Identity is a funny thing. Before we moved I didn’t really consider the impact that not living in Britain would have on my own identity. I mean, I considered myself British – my friends often remarked that I was one of the most English people they’d ever met: driving a Morris Minor, listening to radio 4, drinking copious quantities of tea.
But I also considered myself a European. Really, fundamentally, right down in my heart that’s what I felt.
It kind of came to the fore moving to the US – because people ask where I’m from – and my desire is to say “Europe”, which is dreadfully uninformative. Sometimes it’d end up with me saying England as I scrabbled for an answer, but usually I’d settle on ‘Britain’ or ‘the UK’, but I’d stumble around mentally before uttering it. Yes – specifically I was born in England – and that’s definitely part of my identity, but my dad was from Wales, my mum is from Sri Lanka. Not only that, but my family have always been global in our outlook. We have travelled around as much as funds would allow and from a very young age I experienced the world outside the parochial boundaries of England’s green and pleasant lands. I very much felt that I was a product not merely of my birthplace, but of my heritage, my experiences and my upbringing.
I like to look outside the small box that is England and remember that diversity brings strength and vitality to communities. That the places I’ve least liked are the ones where diversity is lacking.
And so I cried this morning.
Britain – well, England and Wales, have decided to withdraw from the world.
I fear for friends and family there – almost every piece of LGBTQ protective legislation has been forced on the UK from Europe. Job protections, civil liberties, they’re all a result of Europe saying to Britain, no you can’t treat your people so badly. And as many of you are aware I’m not white – and nor is my mother or my sister – or her children. And they’re living in a world where the minority of Brexiters who are deeply, deeply racist are under the impression that the majority of Britain is with them. I don’t doubt that most ‘Leave’ voters aren’t vicious, xenophobic, small minded thugs. I don’t doubt that many of those who supported Britain’s exit either didn’t really believe it would happen, or were just voicing frustration at a dysfunctional political system and the austerity plans that have failed to improve their lives.
But like those who laugh at racist or rape jokes – giving ‘that kind of person’ tacit support – the bigots who shout at minorities and who would see the clocks turned back to the 1950s? They’ll take this situation as proof that everyone agrees with them. They’ll hold this pyrrhic victory close to their hearts and endeavour to embed their vile, hateful message deeper in British society.
And so I cried.
I don’t know what will become of the UK. I don’t know whether it will survive as ‘the United Kingdom’. Scotland and Ireland clearly have every right to sod off and leave England and Wales to sink in the mire of what may happen. I faintly cling to the tiny hope that the clear reluctance of the politicians in the UK to actually press the big red article 50 button is a sign of some partial get-out. Something which may leave the UK at least lurking like Norway on the outskirts of European integration.
But as to what actually happens next, I don’t know. I hope I’m wrong, but I side with those who think that this is a massive, massive disaster for the UK. I’ve often commented that I didn’t really understand why anyone listened to the UK anymore – it’s not like we actually still have an empire. In Europe we had amazing levels of influence. But now we’ve thrown that influence away. And now they don’t need to listen to us whine, or give us special vetos and get-outs. No one needs to give the UK special treatment, because we are just some cruddy little island off the coast of mainland Europe. So while I hope I’m wrong, I have little optimism to accompany that thought.
When we left for the US I thought the UK was going to hell in handbasket. I’d no idea it’d get there quite so quickly though.