"People are saying I support racism because I voted Leave but I'm not a racist."
And I need to address that as clearly as I can.
There were of course, a number of legitimate reasons to consider voting Leave which weren't associated with racism or xenophobia. Many hard left groups initially advocated for a Leave vote due to socialist, economic ideology. They made a pretty good case for it which of course was labelled "Lexit" (Left exit). There were also other arguments to do with exactly how people were governed, systems of power and rule and so on. Some people called this "Sovereignty"* and whilst many of those arguments were based on inaccurate information, in no small part due to the appalling campaign strategies, people honestly believed and supported them.
|A flyer from TUSC one of the groups that supported the so called "Lexit"|
However, for the vast majority of voters who voted on the day or later in the campaign then yes, you are a racist or you supported racism.
The Leave campaign adopted a strategy of arguing on a base of Immigration, Patriotism and Sovereignty very early on. It was not long before that was the main focus that was pasted across every front page, down the side of buses, on poorly identified propaganda through our doors and in every speech and statement the campaign made. This was about immigration. It was about ethnicity. It was about xenophobia. It was about pitting us against them. Yes there were other so called arguments thrown in to the mix, things like economic stability, deficits, and trade agreements. Things that were routinely and thoroughly put down and debunked repeatedly by experts in the field.
If you chose to ignore the expert reports, the concerns and warning raised by economists, business tycoons and world leaders and still felt that Leave had a valid economic case that you supported, you could in no way ignore the cacophony of racism coming from their camp. There was literally no way to avoid it. There was no way to deny that racism and xenophobia were a core part of the campaign.
There was no way to ignore a rising wave of so called nationalism and fear mongering about "them".
You knew it was there.
Let me pause to give you a brief analogy.
If you buy and read the Daily Mail and say "I only get it for the sports.", you are still supporting them. Your money goes in to their account, your purchase or online view goes in to their statistics. You give them money each day to conintue operating and you give them your support to say "the widest read paper" or "our readership has increased by...". Notice how they don't break it down in to "The widest read newspaper except for them who only get it for the sport.". No, sports only or full paper, you are one of their readership, you have given them legitimacy.
Well, if you voted Leave but aren't a racist that is exactly what you did with the Leave campaign. You gave them legitimacy. You threw your vote, your support, behind a campaign that was racist. You supported racism. You may not believe yourself to be racist, and maybe in your day to day life you are not, but when you cast that vote and supported a racist campaign, you supported racism.
|just one of many pictures found on twitter following the result|
In the days, hours in fact, following the referendum results there was a massive upswing in the amount of visible and obvious racism and xenophobia. Cards being put through doors and handed out outside schools. Slogans and stickers appearing in cities. Slurs being shouted, people being berated. And so many of them directly referencing the referendum.
"We voted Leave, now fuck off".
These are people, racists, who are emboldened by the support the Leave campaign received. They are supported by the Leave campaign and by the Leave victory and that victory was supported by the people who voted for it. If you voted Leave you support racists.
So there are two options here, either you are so shockingly naive that you somehow missed entirely that racism and xenophobia that was tied up in and weaved through the campaign or you knew it was there and you voted anyway.
As I said I don't think anybody was that naive unless they voted very early before the extent of he situation was so apparent.
That leaves the second option. You saw the racist campaign. You saw that it was a campaign shored up on xenophobia and that relied on stirring up a culture that pitted "Us" against "Them" and you chose to vote anyway. You can tell yourself you have as many good reasons as you want: economic, so called sovereignty, a concern about international trade but, you still chose to ignore all that racism. You chose.
You made the conscious decision that whatever your reasons were, they were more important than racism. That they were more important than people facing xenophobia. That a culture of racism and hatred was worth enduring so long as you got the benefit you had fixated on.
You put your own needs before those of millions of people because you decided racism was an acceptable price to pay for the chance of a little bit of economic stability or the chance of a better house price.
That is racist.
Your act was racist.
You are racist.
You may not be handing out those cards, or shouting insults in the street but don't think that doesn't make you racist. Racism goes far beyond simple slogans and is a form of systemic oppression against minority races and ethnicities. It is the pitting of the majority against the minority so that the majority can maintain a feeling of superiority. It is saying "my needs outweigh the right of people to not be oppressed or treated differently based on their skin colour or ethnicity.".
Due to its long history the UK already favours the white, British born, English-as-a-first-language, nominally-Protestant, over everybody else. It's built into the very core of our legal system. It developed over centuries and has yet to be undone.
To vote Leave because you feel that the small chance of bettering yourself is more important than stopping more inequality for people who are not white, British born, English-as-a-first-language, nominally-Protestant is to actively and knowingly take part in and support that systemic racism.
Every single one of us who is white, British born, English-as-a-first-language, nominally-Protestant** benefits from systemic racism. We just do. However we have a responsibility to do what we can to offset that, to fight against that and to not make it any worse. Some would argue that doing nothing is a form of racism. That's a tricky one.
However, if you actively take part in something that perpetuates that inequality and that actively encourages racism and xenophobia and actively supports xenophobic attacks, then yes you are racist.
You had a choice and you made it.
Now I want to finish up with something verging on positivity.
Maybe you voted Leave. Maybe you can now recognise that what you did was racist. But it's ok. People make mistakes. Trying to justify your actions is normal. However, rather than fervently deny that your vote was racist and maybe you didn't examine your own motivation enough or recognise some inherent or systemic racism , you can accept it.
You can say "yes I did, and yes I was wrong.". You can say "You are right and I will learn from this". You can listen to people's concerns, you can listen to their fears. You can recognise where you went wrong and make sure it doesn't happen again. You can find out what changes you can make.
You can remember that those of us who are in a position of white, British born, English-as-a-first-language, nominally-Protestant do need to take time to think about our actions now and then and do need to make an effort to not perpetuate or support racism.
This time you were racist. Next time, you don't have to be.
Addendum: I want to add that this does not mean that there are not individuals who voted remain who racist. There certainly are. I also know that there is systemic racism within the EU (as a population and as a political body) that desperately needs to be dealt with. However, the campaign was not built on and did not deliberately encourage racism.
*I believe that the word Sovereignty in this campaign has been used in such a way that it is indistinguishable from "Nationalism" it is a polite way of saying "mine not yours" and of saying "I want the power to keep people I don't like the look of, out".
** I include myself in this as a bisexual, genderqueer, disabled person. My minority status in those areas does not remove the privilege I experience as somebody who is white, British born, English-as-a-first-language, nominally-Protestant (i.e. I don't practice another religion which doesn't have the same protected rights as being Protestant).