My First Encounter With Post-Brexit Racism
Throughout the campaigning period leading up to the June 23rd vote, it became fairly obvious that racial tensions were increasing, and immigrants were becoming walking targets of an unprecedented number of hate-crimes.
Reports of racially-motivated crimes became regularly reported on the media, and it was obvious that Racism or Xenophobia were officially established as components of political views.
Moreover, when it came to the propagation and incentivisation of hate, those who campaigned for leaving the EU were wilfully (or strategically) ignorant. For leading Brexiteers the issue was bigger than European immigrants, and they opportunistically used the momentum generated by Brexit to consistently target people from all parts of the World.
Such misguided stupidity of Brexit-backed racism aimed indiscriminately in all directions: Non-EU Nationals, such as Arabs or Russians; Religions, for example, Muslims and Jews; And even passport-carrying British-nationals from African or Asian descents.
It is now clear that Brexit-incentivised racism was not really about Brexit, but rather a collective, socio-politically sanctioned cathartic purge of extremist views and practices. In other words, Brexit saw the legitimisation of a form of far-right extremism which the world mistakenly thought to have died in World War II.
Eventually the rising tide of stupidity and violent ignorance came washing-up on my shore.
June 2016, Cambridge
Shortly after the Referendum results were announced I found myself making the most of a British sunny day. In that particular afternoon I decided to head over to Cambridge’s local skatepark, which is located in the centre of the city at the Jesus Green park, right alongside the cooling presence of the flowing river Cam.
Eventually, as I began to socialise with my fellow skateboarders, I struck conversation with a Spanish kid. He was a scruffy teenager who worked as a dishwasher in some local restaurant and still struggled with the English language. Consequently, we simply conversed in his native language instead.
And then the bomb dropped.
‘YOU’RE IN ENGLAND, SPEAK F***ING ENGLISH!’
Shouted a voice that sounded much too innocent to bear the violence of such sentence.
I looked down to find a child not taller than my waistline, sitting on his bicycle quoting passages from the British Racist Manifesto. I froze when I saw that miniature of a human, with a shaved head and a pale complexion, standing in front of me as if he was a Mini-Me stereotype of a neo-Nazi Skinhead.
At the time, all of my instincts were telling me to address him in the same proportion of his speech, and for a few seconds I saw only the hate, and not the kid behind it. A hate that looked down on me, instead of a child fixing his gaze upwards. I took a few breaths and thought carefully about what to do next.
I tried to engage with him in a childlike manner, and told him innocently ‘That is not a very nice thing to say buddy’.
His reply was almost immediate, ‘Go back to your Country then, you N***er’.
I laughed nervously and in disbelief. Naively, I tried to engage with the child once more: ‘You know, if a person speaks many languages, it is a good thing. Wouldn’t you like to know how to speak in a different language, for when you go on holiday one day?’.
His reply no longer came in words, and the child made a failed attempt at punching me. When he realised that his arms were too short to possibly do any damage, he simply started to yell racist slogans on a loop: ‘Immigrants are all criminals’, ‘You are all terrorists’, ‘Go back to where you came from’, etc.
He also, repeatedly threw the N-Word in there.
I simply gave up and kept skateboarding about while occasionally dodging the kid’s ‘attacks’, which were now indiscriminately aimed at everyone present. The child looked like a cat chasing a laser-pointer, trying to hit whoever he fixated on.
Eventually, a black British skateboarder got fed up with the N-Word being thrown about so gratuitously that he decided to level with the kid. He took the child’s bike and threatened to throw it in the river, unless he stopped saying the word and apologised. Needless to say that, for all of us who were not children, it was clear that he was bluffing. Also needless to say that it worked, and the kid calmed down and apologised.
But peace did not last long.
Out of the blue, the child threw his bike aside and started to run. He was almost out of sight when I saw him hugging two women who were accompanied by another kid. Both women were extremely overweight, one had red-dyed hair while the other was blonde, and the other kid was also sporting a shaved head; All three of them were paler than fresh Mozzarella cheese. After a short exchange and pointing the finger in our general direction, they started to charge towards the skatepark.
I was so caught-up in the absurdity of the situation so far, that (for some reason) I thought it was possible to talk to them. In my mind, the child had told them some distorted version of events (as children do), and once those in the skatepark explained the facts she would be doing some parenting.
Once they reached the skatepark I approached them and told them what had happened thus far, and it would probably be best if they had a conversation with the child.
‘GOOD. YOU SHOULD GO BACK TO YOUR F***ING COUNTRY!’, was the red-haired lady’s reply. Adding, ‘You are all in trouble for bullying a seven-year old. Just wait ’til his father gets out of jail. You will all be in trouble. You F***ing foreigners’.
For the second time that day I stood in disbelief and just tried to skate the rage and shock away. This proved to be hard, since the women kept on shouting racist and xenophobic slurs throughout, with a passionate hatred that I had never seen in my life.
Their repertoire included: ‘All immigrants are paedophiles!’, ‘Go back to where you came from you vermin!’, ‘We voted out, just go away already!’, ‘This is Our Country!’, ‘We took our country back, go away!’; To name but a few.
We have a saying in Portuguese that goes somewhat like this: So much will the soft water hit against hard rock, that it will eventually puncture it (The Portuguese version sounding way more melodic and eloquent than my attempted adaptation). And just like the proverbial hard rock, I eventually cracked and made my way home.
On the bus ride back home, away from all distractions, I had some time to process what just happened for the first time.
Initially I laughed the whole thing off, rationalising it as a by-product of contemporary political hysteria which would eventually die down. I also told myself that those people were a minority, and I should not let them get to me.
But the truth is that they did.
I remember crying on the phone to my Mom later that day, and I did not even really knew what I was crying about. I felt a powerful cocktail of rage, anger, rejection, shame, fear, and pity flowing through my veins. I felt a vast range of emotions and sentiments that I knew did not make sense and had no reason to be there.
I also felt bad for the child, who is being raised in such a violent environment which forces him to be a ticking timebomb, ready to explode at any moment and with an intensity which will increase proportionately to his age and size. Given the latest terrorist attack in New Zealand, I can’t help but to think that this child is radicalised enough to one day commit an act of terror himself.
That day in June changed me in ways that I am still starting to understand.
For one, the naïve person that I was — the person who thought that all human beings could be reasoned with — is gone. Also, my understanding of having a right to exist in the UK has been obliterated, and it now feels more like a favour. In other words, I am merely tolerated in this country and not wanted here.
And finally, the innocence that used to allow me to think twice in the face of racism/xenophobia is gone, for I can no longer pretend that racism is a problem of miscommunication.
That day marked the death of a part of me that believed in the Utopic ‘Post-Race Society’ and has forced me to look reality in the eyes — A reality that once seen cannot be unseen.