Jenny Saul on Brexit

Jenny Saul has written a fantastic piece over at Huffington Post about the complexities of Brexit. Racism and xenophobia are, she agrees, a part of the explanation for the success of the Leave campaign, and was doubtless a major motivator for some (though not all) Leave voters. But, she argues, it would be far too simplistic to explain Brexit as simply a matter of racism. There are other, complicated factors involved, including especially public (mis)perception of the economic implications of a Leave vote:

Many of the people voting to leave the EU genuinely blamed immigration for the starving of social services, which was in fact caused by Cameron’s austerity policies. Many of the people leaving the EU genuinely believed that the UK economy would be thriving and we’d be on top of the world if not for the EU’s fetters. Many people were excited by the thought of saving £350 million per week, and putting this money into the NHS (the most widely reported promise of the Leave camp, a promise already renounced). These beliefs were manifestly false, and regularly debunked.

But this, Saul argues, is where things get really tricky – and where the issues become ones that need to be thought through carefully, rather than dismissed simply as ‘Leave voters are xenophobic/racist’:

But either [Leave voters] never came across these debunkings or they didn’t believe them when they did. This fact-insensitivity is something that we must urgently pay attention to. And a key cause of it is something also urgently in need of attention: poor and working-class people have been told for decades that the experts in charge will look out for them. They have been made promise after promise about how free trade will actually help them, and about how lowering taxes on the rich will improve life for everyone. These promises have been revealed as patently false and cynically manipulative. Given this, it is completely rational for them to distrust the elites, including the politicians, bankers, and economists who have been forecasting economic doom from Brexit. . .But total distrust of experts means a lack of access to one of the most important sources of facts that there could be. And democracy only makes any sense at all when the populace is able to base its decisions on facts. We are at a crisis point here: Lies are being told, immigrants are being scapegoated, and there is widespread distrust of those trying to get the truth out. Somehow, we need to find a way out of this.

Why Brexit is so depressing and scary.

There are a number of ways I could think of myself as benefitting from Brexit. True, most are linked to the falling value of the pound, and they are really offset by the whack our (USA) retirement account is getting from drops in the stock market. Still, if predictions are correct, one of those dear little renovated terrace houses in Oxford will drop in USD from about $775,000 to $550,000. Still hideously expensive, but perhaps no longer something that is too painful to dream about. And my time next year in Oxford may be thousands of dollars cheaper. So why am I so depressed about Brexit?

738 sq ft, 550,000 pounds.
738 sq ft, 550,000 pounds.

I thought part of it was about seeing the great unhappiness in the faces of young people who saw their future as Europeans killed. Or the chaos in world markets. Or the financial problems English universities will face. Or the costs to ordinary Brits. Or the disdain for experts that the leave voters were expressing. Or, finally, the great contempt for immigrants.

Well, that’s all well and good, but apparently my depression is fundamentally really about me.  And your is about you, etc.

From the Guardian:

Many people feel transported into a dystopian Britain that they “do not recognise, cannot understand”. Thousands are hatching plans to leave the country. Social media are full of suddenly violent flaming between former friends.

Therapists everywhere are reporting shockingly elevated levels of anxiety and despair, with few patients wishing to talk about anything else. Mental health referrals have already begun to mushroom. Why is the Brexit vote affecting us so personally? And, what does this tell us about the make-up of our psyches?

First, we need to consider what we were voting about. The Brexit vote was always about identity and the boundaries between ourselves and others, be that our relationship with Europe and migration, or the expert and politician.

Anything connected with borders brings with it an association to the body, and the boundary between inner and outer. This elicits primitive anxieties, the fears of both annihilation and colonisation. Such fears are heightened in relation to the EU, which carries associations with our biggest cultural trauma, that of the world wars.

To be truthful and accurate, the way the themes are further worked out in the article, it looks as though we can actually care about the welfare of others. But it’s close.

More bystander advice

This is also excellent advice from Uditi Sen about what to do if witnessing racial (or any other abuse) in public, currently being shared on Facebook:

This is for all my friends in UK who will either be subjected to or witness this more and more. Some tips on dealing with being a spectator. NEVER engage the perpetrator. He (and it is usually he) is looking for confrontation. Instead speak to the person he is abusing. Say hello. Introduce yourself. Shake his or her hand. And just stand with them. Keep talking. About anything. Weather. Bus schedules. Football. This kind of bullying never works against a group of people having a conversation. Usually a single person travelling or a mom with a kid or maximum, two women are targetted. Form a group of people with and around them if you can. Don’t tell them they are not alone. Just don’t let them be alone. I speak from experience. Once, I encountered a young girl wearing a hijab being abused as a terrorist by a drunk man on a train. I just went and sat beside her and started a conversation with her. After a while, the dude lost interest. I had a lovely chat with a young student from Qatar. She wanted to study literature while her dad was only prepared to pay for engineering or commerce as he wanted her to join the family business. It helped her feel safe and it expanded my horizons.

What to do if you witness racial abuse?

  • Report it to the police.
  • If it is safe to do so, film it and then take the film to the police as soon as possible – it can help secure a conviction.
  • If it is safe to do so, speak up for the victim.
  • Share this message, so others also know

From 38 degrees.

I would also add:

  • Say something to the victim afterwards. It helps some to know not everyone agreed with the abuser, even if it wasn’t possible to speak up immediately.

Here’s a good article from last November about what to do.

And here’s the link again for reporting abuse to the police online.

(This advice also works for witnessing public abuse against other groups too.)

Thought my last post was a bit hyperbolic?

CONTENT WARNING: racist abuse.

Just one of many such incidents being reported all over Britain. I wondered about showing this in case it further legitimizes abuse. But I also thought it was important to see what’s now going on.

I’d also like to praise the bystanders, who managed to summon the wherewithal to speak up. It’s not easy to know what to do in the shock of the moment, especially with the threat of physical violence hanging over the scene. Well done for saying something.

EDITED TO ADD: the video has now been removed as the three people featured in it have been arrested.

How Fascism came to Britain?

I’ve been struggling to write this post ever since last Friday. There are too many things to say. This morning, however, all I want to say is this. The Leave campaign was fought and won, largely on the back of fears about immigration. People worried about immigration come from all sections of British society – including those who are more recent immigrants to this isle themselves. Not all of these views deserve to be called racist or even xenophobic, although they are often summarily dismissed as such. People are worried that there are not enough jobs to go round, not enough houses, not sufficient capacity in the NHS and other services. The country is ‘full-up’. Sharp practices on the part of some employers have meant that it is sometimes true that British people have lost out to cheaper workers from elsewhere. Unions that could show both groups that they lose out from this arrangement, and help fight a common cause against exploitation, are missing. A lack of ready access to any facts concerning immigration, jobs, and the economy, makes it difficult for people to assess the situation. Then, of course, there are the views that count as racism.

Perhaps like people everywhere, there is a xenophobic streak in British culture. I’m mixed race. My coat was flushed down the toilet at school every day for weeks for being ‘a Paki’. A school friend stopped playing with me and called me a ‘brown streak of shit’ after taking me home to meet her parents for the first time. On holiday with my best friend’s family, they derided the driver of a car in front for being ‘a proper Paki, one of the really dark-skinned ones’. The local church choir where I croaked a wobbly soprano through a brief religious phase, loudly stated ‘they didn’t want to sing at a wog wedding’ upon learning that the bride and groom were black. A co-worker once came in boasting that he’d smashed up a BMW on his way into work as it was a German car (ironically, he was clad head to toe in Adidas). A friend’s mixed-race, three year-old daughter, was called ‘a filthy mongrel’ by a group of lads in a passing car. A black friend reports that every single time he goes into the centre of the town where he lives, someone calls him ‘a nigger’. The Spanish friend told to ‘speak English’ in the local supermarket. The lady at the bus-stop who tells me that the town was a lot better before ‘our friends – you know who I mean’ arrived. The disproportionate amount of black and minority ethic people who die in UK police custody (yes, that’s a thing here too). I could go on.

There is a spectrum of views from rational fears about immigration, non-racist fears that are nevertheless misguided, and views that are actually racist or xenophobic. By lumping all these together as ‘racism’ and refusing – in some sense – to address them – the legitimacy of certain fears starts to confer legitimacy on those that are not.

It’s nonsense to think that the 52% of people who voted Leave are racist, but as many people have pointed out, those who are racist, including Britain’s small but significant far-right, now think that 52% of people agree with them, and as the rash of xenophobic attacks illustrate, are emboldened as a result. The National Police Chiefs’ Council states that there has been a 57% increase in reported hate crime since the EU referendum vote. Anecdotes shared online and in the press show that a number of people have taken ‘Leave’ to be, not (just) what UK should do with respect to the EU, but a command to anyone who is not white and English – including recent EU migrants, British Muslims, and others who are, or who are merely perceived as, ‘foreign’.

There is a well-known correlation between economic hardship and the rise of Fascism. (Presumably, not all people in Fascist societies were racist. Take note.) If economics experts are to be believed, leaving the EU has the potential to plunge the UK headlong into another recession. Moreover, promises made concerning immigration – and those implied, intentional or not – cannot be kept. Immigration will not immediately stop. ‘Foreigners’ will not immediately be deported. Conditions of austerity will not immediately lessen. Public services will not immediately improve. Employment will not immediately rise.

Fearful of such consequences, many people think the way forward is to ignore the results of the Referendum. As far as I can tell from the many analyses now doing the rounds, this would be both legal, and have precedent, given the ways in which various governments have used referendums on different occasions. There is also perhaps some moral grounds for such action, given that the country is split almost down the middle in its view on Europe, anecdotal evidence suggests at least some Leavers now regret their vote, and the lies peddled by the Leave campaign are now being revealed as such. But this is also a risky business. There is likely to be a racist backlash against such a move, the brunt of which would be borne by ordinary folks. It also promises to extinguish what little remaining trust there is in politicians, further increasing the power vacuum currently threatening to engulf Westminster.

The UK is in a serious double-bind. The politicians who got us into this mess – Cameron for holding this Referendum; Gove, Johnson and others who, seeing it as an opportunity to seize power, lied outrageously to the public for an outcome they seemingly didn’t believe would happen and didn’t actually want – are beyond contempt.

But as ordinary citizens, no matter which way we voted, or which class of people we belong to, or where in the country we live, our most important work now is to try and reach out to each other across the yawning chasms that have opened up beneath our feet. We need to do our utmost to stamp out racism where we see it, and not let racial abuse and harassment become normalised. But we also need to treat each other with kindness and respect. Zero tolerance of racism does not mean abusing online, anyone who voted to Leave. We need to talk to each other. Try to hear each other’s concerns. And the ‘others’ I am referring to here are our neighbours, our friends, our families, the shopkeepers, the people we pass in the street.

The picture I have painted here is, of course, the worst-case scenario. I do not mean that this will inevitably come to pass. Instead, the message here is a call to vigilance. Nip this thing in the bud before it properly gets going.

Let this not be the moment when the history books state that Fascism came to Britain.

Further reading: here, here, here and here.

If you see, or are the victim of, a hate crime, report it here.

A simple majority?

If the Brexit vote is treated as binding, a simple majority will have been given exceptional power over a country and generations of its citizens.

From Geoffrey Robertson in the Guardian:

Our democracy does not allow, much less require, decision-making by referendum. That role belongs to the representatives of the people and not to the people themselves. Democracy has never meant the tyranny of the simple majority, much less the tyranny of the mob (otherwise, we might still have capital punishment). Democracy entails an elected government, subject to certain checks and balances such as the common law and the courts, and an executive ultimately responsible to parliament, whose members are entitled to vote according to conscience and common sense.

Many countries, including Commonwealth nations – vouchsafed their constitutions by the UK – have provisions for change by referendums. But these provisions are carefully circumscribed and do not usually allow change by simple majority.

US Supreme Court strikes down Texas anti-abortion law.

This is an important decision, the most important one on abortion for decades.

From CNN:

There were two provisions of the law at issue. The first said that doctors have to have local admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, the second says that the clinics have to upgrade their facilities to hospital-like standards.

The law meant that there would be very few clinics providing abortion. In such an extremely large state the burden placed on women who would have trouble traveling hundreds of miles was a way of restricting any access to a legal abortion.

Silly steps off a cliff (addition)

By Barry Blitt



Are there good feminist reflections this situation? I suspect my mind is in an alarmed state, more geared up for action than thought.

I suppose one could reflect one feminist theme and say that in both the UK and the USA there are very serious challenges to the social order caused by a significant failure to care for large segments of the society. For me the wonder of it is that in the USA at least so many persist in failing to respond to the society’s needs despite the obvious consequences. We need gun legislation; we do not need a supreme court that can’t effectively decide some major issues. Perhaps the UK equivalent is cheerfully admitting that the facts cited to support leaving weren’t -opps! – really right.

Let us know what you think!