who has Jewish heritage, says she could not stay silent. “My people have gone through all this before. I don’t want it to have to happen to others. I said: ‘You are an embarrassment to the country. No one else here agrees with what you’re saying.’ He replied: ‘I’m a real British man. This is my country.’ It was unprovoked and disgusting.”
A National Front banner in Newcastle.
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A National Front banner in Newcastle. Photograph: Emma Foster
Bagguley says that what makes the recent attacks unusual is who they are directed at. Central to the anti-EU discourse in the media over the past decade has been a sense of British people being fundamentally different from Europeans. As Scottish politics and identity moved in a new direction, this mutated into a white English nationalism “that has a resonance with racial ways of thinking”, he says.
“This has been the bedrock and basis for this xenophobia, directed at everybody who is a little different. It is unlike the backlash after terrorist attacks, which targeted Irish people in the 70s, or Muslims and those thought to be Muslims, more recently. It is a very generalised kind of racism oriented against any groups perceived not to be in that narrow category of white English identity.”
The hate crimes recently reported to Operation Black Vote seem to confirm this. “Two Muslim women in Bethnal Green, east London, had eggs thrown at them on the street,” says Woolley. “A black woman on a bus had a bunch of bananas placed on the chair next to her and was told to ‘fuck off back to your country’. It is not just women. An Italian man was punched to the ground for asking another man which way he voted in the referendum.”
Racist incidents feared to be linked to Brexit result
Nor are attacks confined to areas that voted strongly to leave. A British Asian doctor in Urmston, Greater Manchester, tells me she was told to “go back to your own country” in a petrol forecourt at the weekend by a woman annoyed she had not driven away from the pump quickly enough. “You just don’t expect this in Manchester. I have never had that before,” she says.
In Edinburgh, Lauren Stonebanks, 36, was on a bus on Monday when she says a woman shouted: “‘Get your passport, you’re fucking going home.’” She believes she was targeted because she is mixed race. “As I got off the bus, the woman started making threatening gestures, like punching gestures. It made me feel absolutely terrified.”
In Cobham, Surrey, British-born Saima, 46, was shopping for her elderly mother when she, too, experienced her first brush with racism. “There was a man in his mid to late 30s ranting in the street about ‘making Britain great again’. I looked over and he pointed at me, saying: ‘People like you will be out of here soon.’ It reminds me of the 70s with the National Front, when I remember being scared for my family. I feel as if we have gone back in time.”
Neo-Nazi stickers in Glasgow.
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Neo-Nazi stickers in Glasgow. Photograph: Eoin Palmer
Woolley is clear, as is Tell Mama, that hate crimes have never gone away. Tell Mama’s annual report, released on Wednesday, states that anti-Muslim hatred reported to them rose by a staggering 326% in 2015. Women, especially those who wear hijabs or niqabs, bear the brunt of this. Hope Not Hate points out that it has been arguing for some time that far-right extremism is not getting the attention it deserves. Yet the Brexit-inspired racism seems slightly different in that slurs are focused on ethnicity over religion. A report to Tell Mama included an incident of a man shouting: “Brexit, you Paki” at a taxi driver, before assaulting him.
Writer Nikesh Shukla was in Bristol on Tuesday when he witnessed an argument between a white man and a black man. As they separated, the white man shouted: “Well, it’s not your fucking country, is it?” On Friday, a tweet about the far right in the US resulted in him being told to “go back to brownland”. “The tool of the racist, more recently, has been to make you feel you have a chip on your shoulder. Now it is barefaced: ‘Go back to your country.’”
BBC journalist Sima Kotecha interviewed a leave voter in her home town of Basingstoke who used the word “Paki”. Afterwards, she tweeted: “Haven’t heard that word here since the 80s!” For many British Asians, it is a reminder of a darker period in British history. Anna Rahman, a psychiatrist, posted on Facebook: “The first time I heard the word ‘Paki’, I was five and people were pelting eggs and stones at our windows. My father told me no one had the right to make me feel I didn’t belong here, telling me: ‘You are as British as the Queen.’ It makes me want to sob that, in this climate, I may need to have this discussion with my own kids.”
Stop Hate UK’s Rose Simkin cautions that about 80-99% of hate crimes go unreported, making their prevalence hard to estimate. Woolley thinks this could be “because they want to cleanse themselves of the experience and forget that it happened”. Bagguley is confident that after a spike in incidents, things will calm down. Yet he also warns that if these attacks go unchallenged, the damage to our social fabric could be lasting, making attacks more frequent in the future. “It is the residue that is the problem. If people get away with [racist attacks], then the next time there is a reason to have a go, they will.”