I opened the newspaper on Monday and there it was: ‘Racist incidents: police called as cases emerge of migrants being targeted across the country’ and under the headline was a catalogue of horrific racist abuse not only towards migrants but anyone perceived as ‘different’ and I have to say I wept. I wept for my family, my children and grandchildren, for other families, children and grandchildren, for anyone anywhere in our country affected by this. In playgrounds up and down the country, children are being told to ‘go home’ or worse by their erstwhile friends while others are in fear. Their parents and grandparents, meanwhile, are being called hideous things when they go out or find cards and leaflets with similar messages being given out outside schools or put through their letter boxes.
You might say there was racism and racist attacks before but since last Friday’s result, hate crimes reported to the police have increased by at least 57%. In some areas, such as those termed ‘white flight’, the feeling of hostility towards anyone considered ‘different’, whether they’re British born or have come to live here from abroad, is palpable. What do you say to a grandchild who’s already experienced racist jibes at the local school and is now fearful of going out? What do you say to the women wearing a hijab whose family, the only Muslims in the neighbourhood, has already had racist abuse when they moved there? What do you say to people who feel they are living in a place surrounded by people who don’t want them there? Do you say ‘don’t worry, things will be fine’ when you’re not so sure yourself?
Where did all this poison come from? There’s been a lot in the press about misinformation, and indeed lies about migrants, in the referendum campaign. Sadly, some rather shaky perspectives have simmered under the surface before this, but people now feel they can say what they like. On the radio last Friday I heard a second world war veteran weeping with joy as he welcomed the vote, saying that he and others didn’t fight the Germans to end up being governed by a German. While I applaud him for putting his life on the line, my understanding is that he was fighting against the Nazis, a hateful, repressive and genocidal regime which murdered millions of Jews, including people from their own country and others from countries such as Poland. So he was fighting for the people some here in the UK are now abusing, aping the Nazis, and proposing to kick out of the UK.
A while ago, I was told by a member of my family heard someone arguing against Muslims peacefully practising their religion in mosques here, saying we didn’t go to their country and impose our religion there. What? Hadn’t they learned anything in history lessons? Didn’t we impose our so-called culture on a huge number of countries by means of ‘the bible and the gun’ in order to build an empire? And, let’s face it, us Brits are made up of immigrants from way back when, such as the Romans, the Normans, the Vikings, the Huguenots etc etc etc and more recently people from British colonies we invited here to work. How can people not remember their own history?
In the meantime, our children and grandchildren now see their future getting even bleaker than after the economic crash of 2008 and austerity measures, their opportunities, and those of their future families, narrowing. A lot of them understandably feel betrayed by their parents and grandparents, many of whom voted to leave Europe. One young person was reported as saying: ‘I saw this older couple in the street and just felt this sudden, enormous wave of fury towards them and their generation. It was almost physical.’ Another said that she felt that her mother had been ‘…driven by her hate for foreigners rather than her love for her own children.’
The prime minister and politicians are condemning these racist attacks, but not so long ago, when it suited their purposes, weren’t they blaming incomers for coming here simply to claim benefits when statistics proved this to be utterly false and demonstrated that people came to work and paid their taxes. But the PM is now saying: ‘Let’s remember these people have come here and made a wonderful contribution to our country.’ No wonder people have no faith in politicians. Of course there have been other much worse insinuations, downright lies and appalling publicity material during the lead up to the 23rd June. Suffice it to say, as I read in the paper on Tuesday: ‘The men who are now shaping Britain’s future… effectively ditched public decency, and decided it was ok to be racist.’ Someone else wrote: ‘The unspeakable became not only speakable, but commonplace.’
How can we move forward from all of this? I wish I could be optimistic, but at the moment I can’t. In the UK the BNP, EDL and Britain First and the far right in Europe such as Marine le Pen’s National Front and Pegida in Germany, are rubbing their hands in glee, ready to take us back to the 1930s. I’m searching around for a shred of hope and a way to see this recent increase in race hatred as a short-term reaction by a handful of people who will give up in the face of our mass disgust and rebuttal of their attitudes and actions. And we need to get rid of austerity. It’s governments that have caused this lack of facilities not people coming here to live and work or people who have lived here for one, two, or more generations. We need to invest in jobs and pay a decent wage, build houses, invest in public services like the NHS not create more millionaires. We can do it; we’re the fifth most wealthy country in the world.
Well, I’m done weeping – time to do something. And for anyone else who’s despairing or outraged, if you haven’t already, join an anti-racist organisation such as Stand up to Racism or Hope not Hate. Take to the streets and go on an anti-racist demo – there’s one on 16th July in London. We need to show that we emphatically agree with what Jo Cox, the MP murdered by someone shouting ‘Britain first’, said in her maiden speech in the Commons: ‘While we celebrate our diversity … we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us.’
*Granny on the frontline is Jill Garner, grandmother of six.