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Yesterday

June 30, 2016

Today is my first day out in the world in the aftermath of the apocalypse. Or, so it feels.

There is an oppressive atmosphere, an uncertainty of where we are headed, and who is to be trusted.


Before leaving the house, I was told there was a start-up movement of pinning a safety pin to oneself as a sort of cheap-ass symbol of non-aggression towards immigrants and PoC, who have lately been receiving some unpleasantness off the back of Brexit. To top it off, I’m wearing my new EU T-shirt.

Out on the streets, I notice quite how many PoC there are in the area. It isn’t something I pay much mind to usually, but today I have extra reason to notice, and extra reason to analyse them. I want to see if they are affected by this result, if there is any disruption to their daily lives. The black old ladies in particular seem perfectly calm. I wondered if perhaps, compared to the racism they would have faced in their day, this is all water off a duck’s back.

My reason for going out was to attend the hospital for an pre-op assessment. Part of the reason I’m flagging up my colours is because I remember that this specific hospital, like many in the area, has a high rate of immigrants, integral to the running of the thing. It is for the immigrants, so they can see that I am one of those who is definitely not antagonised by their presence. I’m not particularly interested in antagonising British folk who voted Out.

At the hospital, I have an appointment with a young, black British nurse who takes my blood pressure. She sees my shirt and begins talking about how she, too, was disappointed in the result, because she wanted to stay in. I think about how it is odd she feels the need to mention it; judging by my last dealings with UKIP, Eurosceptic circles do not tend to pick up a large collection of black people.

Perhaps she feels that, being British, she was equally as likely as anyone else to vote to keep (mostly white) Eastern Europeans out of the country. Perhaps she has family members and friends of the same ethnicity who did exactly that.

I joke that conversations about the EU tend to make my blood pressure go up. As it turns out, my blood pressure is optimum level.

It means you’re a calm person,” says the nurse. Funny that. I often feel wound up, and I bottle it, but apparently the feeling never makes it into my blood.

An old white man in the waiting room is staring at me. The first thing you learn about doing anything controversial – even if it’s trivial, like wearing nail varnish – is that you become acutely aware of other people’s gaze and prone to jump to conclusions about their judgement, projecting various stereotypes onto them. It is hard to tell if a neutral face is expressing deadpan approval or cold disdain. I remind myself that many old white men voted to Remain.

Yet, as I leave the hospital, I find myself crossing the road to avoid people passing on the other side. I do this from time to time when I want more space, but I am doing it more often today; I notice that the people I’m avoiding are mainly white people.

I keep expecting to receive hard stares for daring to show an allegiance, especially now that, in the minds of many, the whole charade is over with. How much of what I feel is an over-interpretation, I don’t know; I do know that, all across my social circle, I’m hearing reports of discomfort – muted conversations in the post office, wary glances from the grown-up children of immigrants.

I stop by the Korean supermarket. On the way, there are many children and teenagers. A group of three are talking animatedly, perhaps arguing, with a man; although the man looks jovial enough, the sight makes me uneasy, and I can’t help but check the race of the individuals. They are a range, from Eastern Asian to Pakistani. I allow myself some relief, and reflect on how this particular area is extremely multicultural – increasingly more so with every passing year. There are more mixed race friendship groups than I recall from my childhood.

I remind myself that kids between the ages of ten and fourteen are probably not passionate about the esoteric details of the European Commission and its workings. Though I do suspect that many have inherited strong, garbled views about the EU bogeyman from their parents, parroting them without questioning the reasoning, as children are wont to do.

In the supermarket, I wonder if things will be tenser here than usual; the market is highly Korean-centred, with all Korean staff who talk Korean to each other right through the customers, and speak English only to give the overall price of your basket. If it wasn’t for the currency, you might think you were in Korea. It is a little island away from British bullshit I now appreciate all the more.

And it all seems much the same – I suppose since they came here without the help of the Schengen agreement which privileges Europeans, Koreans are indifferent to that particular side of it. Potentially, a few of them are actually glad, since they might think it only fair that if some immigrants have to jump through hoops to get into the country, every immigrant should.

I step outside and notice a string of bunting, featuring the flags of numerous countries, hanging from the awing if the Korean super. I didn’t see it on my way in. I try to remember if it was there the last time I came, or a recent addition. In either case, the message is clear; we stand for inclusiveness. We value customers of all nationalities. Would anyone assume otherwise – and if so, why would they? Well, recent events could convince someone that nobody stands for inclusiveness.

Tonight, I am having dinner with other vegans. Most of the table are Remain, but there are at least a couple of Outs, women whom I like. It is easy to forget, laughing and joking, how much animosity there is online between each group and every conceivable sub-group. Despite the easy atmosphere, I get the strong, almost synaesthetic sense of being coloured differently to those who voted differently to me; as distinct as red is from blue.

It is agreed that the conversation should not lean too far into that particular point of recent politics, though there is, inevitably, some discussion on the topic around the table. In general, we focus on our similarities and not our differences, a practise which I favour as a rule. I don’t want this vote to be divisive, however much it will certainly be troublesome.

At the back of my mind, I wonder if we’re moving away from discussing, from caring about, the EU referendum already, and I think: Is it really time? Are we ready? It’s not over for a long while. This is a patch of heavy rain that precedes many cloudy days. I may be able to ditch the safety pin soon, but it will be a while before the shirt is folded away at the bottom of a drawer.

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