Across the pond, the United States is enduring social and political crisis as fascinating as it is heartbreaking. Minority Americans are feeling marginalized and in some cases directly persecuted – not purely by Donald Trump or the far-right takeover of government, but by the social atmosphere those things permit and encourage. Police brutality against African-Americans was never properly addressed; Muslim-Americans are practically shunned (if not criminalized); Hispanic and Muslim immigrants from around the world are not welcomed. All of this has led to a sort of era of demonstration and peaceful protest that can almost make you admire the American spirit all over again, even if you’ve lost your appreciation for the nation itself.
In the UK, similar social issues have come to light, though they’ve been a little bit less striking. We have not seen neo-Nazis marching in the streets as we saw in the States, and the UK does not have a leader publicly criticizing professional athletes for protesting racial injustice. Yet more than a year after the Brexit referendum that caught the attention of what seemed like the entire world and then stunned that international community with its result, it’s become fairer to call the situation a racial problem. To be clear, no one is assuming all Brexit voters, or even most of them, harbour racist tendencies. Many admitted to voting almost jokingly, some were concerned about economics, and even those specifically hoping for tighter immigration policies may not have fully realised what that meant for the social climate.
The fundamental issue is that the Brexit was about as loud and clear an isolationist statement as a modern nation could possibly make. Donald Trump gets a lot of international attention for his “America First” policy outlook. But when you think about it, the UK has gone much further with this attitude by actually voting to break away from the world – or at least from its own continent. The Brexit is a declaration of the self-sufficiency of the UK, and by extension its people. The truth is that those people now hail from an untold variety of ethnic, religious, racial, and cultural backgrounds. But to a conservative white British person who believes immigration has hurt his country, this is apparently difficult to recognize. For such a person, the Brexit isn’t just about British independence from Europe, but about white independence from other.
That might sound to some like heated rhetoric or even a reckless assumption. Sadly, however, the data backs it up – and that’s why it’s time to call the Brexit what it is. We learned this past spring that over a third of black, Asian, and minority ethnic (Bame) people have been racially abused or have witnessed racist abuse since the time of the vote. This revelation came from a study by the Trades Union Congress, which also find that racist material has become more prevalent online and that 41 percent of Bame people have “heard racist remarks” since the referendum. These are unacceptable numbers that demonstrate the depth of a problem that seems to be bigger than its coverage.
Knowing all of this, the UK appears to be in very similar shape to the United States, despite the absence of internationally newsworthy events. It is now okay – if not vital – to call the Brexit a racial problem.