YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN: What’s wrong with women of colour speaking up?

PUBLISHED: 00:01 14 April 2018

Businesswoman and activist, Gina Miller. Picture: Isabel Infantes/EMPICS Entertainment

Businesswoman and activist, Gina Miller. Picture: Isabel Infantes/EMPICS Entertainment

EMPICS Entertainment

Why being a vocal Remainer, immigrant and woman of colour makes you the definitive enemy of the Brexit cause.

Bonnie Greer during a Women in the World conference. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive/PA ImagesBonnie Greer during a Women in the World conference. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive/PA Images

After two weeks away in Goa, chilling on quiet beaches, shutting out social media, the country feels more rancourous and boorish than ever. You have to get used to the noise and incivility all over again. Not easy. Ours is now, perhaps forever, a disunited Kingdom.

David Cameron will never understand how he shattered the fragile bonds between the various Britons and shredded social and political cohesion. Previously, Britons disagreed about many things, didn’t always accept one another, and even though bigotry, injustices, sexism and inequality were evident, the polity and nation hung together and the ground beneath our feet felt steady. All that is gone. In real and virtual settings, words have lost their meaning, trust has been burnt off. Democracy has been weaponised. If you put up sane and rational arguments against Brexit, you are ‘undemocratic’, an enemy of ‘the people’, most of all, the white working classes. We must shut up and put up.

Every time I defend the EU on TV or in my columns, Brexiter bullies come calling. Some want me to die. In the name of free speech and democracy. Remainers, it seems, have now no democratic freedoms. More alarmingly still, they who won the vote apoplectically claim they are the real victims of these culture and political wars.

As I make these observations, I feel fear creeping through the bones. In 1919, W.B Yeats described the disorder that followed the Great War.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.
 Today this old poem speaks to millions of us. Hatred and chaos are loosed upon the world. And if you are a vocal Remainer, who happens to be an immigrant and woman of colour, Brexiters see you as the definitive enemy of their cause.

They try to drown your voice in tides of hatreds and furies. The indomitable and righteous Gina Miller goes through this every minute of every day. My fellow New European columnist Bonnie Greer and I get much invective too. One white emailer described us as ‘Three ugly witches of the EU who should be burnt in Hyde Park on St George’s Day’. (This cross/crass Englander clearly does not know that Saint George, was a Roman soldier of Greek and Roman origin). Just arrived, a goodbye card instructing ‘Muslim scum’ like me to leave ‘independent Britain’.

What makes these men react so abhorrently? Some of the answers to this question are obvious. Women who dare to speak up in the real or virtual public space are routinely abused and threatened. Female MPs such as Diane Abbott and Stella Creasy have scars to prove that.

Then there are men who find modernity insufferable and long to be back solely in charge. Vociferous right-wingers and xenophobes too, have become emboldened since Brexit. The BBC, LBC and other media outlets now obsequiously follow this mob and give their views respectability.

Enoch Powell was sacked by Ted Heath after he made his infamous racist ‘rivers of blood’ speech; Nigel Farage, who has links with the far right in Europe is given endless air time. This is exactly what Yeats means in the last lines of the stanza above. Decency and morality have been elbowed out ‘while the worst’ take over.

In this toxic atmosphere, Greer and Miller, I and other similar Remainers are subjected to the most extreme hostility – including from other women. A female Asian deputy head in a Northern town tells me mums treat her as a pariah because she voted to stay in the EU and are trying to get her sacked. One wonders what causes the apoplexy. Do we make our detractors feel inadequate? Or is it incurable imperialist conceit?

Perhaps what they really, really want is to see Bonnie Greer ‘grinning like a piccaninny’ and waving the flag . (This was how Boris Johnson once memorably described black people in his Telegraph column.)

And Miller, brown-skinned and from Guyana, making herself useful as a low-paid ayah. And me serving them curries in a small, cheap takeaway. We are immigrants who refuse to stay in our allocated roles and women who are not passive and obedient. The bad news for our fuming foes is that we are still talking, still fighting, still here. They want us to eff off where we came from. No chance of that. In truth the angrier they get, the more audacious we become.

As Gina Miller wrote in a tweet recently: “I will not be bullied into leaving my home, my country that I love, by people who lie, hate, divide and discriminate. I have a lot more fight in me for what’s right.” Hallelujah sister. And so say all of us.

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