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Cheeky Brexiters, you almost had me fooled

June 26, 2016

The Brexit people have been talking so loudly about how the Remain camp is being sanctimonious and hyperbolic by assuming that all Brexits are racist, they almost had me convinced.

Then yesterday, I met a delightful young woman, a Leave supporter, who said she wasn’t racist, but, she doesn’t like Eastern Europeans much because “one of the them beat up my dad”. Later she said she didn’t “understand the point of speaking Polish”. To top it off, she referred to a Chinese man she did not know as “chicken chow mein.” Twice, because it was a terribly funny joke that I and my other Remain friend didn’t immediately get, because this isn’t 1970.

I would love to think that this series of extraordinary comments – including the most racist thing I’ve come across in my personal life for about seven years – is completely unrelated to Britain’s recent decision to leave the EU. But I’m not that naive. It’s perfectly obvious to me that the reason this individual felt comfortable in expressing herself this way is because she believed that a majority of the country think in the same terms as she does.

Judging by the reaction of our mutual acquaintance (suppressed horror), this balls-out racism isn’t something she routinely does. It’s a recent development. As in, since two days ago, when we left the EU.

Through all the protestations of the non-racist Brexit people, I think we could have all predicted that a vote to leave the EU would, in the minds of racists, vindicate racist opinions and manners of expression. This is what I tried to warn people about when I wrote before about how even if you hate the EU and want to leave, you should vote In, because the other Brexit voters aren’t being as level-headed as you; they are, in substantial portion, just being racist.

Not nebulously, political-correctness-gone-mad racist: actually racist. Chicken chow mein racist. Notice that this particular slur doesn’t even have anything to do with the EU or Europeans, yet she obviously felt that resistance to foreigners wherever they come from all feed into each other. I’m inclined to agree, which is why I didn’t want to be a part of a nation that said: “No more Eastern Europeans, please.”

The reason for a particular vote is sometimes as important as the vote itself. The drawbacks economically of leaving the EU are already apparent. Less clear is the social impact of having chosen to leave the EU. I don’t expect to encounter a sudden downward spiral into intolerance, for the simple reason that obviously the intolerance was already there, or we wouldn’t be in this mess.

I am concerned that there might be a sudden surge in freely spoken prejudice, as a result of racists thinking that a majority wanting Out means we all have latent racism that we only express at the polling station because of social pressure – and now we can all freely hang our racist knickers out to dry in public.

Our long, growing resistance to racism has meant that non-racists are quite muted around racists. We don’t know what to say. What do you say to “chicken chow mein”? I remember once, while drunk, getting into a long lecture with a racist about how “It’s not good to be racist.” Not the kind of thing I generally come out with sober. Perhaps I should drink heavily in the presence of Brexit people, in case I need to let out my trite inner anti-racist.

Polite society might have to step up their game, and be more ballsy in telling racist sentiment where to go. Especially you, non-racist Brexiters. You wanted this intensive mop-up job, you hold the mop. There’s a potentially gigantic Pandora’s Box needs closing, and it’s on you.

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