Brexit: heartbroken, but not broken

24 June 2016

Morning clouds of disbelief have given way to sadness. I’m grieving, as are at least 16 million other people around me. Not only for the EU and for a united stance against the horrors of the world today - but for the country I grew up in.

It’s been exhausting to follow the lead up to the referendum. To feel myself tense up as someone in the room mentions UKIP, or Brexit. To have to be the one to say “but they’re racist” and be met with “but their economic ideas make sense” by people I had formerly respected- and to repeatedly realise first-hand that so many of us have no problem with ignoring bigotry when it suits. To know that if this were the political climate when my parents were coming over from Bangladesh in the 70s, it’s highly unlikely that I would ever have been able to grow up here, or had any of the opportunities afforded to me during my childhood.

It’s been a strange process to watch from abroad as this anti-immigrant, xenophobic sentiment took hold in the UK. At first, I tried to ignore it. I had that privilege, I live in Berlin, it doesn’t affect me so much. Slowly, I took more notice. I started to talk to friends about it, to engage online, and yesterday, I flew back to help in some last-minute campaigning for the Remain campaign on polling day. I’m proud I did that, but I regret so much that it took me so long to get more involved.

I suspect many people will share that feeling today, too. Ignoring what’s been going on in our country’s politics is what’s got us here today. We were too comfortable, and uninvolved in decisions and politics that have made a huge impact on our lives. We didn’t realise how much we had to lose, or that we needed to actively protect the rights that we enjoy, no matter how we feel about party politics.

Talking to friends yesterday, it came out that many of them talked about politics on Facebook for the very first time thanks to this referendum. Many of us grew up with a deep mistrust in the British political system - seeing white men who went to Eton and Oxford coincidentally rise through the ranks to run the country, over and over again, will do that to you. Many in my social circles were relatively happy with the status quo. Not ecstatic, but doing okay; struggling to buy houses, but with jobs, and slowly paying off student debt. Again, a privilege - and one clearly not shared by many of marginalised and disenfranchised people across the country who used this occasion to finally make their voices heard.

The country is split. The voting shows that. The splits are stark, too - from age, to levels of education, to geographic borders. Party politics had little to do with this. The lies and the misinformation that was spread during this campaign were poison, ugly untruths, irresponsible in the deepest sense of the word.

It’s been hard to watch that happen, too. This is the dirtiest, most vicious campaign I’ve ever seen. Jo Cox’s murder was an extra, devastating blow - but as Alex Massie wrote, you can’t shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, and be surprised when someone breaks. I’m sad for the result, I’m sad for the way that the campaign played out, and I’m sad about the rising waves of right-wing sentiment that are spreading across the country. This isn’t the country I grew up in.

And now? The fact it took us too long to realise what was happening, to take the threats seriously, to not just push for change but to defend what we hold dear, is something that we need to remember and not repeat. We’ve lost a lot today, and our country won’t be the same again.

It’s nothing like the process I would have wanted, but we can’t lose more, and now, we need to do the very best we can. Whatever the party politics, those standing against bigotry, discrimination, and downright idiocy, must stand together. I’m in grieving, but I’m conscious of the active, vocal role that we all need to play to prevent this getting worse. As my friend Sarah wrote this morning: I’m heartbroken, but not broken.


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