2016 has been a funny old year. In the UK, much of the focus has been on the number of famous people who have died during the first half of the year (many unexpectedly, eg Prince, Bowie).
However, the event with possibly the longest-lasting consequences – in the UK at least – was the vote to leave the EU, ie Brexit.
As close as the final outcome was (52% v 48%), the result could have hardly been considered a surprise.
And the underlying reason is clear: racism.
“Some of my best friends are brown/black (delete as appropriate)…”
When challenged about their prejudices, most people vehemently deny the obvious with one of those stock phrases… “…but Mushtaq in the corner shop and I are great mates…”
They’re part of the vernacular, phrases that just trip off the tongue… and yet they’re pure lies. The kind of falsehoods we all rely on.
But what’s changed? Why have we become – as a nation – so racist?
What’s made the difference is 2 things:
1) The recession: this affected hundreds of thousands, particularly those that were traditionally working-class and historically voted for Labour: areas such as Wales, Northern England, although the conditions affected most parts of the country.
Jobs were lost and those (often lower-paid ones) that remained often ended up in the hands of Eastern Europeans who were willing to forgo a particular quality of life to get a foot on the life ladder in the UK.
2) The war in Syria: this has dominated the news for the past couple of years, bringing with it the rise of ISIS/Daesh (whatever you want to call them).
Yet, as awful as the conflict in the Middle East has been, the number of refugees who have ended up on our shores is minimal.
Only approx 5000 Syrians have arrived in the UK since the crisis intensified midway through 2015. Compare that with the 800,000 Germany has accepted.
That 5,000 accounts for around 0.007% of the population. That’s 7 Syrians for every 100,000 Brits: not many, eh?
What about the Turks?
During the Brexit campaign Boris Johnson consistently emphasised the Turkish threat, especially once Turkey ‘joined the EU’ – a situation that is not even guaranteed.
The Express claimed at one point that 15m Turks might arrive on our soil – a claim that was challenged and for which they subsequently had to apologise for.
However, the blanket assertion by the right-wing press was enough to worry many Brits. The fact that the number of Turks in the UK currently totals no more than 0.8% of the total population is ignored.
The Brexit issue was summed up neatly by one man interviewed by C4, who admitted he voted to leave the EU to ‘stop Muslims coming to the UK‘.
Laugh we may, but are any of us any that different? The 52% reaction to Brexit was mainly driven by fear of change and lack of control: both of these are things we all fear.
So my assertion that we’re all racist?
It’s not easy to prove, so let’s examine a possibly even more liberal country than the UK.
Following the war in Syria, Denmark agreed to take refugees. As a country, their ethnic Danish population had dipped from 97% in 1980 to 88% in 1997, following an influx of ‘guest workers’ from the likes of the former Yugoslavia.
After Syria, they accepted c. 36000 Middle Eastern migrants, only around 0.6% of their 5.7m population.
And yet, it had an influence. Even for a liberal, Scandinavian country, these arrivals have had a negative impact.
And the elephant in the room? Race.
It’s no surprise that even popular German Chancellor Angela Merkel has experienced a backlash from far-right voters in recent days.
For ‘racism’ read ‘fear of change’
We’ve all been faced by change in life: marriage, babies, new jobs, death. Even small things like a desk move in the office upset us.
Imagine you’re now faced with losing your job to someone you don’t know. They could be anyone: younger, prettier, a different gender/skin colour/nationality, older… who knows? Whatever, you will react.
The reaction will be knee Jerk. We know that this new scenario often ends up better but the short term effect is to react against the most scary thing.
And human nature rails against the clearest differences: gender, skin colour, sexuality, age…
In this example, we’re not so much racist as human. It’s innate to put up defences. To fight against the opponent, no matter how misguided that view may be.
To get past this, we need to educate. The cliché that exists in ‘one of my best friends is black’ is more accurate than we realise.
Those ‘friends’ we have that don’t ‘conform’ to our innate prejudices are more telling than we really know.
So, no we’re not all racist. Just human!