A Race To the Bottom

A waking nightmare

The idea for this blog came out of my battle with depression over the course of the last year.  High levels of anxiety meant that I was struggling to sleep at night, so I would turn to the internet for entertainment that would not wake my long suffering husband.  But Facebook and Flipboard and all my other steady go-to’s provided little comfort, as my newsfeeds were full of impending doom.  Trump this and Brexit that – anything it seemed, but joy.  So I determined that one day, when I was feeling stronger, I would have to create that happy place. A good place where people could come to read something funny and light-hearted, where they could learn about something or someone new and smile, no matter how sh*t life seemed.  So it is with great, great reluctance and a little hesitation that I drag politics into this utopia.  Unfortunately though, my heart is heavy and I cannot ignore it any more.

Have you ever had one of those nightmarish dreams where everything seems normal, until it isn’t?  You know, where everyone and everything seems to be just as it is in life, but they all actually turn out to be zombies or something? Well, every time I turn on the news, it feels a bit like I’m living in one of those nightmares.  It started with talks of Boris, Brexit and Farage.  It was exacerbated when we voted out of the European Union, and my disbelief then turned to dismay.  I became suspicious of those who I saw on the “other” side, those whose motives I believed to be, despite adamant protestations to the contrary, at least in part, racially motivated.  I began to wonder if their politeness towards me was masking a genuine dislike or mistrust of foreigners.  You see despite the fact that I have spent most of my adult life here in the UK, I was born in Nigeria.  I am one of “those” from “over there”, and probably always will be.  I might sound like I chew Oxford English Dictionaries for sport, but I was not born British.  I too spent many, MANY years here in the UK applying for visas to stay, standing in line at the Home Office.  I used to get in the long queue at Immigration to determine whether or not I was fit for entry.  So when people talk about “them foreigners”, there’s always a big part of me that feels the sting.

But it’s not about racism, it’s about protecting our borders…

Brexit, bloody Brexit

Although most people I meet would likely describe me as a happy, smiley person, deep down I am a true cynic at heart. A sceptic of the highest order. If my eyes see something good, my mind instantly searches out (and finds) the possibility of bad. Selfishness, hidden greed, idleness or stupidity. I see them all. It disturbs me, my ability to pluck evil from the throes of joy.   So my troubled heart has learnt to dismiss these thoughts and suppositions as nonsense.   However occasionally, occasionally, my dark thoughts are proven right.

“But it’s not about racism,” bandied the jubilant Brexit brigade, “it’s about protecting our borders.” Sadly the dramatic spike in racist attacks post referendum proves otherwise.

Police recorded a 41% rise in racially or religiously aggravated attacks in England and Wales in the month following the referendum, compared with the same period the year before. Forty-one percent!  Even allowing for some noise in the numbers due to improved police crime recording, that is a significant jump.  Now, yes one might theorize that people didn’t vote out of the EU because they are racist or because they hate Europeans.  No doubt many believed the lies that the Leave campaign spoon-fed about greater democratic and political freedoms, away from the bureaucracy of Brussels.  They dared to hope that leaving would give our economy a much needed cash injection. They may have had good, though misguided intentions.  But one thing is certainly true, our decision to leave gave voice to those who previously knew to keep their abhorrent beliefs to themselves.  Suddenly it was ok to be a bigot in public. And it isn’t difficult to see why, after all if it’s ok for that f*ckwit Farage, why not?  For years we have been fed stories of benefit migrants, of no good Eastern Europeans coming to the UK just to send their benefit cheques back home.  Brexit was a deliberate and cynical attempt by some to blame Europe for the problems that should land squarely at our government’s door. We should be celebrating the significant contribution that foreign nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers, builders, engineers, designers, caterers, plumbers, carers, nursery assistants, chefs, cooks, waitresses and many, many  more have made to the fabric of our nation, instead of looking for an excuse to kick them out.  Or worse.

Fit in or f*ck off!

But this is Britain. Integrated, united and strong.  That’s why a vote for Brexit hurt and stunned me so much.  Because despite all the spurious economic arguments for wanting devolution, the voices I heard loudest were those of White, middle aged Brits wanting to get “are” country back.  It was all to do with sovereignty and the good old days when Britain was a Colonial Superpower, before Brussels was telling us what’s what.  Of course, as a naturalised citizen from a former colonial nation, I don’t quite remember the past in such rosy hues.  I do not think that history paints such a sweet tapestry of what it was like to be a minority in Britain’s “glory days”.

And again, for those who would be swift to point out that those race issues have largely died down, now that the Brexit furore is almost over, I beg to differ.  Just last week, right here in South West Manchester, a local imam was stabbed on his way to mosque in what police are treating as a hate crime.  An orthopaedic surgeon who has worked in Britain since the 1970’s, who treated victims of the horrific Manchester bomb blast was attacked, his only crime presumably being that he was “one of them”.  I could go on.  Check it out for yourselves and you will see more and more of this lunacy.

And then there’s Trump.  When he first announced his candidacy for POTUS I didn’t bat an eyelid.  As he saw off each potential rival in the primaries, I remained unflustered. When he secured the Republican nomination amidst scandal after scandal I thought, “Whelp, congratulations President Clinton!”.  Surely our American cousins would learn from our mistake and go out in droves to ensure that narcissistic, homophobic, racist, bigoted potential sex offender would not be elected to the highest office in the world?  Well, we all know how that turned out.  And it seems that the far right or alt-right (if you say so…) is gaining political ground in Germany and France too.  Thankfully Macron and Merkel succeeded in their bids, but it was a fight too close for comfort.   It turns out that we really haven’t evolved that much. I think that the problem is that although some of us have moved on, come to recognise that the differences between us are largely borne of social construct and not an innate hierarchy of human evolution, others simply have not. And the Have Nots need someone to blame. And, like for centuries before, that scapegoat is the minority- the foreigner, the people of colour, the gays. Whoever the perceived easy target is, so long as they’re different from “us”.

So what now?

So what do we do now?  For one, I have spent the last 12 months feeling quite aggrieved.  I have felt angry, I have felt sad.  I have cried real tears for those who have been maligned both here and in the States.  I have been scared on public transport.  I am wary of certain people who look at me or my children, wondering what they are thinking.  This poem by the great Maya Angelou pretty much sums up the anger and resentment that I have been carrying around post-referendum.

Lord, In My Heart
For Countee Cullen

Holy haloes
Ring me round

Spirit waves on
Spirit sound

Meshach and
Abednego

Golden chariot
Swinging low

I recite them
in my sleep

Jordan’s cold
and briny deep

Bible lessons
Sunday school

Bow before the
Golden Rule

Now I wonder
If I tried

Could I turn my
Cheek aside

Marveling with
Afterthought

Let the blow fall
Saying naught

Of my true Christ-
like control

And the nature
of my soul

Would I strike with
rage divine

Till the culprit
fell supine

Hit out broad all
fury red

Till my foes are
fallen dead

Teachers of my
early youth

Taught forgiveness
stressed the truth

Here then is my
Christian lack:

If I’m struck then
I’ll strike back.

Forgive, just don’t forget

Personally, I do not want to live my life between fear and anger.  So. What. Now?  As a Christian, the first thing I am called to do is to forgive.  That is a tall order in some instances, but nevertheless experience tells me that I cannot find true peace or progress unless I do.  The imam who was stabbed was quick to do so, saying of his attacker

He is not representative of what this country stands for. I have absolutely no anger or hate or anything negative towards him. I have declared it, I have totally forgiven him.

If Mr. Kurdy can do it, then I must at least try.  That means forgiving those who got us into this mess in the first place.  I am not talking about Boris, Gove and Farage necessarily, and I am definitely not there yet with P45.  But the likes of my father-in-law, who I love and respect deeply, but who voted Brexit out of nostalgia and didn’t take other things or people deeply enough into consideration.  I am talking about not assuming that people may be harbouring malicious intent, just because they prefer a grade 1 or 2 at the barber’s.

Those who hold opposing views must find it in their hearts to forgive too.  The marginalised, those who have been let down by the system, who were promised the earth in exchange for a vote and got trampled underfoot instead.  They need to forgive those who they perceive as a threat.  And those Baby Boomers who were sold one dream of EU membership who now find their pensions eroding in a nightmarish reality, they must also forgive.  We must all try, try to let go of the anger that fuels our hatred, whilst retaining the passion for our beliefs.  Easily said, I know, but I did not promise that it would be easy.  Perhaps start by having a conversation with people you know to have opposing views.  Ask questions of each other and listen to the answers.  Try to learn and understand where each of you is coming from and you might see that you are not so vastly different after all.  Maybe.  That’s what happened at the Trump MOAR (that’s Mother of All Rallies to you and I) this month when Black Lives Matter protestors were invited on stage by the rally organisers to exercise their right to freedom of speech.  It inspired me, I was moved.  Perhaps there is some hope after all.

The ‘How’ matters too, you know

You must also think about how you talk.  Anyone who has ever debated the reality of unicorns with a stubborn 5 year old knows that facts do not convince people.  You need to use some psychology when you are debating the issues that matter.  This helpful video from Upworthy explains why and what can be done to make sure that your message is heard more readily.

Ok, so what then? After the talking and the forgiving and the hugging, what then?  Well truly, I am not sure.  But for me, I find that tackling things like this with a decent sense of humour goes a long way.  I love the group of German street artists who were so sick of seeing swastika graffiti on the streets, that they decided to  take definitive action.

It’s up to us

We all must take responsibility for calling out hatred, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism or whatever it may be when we see it.  Even if it is being done to others and not ourselves.  What struck me when watching the racist tram incident was the number of people who were sitting by, no doubt scared, but sitting in silence whilst this vile display of toothless aggression was being carried out, saying nothing.  And believe me, if I was on that tram, it is highly unlikely that I would have had the courage to speak up against the gang with only one brain cell between them, but I am disappointed that everyone just looked awkwardly away, as if it wasn’t happening.  It is like Martin Niemöller said back in the ’50’s:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

You see, we have been down this road before, haven’t we?  We have often times in our greed, in our fear or our egocentrism sought to divide and rule.  We have made the mistake of victimising the innocent and pitting man versus man in a futile bid for domination.  Two world wars have been fought about this, that argument was long ago settled.  So let’s stop this vile finger pointing and us vs. them mentality.  We are all one race – the human race (schmaltzy, but true).  Let’s lift each other up instead of tearing each other down.  History has shown that only leads to one thing, a race to the bottom.  And that’s a race where nobody ever really wins, so what would be the point in that?