On the day that Brexit was confirmed, a shellshocked media focussed attention mainly on the economic and political consequences of the public’s decision. According to politicians then and since, the people had spoken and their message had been received.
Yet, as it has turned out, some were only just beginning to make their voices heard.
After the vote.
Five days later on LBC radio, presenter James O’Brien, a valuable post-Brexit commentator, took a call from a German grandmother who has lived in the UK since 1973. Scared by what she had experienced that week, she told of her fears for her family as they were recast as unwanted foreigners.
But she was not alone in her tearful plea for help. Across the UK, the referendum vote seemed to release a wave of public hatred and abuse: “triumphalist in tone, vicious in intent and even more irrational than you might imagine”.
The stereotypical message was a demand that immigrants to “go home”—even though, here in the UK, that is exactly where they are.
One among many.
Within four days of the vote, racist incidents were up 57% nationally, when compared to 2015. By mid-August, this was ‘only’ 14% higher, yet still represented 2,778 separately recorded incidents.
Such incidents have targeted both EU and non-EU immigrants, although a significant spike in homophobic hate crimes also followed the vote.
Staff at helplines and anti-hate crime charities also explained that people were reporting being the targets of hate crime for the first time. The LBC caller’s sentiments the following day were not isolated or individual; they portrayed a new widespread surge of hate, encouraged perhaps that the Leave vote reflected a shared anti-immigrant public sentiment (though most Leave voters surely do not condone such attitudes).
The form of hate.
Hate crimes have ranged from public verbal abuse and widespread anti-immigrant graffiti to the murder of a Polish man in late August. Arguably the pre-Brexit killing of Labour MP, Jo Cox should also be included in this discussion.
The common denominator across all these incidents is the prevalent ‘them-and-us’ narrative. This simplistic, flawed, binary narrative reveals a UK society seemingly “more divided and polarised” than throughout much of our recent history.
Our modern day window on the world (or echo chamber), social media, has revealed the upward trend of hate crime in the words of the perpetrators, witnesses and victims. From the Facebook group turned organisation ‘Worrying Signs’ to the scores of personal tweets and posts, evidence of the scale and reach of this wave of sentiment is there for us all to see.
It is something that we cannot, and should not, swipe past and ignore.
A public shaming.
Tears, this time in empathy rather than fear, led to another scathing attack that brought the topic of hate back into the public’s eye in recent weeks.
Singer Lilly Allen, apologised to a young Afghan boy on camera for the role she perceived the UK as having played in his current hardship, while she was visiting the infamous Jungle Camp in Calais for the BBC.
Whether her apology on behalf of the whole of the UK was ill-advised, misjudged or completely just, the backlash she received was instant, personal and vitriolic. A torrent of misogynistic and personal abuse, including some from mainstream media outlets, was directed at Allen after the clip aired. She is also reported to having “received multiple warnings of rape, both for her and her daughters”.
This disproportionate attack reflected another worrying tendency that Gary Lineker was recently also on the receiving end of: the hate is being turned against not only immigrants, but also towards their supporters and empathisers.
A poisonous narrative.
The polarising ‘them and us’ narrative seems to sit dangerously at the very core of these hate crimes. It is a rhetoric that is easy to grasp and easier to repeat without ever needing to ask questions of its logic. It alleviates responsibility and makes scapegoats for whatever ills are being suffered.
As we have seen by the momentum populist movements have gained worldwide on the very biggest political stages, it is also being grasped by a significant proportion of a disenfranchised public.
This narrative is what One Day Without Us aims to challenge with positive action. We believe that we can make tomorrow better than today by working together not splitting apart.
Rejecting hate and division.
Hate crimes look to divide people.
They attempt to drive victims out through fear and intimidation and discourage interventions by their supporters or empathisers.
Often, the loudest voices are heard above all others, even when that voice is devoid of logic or reason, is unwilling to create understanding or is unrepresentative of the public at large.
Let’s reject the politics of division and hatred; let’s make our voice louder than hate.
Join us not just on the 20th February 2017 but from today; in conversation, on social media, in action for togetherness, we can celebrate positive, supportive attitudes towards immigration and multiculturalism.