The EU referendum has ruptured political parties, families and communities, lacerated national cohesion. Black and Asian Britons have gone through the same upheavals and anguish, and more. And worse. The vote was a test of our integrity and identity, political fidelity and pragmatism, personal concerns and wider loyalties. We made choices that will forever mark us CUT HERE.
A survey carried out by Lord Ashcroft found that around 70% of non-white Britons and 46% of white Britons voted to remain. The majority of Brexiters are native whites and a third of them are of various other backgrounds.
I voted to remain, as did both my children and most of my most trusted colleagues and friends. In my circle of fervent pro-EU activists are Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Africans, Arabs, South Asians and East African Asians. We cherish the European human rights laws and admire the idealism of the EU post war dream. We empathise with maligned EU immigrants because most of us walked through the same fires of rancour and animosity, sometimes still feel the burn on our skins. More importantly, we feel European and cosmopolitan, part of a connected world. Most of us lived circumscribed lives before moving to Britain. Kampala, the capital of Uganda, where I was born and raised was CUT HERE a stifling TOWN. Our British children, in contrast, have grown up to be global citizens. Some of them will try to leave and go to more open societies in Europe. Several successful Asian and black entrepreneurs have expanded into Europe. There is an indisputable business case for staying in this vast marketplace. High flying investment manager, Miss Renu Singh, is contemptuous of Brexiters: ‘They are like a village farmer in the Punjab, scared of the outside, without any courage or imagination. I will move to Frankfurt. They can go, but they won’t take me out of Europe’
The EU gave us equality, real equality. After the empire ended, British passports were handed out to previous subjects to create a virtual overseas kingdom. My father wrapped these precious documents in velvet and kept them in a bank vault. They turned out to be worthless. After Uganda became independent, Asians, a defenceless minority, were persecuted by black politicians. They tried to move to their Motherland. In 1968, the Labour government passed the jus sanguinis law, which affirmed bloodline citizenship. Colonial subjects who had a UK born parent or grandparent – Australians, New Zealanders, white South Africans etc- could come and go freely. Darkies like me needed visas even though we were British. Our blue passports had the letter D stamped on it. I went through decades of humiliation at British airports until I got my red passport, identifying me as a British and EU citizen. The EU has been good to us, good for us.
Clearly a good many voters who share our life experiences and cultures were unmoved by these arguments.
Hundreds of thousands of them backed Brexit. Some because they are savvy and self interested, others because they are selfish, scared, or sadly simple minded. I can understand the first type, hard core Thatcherite operators who detest regulations, fear new tougher EU tax regimes, and want a completely laissez- faire economy. Mr Ram, ( not his real name), for example, imports clothes from India for the lucrative bridal market. He started with a market stall in west London and now has a turnover of millions: ‘Listen, Yasminji ( a respectful address) you have never run a business, don’t understand these things. This EU just wants to hold us back, tie our hands. Look at India- no stupid rules, see how far up it is going. We want to be like India and China. They don’t have unions and very (sic) interfering bureaucrats. We must be free.’ What about Eastern Europeans who work hard for low wages? ‘Yes, of course. My cousin has restaurants and all the waiters are Polish. But they cannot be really be British like you and me. Better to get our own people from India’ I went to see the cousin, also a millionaire Brexiter. ‘Yes it will be difficult to get the staff, the English are bloody lazy and our young people don’t want to work in the business. But these East European people must be sent back home. Maybe I will have to close the restaurants. ’ So not that savvy or smart then, these Asian masters of the universe.
The selfish ethnic Brexiter wants to pull up the drawbridge, is dead against admitting any more enterprising or desperate humans who want a chance to make or remake their lives. They have no conscience, no empathy with those who are exactly like they once were. Tough right winger Priti Patel, of Ugandan Asian heritage, is their poster girl. She will now go places. So too expedient immigrant politicians such as Gisela Stuart and Kwasi Kwarteng.
Many immigrants and their families voted for exit because they want to be seen as established Brits, as one of ‘us’ and not ‘them’. With the national mood so hostile, they seek to distance themselves from the story of migration. I do feel for them. They don’t yet realise that xenophobes do not distinguish between Poles and Pakistanis. I come finally to the most pitiable Britons of colour, those who fell for big fat Brexit lies. They really do believe that if we end the EU free movement of labour, their uncle from Trinidad, or in laws from Kashmir will sail in and claim their place. As Trevor, a plasterer, puts it: ‘My girlfriend, she in Jamaica. Mr Farage promised black people will get visas if we stop them Europeans. Brexit is good for us’
The EU political quake has opened up new schisms between races and ethnicities, and also within races and ethnicities. I have fallen out with a dear childhood friend and also a distant cousin over this. They voted Brexit and I will not forgive them. Things can only get worse after the effects of Brexit are felt in households and communities. These cuts and wounds may never heal. The nation is broken into many parts.
Blog 25th Jne 2016