Violent protests erupting across US cities sparked by the death of African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis have been described as the “worst race riots since the 1960s”.
Rising xenophobia is a sorrowful existence on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain, the covid-19 pandemic has led to racial attacks on Asians and people of Asian descent. This has led human rights activists to urge immediate action to prevent racist violence.
Escalating extremism has been bubbling away in Britain since the Brexit referendum in 2016. The killing of Labour MP Jo Cox by a right-wing terrorist just days before the EU referendum was the sickening apex of Brexit-induced right-wing extremism.
The right-wing press has played its part in intensifying bigoted hatred in Brexit Britain.
“The Remainer elites are the true bigots of Brexit” read the headline of hard-right online magazine Spike. The article proceeded to attack what the author referred to as a “bitter middle class”.
Brexit Day (31 January 2020), when the UK officially left the EU, was filled with protests and clashes in a country bitterly divided over Brexit.
In its critique of so-called “Remoaners”, Spike described them as hiding an “extreme, Victorian contempt for ordinary people and their stupid voting habits”. The article blames the Independent’s political writer Tom Peck for “setting the Remainers’ hate-fuelled tone” on Brexit Day.
Peck’s article describes Parliament Square on Brexit Day as a “knuckle-dragging carnival of irredeemable stupidity”.
Whereas Spike referred to the celebration as being in “good, lively spirits”, the Parliament Square bash was condemned by others as “dispiriting”. Critics said the event consisted of “thugs and morons being nasty about foreigners” and called for Parliament Square to be renamed “Racist Corner”.
Brexit Day may be done and dusted but the passionately conflicting emotions of Britain’s ‘independence day’ revealed how intensely divided the country has become.
Sadly, the fears Remainers upheld about Brexit encouraging an outburst of racist and hatred are sadly surfacing.
One of the most worrying examples of Brexit-induced extremism took place in Norwich, where flyers were pinned to the walls in all 15 floors of a tower block.
Happy Brexit Day
Entitled Happy Brexit Day, the flyer read: “As we finally have our great country back, we feel there’s one rule that needs to be made clear to Winchester Tower residents.
“We don’t tolerate people speaking other languages than English in the flats. We are now our own country again and the Queen’s English is the only spoken tongue here.
“If you want to speak the native tongue of the country you came from we suggest you return to that place and return your flat to the council so they can let British people live here and we can return to what was normality before you infected this once great island.
“It’s a simple choice, obey the rule of the majority or leave. You won’t have long until our government implements rules that will put British people first. So, best evolve or leave. God Save the Queen, her government and all true patriots.”
The racist-fuelled propaganda was investigated by Norfolk police. Nonetheless, the posters epitomise Remainers’ worst concerns over how Brexit will aggravate racially motivated hatred.
Although such concerns were surfacing among pro-Europeans long before 31 January 2020, statistics show racism has been on the rise in Britain since the Brexit vote. A survey conducted in 2019 revealed ethnic minorities in Britain had faced rising and increasingly overt racism in the wake of the EU referendum.
In February 2019, more than two-thirds (71%) of people from ethnic minorities reported having faced racial discrimination, compared with 58% in January 2016, about six months before the EU referendum.
In 2018, the number of hate crimes recorded by police in England and Wales increased, while the number of race-related hate crimes accounted for about three-quarters of all hate crime offences.
Anxieties raised by marginalised communities after Boris Johnson won a large majority in the 2019 general election added further fuel to Remainers’ concerns of a surge in racism.
Dr Joe Mulhall, head of research at Hope Not Hate, a charity campaigning against racism and fascism, told TIME: “Among marginalised communities, there is a real angst and fear. It [the election campaign] was a really ugly campaign. It was very divisive and polarised.”
Johnson’s remarks haven’t exactly given pro-Europeans confidence we’re being led by a multiculturally embracing prime minister. One of Johnson’s most infamous digs was at burka-wearing Muslim women, who he described in his newspaper column as resembling “letter boxes”.
In 2017 the director of Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro, a commentary on the history of US race relations, said America’s problem wasn’t “just racism – it’s sheer ignorance”.
It’s difficult to deny practising any kind of racism and aversion to people of colour does anything but show ignorance.
With overwhelming evidence racism and extremism is on the rise in Brexit Britain, it could be argued pro-Europeans, whom the far-right love to condemn as “bitter middle-class Remoaners”, were right to be fearful of Brexit Day.
Even the Brexiteers’ slogan “Make Britain Great Again” is, in itself, an isolationist ideology that incites nationalism and intolerance of marginalised communities.
As simmering racial tensions reach boiling point in the US, across the pond rising levels of bigoted hatred, spawned by a combination of the nation’s liberation from the EU, covid-19 and the “Blame China” narrative, underlines more must be done to tackle racist attitudes and racially motivated harassment.
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