Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Us migrants still fear the Brexit backlash
The writer on how immigration anxieties are always about race or foreignness
Please don't tell me opposition to immigration is not about race. Or that racism is now more or less extinct in the UK, whatever the 'race industry' claims. Or that Brexit was never about claiming back the nation for white, true-born Britons. Or that those who wanted to leave only sought to stop Eastern European masses 'flooding in' and lowering wages. Or that people are too frightened to talk honestly about immigration.
Millions of Brits have been affected by daily infusions of such hokum and humbug. It's like malaria in the bloodstream, a persistent fever.
Most non-indigenous Brits have experienced or witnessed ugly prejudices and discriminations in the last 18 months. We are hurt and shocked that so many of our countrymen harbour so much ill will against us just because we are from somewhere else, or of a different colour or religion. My daughter is half-English and a medical engineer. She was not prepared for the racial abuse she has recently been subjected to for the first time in her short life.
After 45 years I had come to believe I belonged. Not anymore. I have had the police in to follow up serious threats and keep a binbag full of abusive letters which started to come in as the Brexit campaign began.
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Let's go back to my list in the opening paragraph:
Immigration anxieties were always about race or palpable foreignness. Did you know that there are more Americans settled in Britain than there are Jamaicans? Have you ever witnessed any panic over those settlers or the numbers of Australians, white South Africans, New Zealanders, white Kenyans and others who have ancestral roots in western Europe?
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Objecting to immigration is often a coded, respectable way of expressing racial, ethnic and religious odium. Not all Brexiters were racist but almost all racists voted for Brexit. Remainers who point these truths out are hounded and silenced. Most now self-censor.
Now here comes the patriot, and to many, a cultural guru, David Goodhart, to instruct us on what we must not think.
The man who believes there is too much diversity in his country and who is somewhat disdainful of cosmopolitans, concludes that despite police figures and victim accounts indicating there has been a surge in hate crime since the referendum, his own intrepid, independent investigation shows hate crimes are going down. So why the disparity? Because too many police officers are involved in following up these cases, the state and non-governmental organisations are whipping up hate crime paranoia and victim subjectivism – people imagine stuff is happening to them but can't provide hard evidence.
Goodhart needs to get out more and walk in multiracial localities, even talk to those he chooses to talk about.
Low and highbrow nationalists – of whom there are too many – have been filtering information and manipulating public views on migration for decades.
The Conservative MP, Peter Griffiths, was elected in 1964, on the slogan 'If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour'. For Enoch Powell, one of the best remembered 'civilised' xenophobes, the country was walking to hell by admitting Christian, English-speaking, dark-skinned Caribbeans, previous subjects of the empire.
Norman Tebbit once told me on the Today programme that even though I had a British passport, I could never really be British. Thatcher thought her country was being 'swamped' by foreigners. In recent years, Sir Andrew Green was up and about on every broadcasting channel (much as Farage is today) issuing dire warnings about foreigners swarming into a 'small island' – which, even now, has only 2.27% built on land.
UKIP is a modern compendium of anti-immigrant politicking, but with added, potentially useful, targets – refugees and British Muslims – groups which provoke fear and hostility.
I went to a small village in the North where most inhabitants voted to leave. There was not a single migrant, refugee or Muslim living there. But the only reason I was given for their Brexit vote was that the country was overrun by people like me – exiles and Muslims. Five people told me they thought we had taken over 10 million Syrians and Iraqis and that Muslims made up more than 40% of the population.
This place typified the yearning across the sceptred isle for orderly ethnic cleansing, national purity, white Christmases.
Remainers are warned that if we don't accept the vote, there will be uprisings. I say there will be uprisings anyway.
Britain cannot be reclaimed by natives. That was just a foolish dream. Brexiters who feel cheated will turn on politicians and us migrants. Brexit was the most rousing act in the anti-immigration drama, but it is not the end.
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