In the aftermath of the referendum, commentators, politicians and Twitter are out in full force, deciphering the real message Brexiters delivered to us by voting to leave the EU. As it turns out, this vote was less about the EU itself and more about the working class giving it to the system. Austerity, immigration and lack of control has driven them to voice their anger at the polling stations. Amongst the videos of passionate Leave campaigners, teary veterans and your average working class man in his local pub, the basic summary is 'if you're white and poor, you voted Leave'. So, where in this discourse do working class PoC fit in?
In the UK, more BAME’s than white people are living in poverty. They are more likely to live in overcrowded housing, suffer unemployment and receive lower wages than their counterparts. Yet in contrast to the 53% of White people who voted to leave the EU, 67% of Asians and 73% of Black voters opted for Remain. But when the discourse around working class Britain takes place, immigrants and PoC are strangely left out of the equation. The white working class experience is the standard story for us.
Of course, it’s not an easy story. Deindustrialisation, Thatcherism and austerity changed the undercurrents of this society so the working class are held in contempt and suffer deprivation in exchange for privatisation and banker bailouts. But if this is how the economic body has changed, the narrative in which this inequality has been dressed has taken on a sinister and dangerous face. Where the story of working class PoC has similar tones to that of the white working class, it has been altered to strip them down to nothing more than mere statistics. They are alien forces invading our homeland which is now ready to burst at the seams depriving you of a better and more enriched life. It’s an interesting way to portray the ‘other’.
It’s the ‘other’ that has been the back bone of the Leave campaign, the reigns of which were given to the likes of UKIP. This, of course, has not happened overnight. It’s been seeping into the mainstream for years culminating into the result of the referendum. When the first Muslim mayor of London was elected, the Britain First candidate symbolically stood with his back to him. Sadiq Khan won despite the Islamophobia so openly used by Zac Goldsmith against him. Nigel Farage standing in front of a poster of Syrian refugees, so reminiscent of Nazi propaganda. The headlines of the Sun and Daily Mail. The bile spouted by Britain First and the tragedy of Jo Cox who was murdered by a subscriber of their beliefs.
When the very institutions which are supposed to be the bedrock of society use racism and xenophobia as bait for political gain, it says a lot about your democracy. It is a far easier and more effective tactic to pin the blame for white working class problems on immigrants than talk honestly about the economic complexities of leaving the EU. So we’re presented with images of tax dodging, benefit claiming, NHS guzzling immigrants who are outweighing the resources available in this country.
Given this argument, we’re told that labelling all Brexiters as racist is ignoring the plight of the working class. It’s a lefty liberal attack because the outcome of the Referendum did not go their way. No, not all Brexiters are racist. But on the back of a campaign where nasty nationalism has morphed into acceptable racism, it's a surprise that some would downplay this result. When the heart of your strategy has been anti-immigration and white nationalism, to coat it in anything less than xenophobia is ignoring the fact that immigrants and PoC no longer feel safe in this country.
There are, of course, PoC and immigrants who voted to Leave. Their votes also dependent on age, class and geography. And just like working class PoC who voted to Remain, they have also been ignored, invalidated and portrayed as the anti-thesis of what Britain stands for. With an environment as toxic as this, there is no reason to take working class experience of PoC into consideration.
The result of the referendum was not simply a reflection of the working class shouting out against the elitist power of Brussels. This was about immigration. About race and about a fear of the ‘other’. As a result, immigrants and PoC of this country are scared to call it home. It took a referendum to legitimise the view that anyone not white is not welcome here.