Protesters gather in London to demonstrate against the EU referendum result (Photo: Getty Images)
Protesters gather in London to demonstrate against the EU referendum result (Photo: Getty Images)


Amid the bitter divisions we must unite against racist and fascist abuse 

The Brexit campaign unleashed a powerful xenophobia but now we must all stop quarrelling and ensure that we speak to – not for – people of colour and minorities, says Chimene Suleyman

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By Chimene Suleyman on

Division finds use in times of apprehension. In Britain the young discover frustration for elders who appear to have voted their future to a place far bleaker. The working classes have little patience for the puffed-up inner-city dwellers, their exclusivity of unfamiliar Eurocentric behaviour. 

Fiction upholds such difference – of unreasonable fear towards those who dress or speak as though they may have it in them to sling a slur or a fist, just as others have fantasised that darker coloured skin will take your job, woman, money. So imaginative was the Brexit campaign that many Leavers had surprised even themselves with a vote they wish hadn’t been cast. In place of facts, xenophobia played out in front of an uncomfortable take on class, and in the end emotion determined us all. 

So strong is the narrative of tribalism, that even those who arguably felt the divide of Brexit the most are not deterred from new divisions – at its centre, Jeremy Corbyn. Fractions serve to unite us elsewhere. Yet, that which is clan-like is becoming changeable, an almost feverish search for smaller camps and limited room for disagreement within them.

This is a strange time. Leaderless on all accounts. Even the resignation of our prime minister lessened in newsworthy importance throughout the chaos. Families remain perplexed by each others’ choices. There is a paradox at every corner, which is, of course, to be human. And it is this that allows people of colour the dimension from which some voted Leave, perhaps even cosigning a campaign loaded with the jingoism they have otherwise spent their lives backing away from. Yet, for a starker example of disjuncture you could look to the very EU that, to so many of us, represented cultural integration, but is not of itself unifying – a Christendom, whose occasional flirtations with Turkey do little else than upend fear of droves of Muslim migration.

No matter. Among the division – personal and political – there has been a space left wide open, and it is being occupied by the far right. The mind marvels at the grounds for beating a Polish father and son outside a pub, or the defence for launching a molotov cocktail inside a halal butchers, or the premise that inspires a man to chant the sadly familiar “go back to where you came from” as he walks the streets. 

There is room for extra kindness in these times. Of asking your friends and those in your community, who are immigrants and the children of immigrants, if they are OK

Immovable unity is something fascism has always understood. It is a bulldozer in the face of the moderate right, and the left, of whom both are caught in the juggle of blame and defence. I wonder how important it is, at this stage, to debate whose fault it might be that we are here when, simply, we are here. And while there is use in going over, with a fine-tooth comb, the politics of your colleagues and cousins, it is worth remembering that the walls must be built before we can argue over the paint. Plainly put, fascism is breeding amid our disagreements. We are the ones distracting ourselves. 

An all too familiar scene of the times, a camera phone films an act of public abuse. Three young men on a Manchester tram are clear in their message: “You little fucking immigrant. Go back to Africa.” A bottle of beer is flung and a passenger becomes vocal. “There’s a baby there,” she says, “there’s absolutely no reason.” Someone else says they are a disgrace, as they step off and onto the pavement. These witnesses are right, of course. Yet, you are left wondering why first objections didn’t come sooner – why, when they did come, protest was attached, understandably, to concern for the baby, not entirely (or swiftly enough) for the racial abuse to the man. On a busy tram, most ignore the commotion.

Silence is complicit at such a time. Action feels vital. Those with enough privilege to sit within safety are in a position to speak up and educate, where those of us who are targeted are left intimidated and often tired. Recording acts of racial abuse and violence has proven to help. But there is force in numbers. There is power in the movement of a whole bus, train carriage, or pub, fusing in protection. 

The media must be held accountable for hate rhetoric and misinformation too. Whether for better content, or progression, the mainstream left have a duty, far greater than before, to commission writers and presenters of colour. To allow the space for us to represent ourselves, not only on topics of race, but of the universal. Acceptance belongs to understanding. Of which there can be none if immigrants and their children are spoken for, but never to.

The scorned live in fear, yet protection has many faces, of which friendliness is one. A suggestion to reveal yourself as safe and welcoming has been made — an empty safety-pin fastened to a T-shirt or coat lapel. There is room for extra kindness in these times. Of asking your friends and those in your community, who are immigrants and the children of immigrants, if they are OK. For help is personalised, and they will tell you what it is you can do for them. Show them, no matter how you voted, that you will be a shield. Whispers of deportation may well be miscommunications – yet, so many of us have never before felt so homeless.


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Protesters gather in London to demonstrate against the EU referendum result (Photo: Getty Images)
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