Since the “Brexit” vote to leave the EU there seems to be an ever growing number of posts from supporters of both camps either leveling accusations of the “other side” being racist, thoughtless sharing of xenophobic Meme’s and tweets and posts starting with the words “I’m not rascist but…” and even more worryingly there have been significant jumps in hate crimes over the last few days. This has had a huge impact on the international view of the UK which is being damaged significantly by the perception that the majority of citizens hold the same view, which isn’t even close to being true among either the Leave or Remain voters.
In this post I’m going to take a look at the causes of this, how we can work together to stamp it out with facts rather than rhetoric and work together to help unite our United Kingdom.
What’s the problem?
Following the vote by the UK to exit the European Union on Thursday there have been a significant increases in the reports and visibility of xenophobic acts ranging from posts on social media, mindlessly shared by thousands, through to right wing groups staging demonstrations, like the one in the photo below, demanding the UK ‘repatriate’ or ‘send back’ ‘foreigners’. If you’re interested in examples of these Sarah Le Blanc has created an album on Facebook that’s worth a look.
How did we get here?
The news in the last few months in the UK have been dominated by the debate over the EU referendum and as with most passionate subjects where opinions are split, confirmation bias has been in full force though out, which has caused increasing polarisation of public opinion and allowed emboldened those in the UK population with the most extreme views to share them more openly and believe that they have the ‘silent majority’ with them.
The challenge is that both campaigns used similar tactics to win votes, with the leave campaign employing them to the greatest effect. Genuine questions and concerns about the impact of immigration were often dismissed as xenophobic by some in the Remain campaign, while the Leave campaign accused critics of the genuine racism as “negative” and “focusing on the few” without ever distancing themselves from the worst offenders for fear of losing votes.
Many of those that see themselves at the lesser end of the scale, sharing other people’s posts and Meme’s with xenophobic undertones, use the defence of if “it was a <insert minority here> then no-one would complain but when I say it it’s <insert choice of racist, xenophobic, homophobic, etc. here>”, “everyone else is thinking it, I’m just saying it”, “the establishment trying to silence the majority” or my personal favourite from the Daily Mail “this is just political correctness gone mad”. They are also helped along by the likes, shares and retweets of their posts which they read as confirmation of their views without context, for example a few hundred or thousand likes are seen as the ‘silent majority’ when the UK’s population is over 65 million and the there are roughly 30 million UK citizens that use Facebook. This issue is magnified by the effect of social media and search sites ‘tailoring’ the posts and results you see to those you agree with more
This polarisation isn’t a phenomenon that’s isolated to the UK, if the ‘Brexit’ debate it too close to home try looking at the US Presidential race where identical tactics are being used to justify identically horrifying actions. The only difference between the two is that in the US many of the extreme views spouted by each side are “protected” by the US constitutions under as ‘Free Speech’ whereas in the UK some of the same statements are specifically illegal and have been under various laws since the Race Relations Act 1965 with the most recent being the Equality Act 2016 something that we should all be proud of.
One of the biggest problems is that it takes only a loud few in a public place/forum, like shown in the photo above, to make many people uncomfortable. For example one person screaming homophobic/rascist chants on a tube station will have an impact on thousands of commuters who are standing on the platform and without correction others feel more emboldened every day.
How can we stop this?
This is not a simple a simple problem to solve and we all have our part to play to ensure that the extremes in our society understand that their views are exactly that, extreme and unacceptable in today’s society.
Listen and Debate with those who do not share your view
It’s incredibly important that you actually listen to what people with other viewpoints have to say, whether you agree or not, and try to understand what’s actually behind their point of view and then debate the point, don’t shout them down or resort to name calling.
As you do this you’ll find that far more unites us all than divides us and you may change your mind one way or the other on some subjects. The reality is that most people voted the way they did not because they wanted either a ‘United States of Europe’ or ‘Zero Immigration’ but because they felt that the way they voted was in the best interests of them, their family and their businesses based on the information available to them at the time.
A great opportunity for us all to re-engage with each other and have a grown up debate is the immigration debate that’s currently raging within the UK. There are millions of people that are concerned about immigration and the impact it’s having on their local community, services (like the NHS) and housing. These concerns are legitimate and we need to provide facts and context so people can understand the real issues and the underlying causes rather than just easy to re-post Meme’s and political soundbites.
We all also need to bear in mind that many people don’t have the facts or have the facts without context so challenging people without name calling is important. The only way people who don’t have access to information isn’t going to be through name calling, it’s by giving them access to that information.
Make your voice heard
By silently ignoring misinformation posted and not challenging those that share misinformation your own views are being misrepresented by the few, make your opinions clear and debate the point on social media, in the pub or wherever else you hear misinformation being spread.
A brilliant video I’d recommend you watch if you have time is John Oliver’s brilliant piece on gun control and the NRA’s influence on it in the US that featured on the Daily Show in 2013. This explains how the few, in this case the NRA, drown out the many by being more active and ensuring their voice is heard loud and clear in numbers whenever legislation they disagree with comes up for discussion. Learn from this and contact your MP and make your views known.
Confront xenophobia/homophobia and racism head on
If you encounter instances where those with extreme views who’s actions break the law , you need to report these incidences and stand up for your fellow citizens, don’t assume someone else will do this. There have already been clear speeches from many in public life that this behaviour is unacceptable, including a joint statement from the Metropolitan Police (London’s Police Service) and Sadi Khan (London’s Mayor) but don’t let that stop you from taking action, we all are truly in this together.
The UK population as a whole do not hold more extreme views now than they did before the EU referendum but those with more extreme views are not being challenged and damaging the image and the unity of our country and being emboldened by the lack of challenge to their views.
It’s crucially important that all of act to counter this and take time to listen to other views, debate, learn and share or we’ll have a race to the bottom in our politics and our public life where none of us will win and our country will be the only casualty.
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
– Martin Niemöller
What are your views?
Please share your thoughts either in the comments section, through the contact us page or by commenting on Facebook. If you think I have it wrong, would like more information there’s a subject you’d like me to explain please let me know, the whole idea of this blog is to share information as if we don’t help each other understand no-one else will.
If you think you can do better or you’d just like to add to the debate get in touch, we’re open to contributions.
I’d like to thank everyone who has read this and
Sources and Further Reading
I’ve tried to post my sources and quotes throughout this post but I’ve also included them and suggested further reading below. I try to read a variety of views so my inclusion of them in the list doesn’t mean I subscribe to their viewpoints, just that they add to the discussion or I have read them while writing this post.
If you have any suggestions for links that should be included here let me know and I’ll be happy to add them.
Last Week Tonight
- Sorry, we won’t stop migrants! Brexit MEP ‘rows back on claims that quitting the EU would cut immigration’ in furious BBC clash
Office of National Statistics (ONS)
The Evening Standard
- Leave campain rows back key pledges immigration and NHS spending
- Brexit has given voice to racism – and too many are complicit
- Racist incidents feared to be linked to Brexit result
The New York Times
- List of Discrimation Acts in the UK
- Disability Discrimination Act 1995
- Disability Discrimination Act 2005
- Equal Pay Act 1970
- Equality Act 2006
- Equality Act 2010
- Race Relations Act 1965
- Race Relations Act 1968 and Race Relations Act 1976 amended by the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000
- Representation of the People Act 1918
- Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928
- Sex Discrimination Act 1975, amended by the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002
- See also the Employment Equality Regulations covering sexual orientation, religion or belief and age.
- Martin Niemöller
- First They Came…