I’m not shocked about Brexit. I wasn’t shocked in June, when the referendum results landed at our doorsteps like a steaming pile of shit. Over a month later, I still don’t feel any surprise.
I grew up in Italy, where a lying, delusional buffoon by the name of Berlusconi has governed for twenty-odd years. I’ve seen him endorse and empower the Northern League: a secessionist party with a seemingly moronic programme, and a chilling hate propaganda against immigrants and fellow Italians alike. In recent years, the League’s decline went hand in hand with the rise of the Five Star Movement: a group that prides itself on despising politics and power, yet competes to win Parliament seats; a “people’s movement” that hails free speech, yet has been known to cut off dissenting members. All the while, left-wing politicians seem too intent on talking over each other to try and steer the country in the right direction. So imagining a Brexit, or its likely consequences, was no big stretch for me.
Rather than surprise, I feel deep sadness, gripping fear, bitterness turning to anger. Six years ago, I moved to the UK in search of an opportunity, an open mind my own country didn’t care or want to show. Although London hasn’t always opened me the doors I wanted, it hasn’t left me wanting for gates to knock on when I needed. I didn’t always feel I fit right in, but this city, bursting with all sorts of people and personalities, taught me there’s nothing wrong with who I am. When I think about the months, maybe years to come, I know better than to take any of this for granted. Pandora’s vase is open; the slimy snakes of discord, distrust and fear of the Other are on the prowl.
In my heart, I feel more of a misfit, a guest that wore out her welcome, than I ever felt before. My brain, on the other hand, knows this goes beyond the hateful, artificial divide between foreigners and natives; even beyond the disagreements between Remain and Leave. On 23 June, this country chose to throw its people in the abyss of a precarious future, and realised too late that there was no going back. Whatever shape this mess we’re in takes tomorrow, or in a month, or in a year, we’ll all have to deal with it. We stand divided, but we’ll fall together. What truly shocks me is how some still fail to grasp this simple truth.
A few weeks ago, someone commented on a post I wrote back in 2013, with words that left a sour taste in my mouth. As I read through, I felt them drift away from the review they seeked to prove wrong, aiming at a very different target. It could have been mockery, confusion, a coincidence; it feels like none of these right now. And since the author chose to share those thoughts on my blog, I might as well address them.
How ironic, Renata, that you call my post out for being fake. When I first read your comment, I found myself hoping you were just a slightly more inventive bot. Today, I choose to believe you’re not; that you knew exactly what you were doing, when you posted your insults to foreign people on an immigrant’s blog.
You see, I may not know who you are, but I know what you sound like. You sound like someone who knows little, perhaps nothing, of what it’s like to start again from scratch in an unknown new world. Like you’ve never had to worry there was no space for your skills, your hopes, your dreams in your country. Like the thought of a place where people look at you with disdain, and mutter you should go back to your own country, never crossed your mind. So how do I begin to explain how we, the Others, feel?
Up until last month, with every feeling of rejection came the doubt it was all in our head. That the plans and dreams that brought us here were too big to handle at once, and we were in for a much-needed reality check. That every sign we were not welcome – people picking on our accents, coworkers who never learnt to spell our names, jobs we lost out on because we didn’t sound British enough – was just a prompt for us to work harder, hang in there a little longer. That our mother tongue, or the features on our faces, didn’t define us; the strength we proved when we uprooted our lives did, and would eventually help us succeed.
The facts are on the table: we’ve served communities, paid taxes, contributed to the country’s growth. Right now, however, we wonder if that stinging rejection was really a trick of our minds. It’s been all over Farage’s campaign posters. It’s on the “go home” cards Polish families received in the post in Huntingdon, right inside their homes. It’s in the rise of Theresa May and Boris Johnson to government. It’s in the comments we seem to invite for wearing a veil, or a turban, or speaking with an accent no one heard before. “Leave” reads to us as “you must leave, or else”. Even if we find a way to stay, no one’s to say our jobs won’t go up in smoke with whatever’s left of the economy. We think to the hardship we’ve faced, the efforts we’ve made to “just fit in”, the jobs we’ve showed up to on time every day, the thankless tasks we’ve been berated for not doing with a grateful smile. Was this all for nothing?
I have news for you, Renata. Anywhere else in the world, you could be the Italian guy or the Polish lady. You too could feel left out, discriminated against, pushed towards the back door – and that place is not as far or unknown to you as you may think. Just last month, in my country, an Italian guy beat a black man to death, just because he’d defended his wife from racial abuse. I wish I could tell you that was unheard of, and we’ll never hear it again, but I can’t.
You might wonder what all this has to do with you not enjoying your sandwich. You might argue that slagging off a waiter is not the same as killing a man on a street; I argue they’re two faces of the same coin. It’s so easy to blame others when things don’t go the way we think we deserve. And if placing our distrust in those we identify with means recognising we’re part of the problem, blaming “the Other” becomes even easier.
What I’m trying to say is that we’re all in this together. You, me, the Polish lady, the Italian guy. No one knows what will happen next, but we’ll all be hit. You may get what you wish for, eventually; we might decide to return to our countries, or be forced to go back. But what good will that do to you? Will it appease your fear and your anger? Chances are you’ll find something else to feel bitter about in no time. Maybe you’ll worry about the instability you feel in the world around you, just like we do right now. I told you we’re on the same boat. So do us all, and yourself, a favour: live, let live, and be kind.