Jun 17, 2016

Links on a Friday: Fear

This is the last weekend before the EU Referendum, when the UK will vote on whether it wishes to leave the European Union or remain a member. The outcome of this vote will have tremendous implications for my life, and for the past few weeks I’ve been in a state of permanent barely subdued panic — largely because I’m an immigrant (though a relatively privileged one, only subjected to a fraction of the hostility those who aren’t white Western Europeans experience), but also because I genuinely believe this spells bad news for everyone. The mere fact that this referendum is happening has legitimatised a political narrative that frankly terrifies me: one that scapegoats immigrants for the drop in living standards brought about by over six years of austerity policies. These were imposed not by the EU, as in Greece, but by David Cameron’s conservative government. If Leave wins, though, that’s the story that will have won. I’ve lost count of the number of times that people I know to be generally fair-minded and compassionate have told me in the past few weeks that “we have to admit that the country is full”, or words to that effect. That’s the extent to which this rhetoric has permeated public consensus. Anti-immigrant sentiments have never had a wider platform, and its effects show. The rules of acceptable discourse have already begun to shift. I can’t see how this will result in anything but a surge of the far-right, and an entrenching of racist and xenophobic attitudes.

I’m very afraid.

Next Thursday evening I’ll be in London, seeing Belle & Sebastian perform all of If You’re Feeling Sinister like I planned to months ago; I hope I’ll be able to enjoy it. Funnily enough, the last time I saw them live was the night of the General Election, when the current government obtained a majority; this is one of those things that make me glad I’m not superstitious. All this to say that there’s no point pretending this isn’t very much on my mind these days. Here are some links that explain why:

  • I drafted most of this post before Thursday afternoon, when Jo Cox, a Labour MP with a known history of activism on behalf of immigrants and refugees, was assassinated by a man outside her surgery, where she regularly met her constituents. Violent political rhetoric has consequences. This is where we are now.

    Did u think extremist political parties & open violence arise out of nowhere? My God no. They begin with leaflets and lies.

  • The mood is ugly, and an MP is dead: The leavers have lifted several stones. How recklessly the decades of careful work and anti-racist laws to make those sentiments unacceptable have been overturned.

  • ETA: The Politics of Hate by Dawn Foster:
    For years, politicians have sought to assuage racist views by arguing that it isn’t racist to be concerned about immigration, couching anti-immigration sentiment in vague economic concerns about ‘stolen’ jobs, but it often is straightforwardly racist. Pandering to racism and fascism emboldens these beliefs: tolerating the far right in a misguided attempt to shore up votes does nothing of the sort, but normalises hatred instead. Nigel Farage said on the BBC last month that ‘if people feel that voting doesn’t change anything, then violence is the next step.’
  • The unspeakable truth about racism in the UK.

  • ETA: Two Michael Rosen poems: “Fascism: I sometimes fear...” and “Miliband, UKIP and the ‘I’m not racist but...’ people”.

  • Here’s the comic I posted above in full. Humberstone shares my considerable misgivings about many aspects of the EU, but I appreciate that he doesn’t brush aside the uncertainty people like me are facing.

  • The Perils of Perception and the EU:
    The public have a number of significant misperceptions about the EU and how it affects life in the UK (...). We massively overestimate how many EU-born people now live in the UK. On average we think EU citizens make up 15% of the total UK population (which would be around 10.5m people), when in reality it’s 5% (around 3.5m people). Those who intend to vote to leave overestimate EU immigration more: they think 20% of the UK population are EU immigrants, compared with the average guess of 10% among those who intend to vote “remain”.
  • From the UK Statistics Authority statement on the use of official statistics on contributions to the European Union:
    As we have made clear, the UK’s contribution to the EU is paid after the application of the rebate. We have also pointed out that there are payments received by the UK public and private sectors that are relevant here. The continued use of a gross figure in contexts that imply it is a net figure is misleading and undermines trust in official statistics.
  • Polly Toynbee argues that “a leave vote will not solve people’s problems, and those feeling betrayed will lurch even further into racism and xenophobia”:
    Try arguing with facts and you get nowhere. Warn these Labour people what a Johnson/Gove government would do and they don’t care. Warn about the loss of workers’ rights and they don’t listen — maybe that’s already irrelevant to millions in crap jobs such as at Uber or Sports Direct. “We’re full up. Sorry, there’s no room for more. Can’t get GP appointments, can’t get into our schools, no housing.” If you tell these Labour voters that’s because of Tory austerity cuts, still they blame “immigrants getting everything first”. Warn about a Brexit recession leading to far worse cuts and they just say, “Stop them coming, make room for our own first.”
  • Gary Younge explains how we got here: because for half a decade, both main parties pandered to facile anti-immigration rhetoric instead of honestly discussing global inequality.
    Herein lies the most obscene perversion of this turn in the Brexit campaign. The very people who are slashing resources — the Tory right — and diverting what’s left to the wealthy are the ones rallying the poor by blaming migrants for the lack of resources.
  • From Nick Harkaway’s Letter to an old, old friend who is voting to Leave the EU:
    If what one wanted for Britain was a deregulated labour market with fewer rights for employees and fewer regulations upon banks and corporations, fewer environmental protections, a health service inexorably privatised to create a full-on healthcare market in the UK and other public services following suit, with the resultant influx of brigand capital and soaring inequality, then Leave could work really well. I’ve written post-Apocalypse stories and I’m uncomfortably familiar with that thought — the creation of a perfect oligarch island haven with great fashion and night life and tax breaks just two hours from Paris. But that doesn’t strike me either as a happy, prosperous nation or as the outcome you or most people will want from their Leave vote. It strikes me as a nightmare.
  • Laurie Penny: The EU is undemocratic and run in the interests of business. But it’s our least-worst option right now.

  • Dawn Foster and Jane Dudman on housing and leaving the EU.

  • Here’s the Trades Union Congress on how a Leave win could affect women at work.

  • Priya Atwal on the imperialist undertones of the Leave campaign:
    The espousal of such uncritical and misleading views about the history of British imperialism and migration is a truly toxic feature of the EU referendum campaign, and it constitutes a huge disservice to the British electorate on the part of its political representatives. The EU is definitely not perfect, it desperately needs reforming, especially if it is to tackle one of history’s greatest migration crises effectively — but by storming off in a misguided fit of arrogance and xenophobia, Britain is highly unlikely to achieve much.
  • How ethnic minorities are especially vulnerable to this clusterfuck.

  • I’ll finish with two links about other topics. First of all, I want to send all my love to everyone who’s afraid for other reasons. Here’s a link round-up of Queer Latino/a reactions to Orlando from NPR.

  • Lastly, Alexis Hancock wrote about How The Rhetoric of Imposter Syndrome Is Used to Gaslight Women in Tech. I have strong feelings about this, as I generally do about exclusively individual solutions to systemic problems, and their undertones of victim-blaming. Hancock does a brilliant job of articulating the issue: it’s not that women can’t benefit from developing their confidence, but my experience has also taught me that no amount of individual effort will stick without a healthy environment that doesn’t subtly devalue you at every turn. Internalising the problem can be deeply corrosive. It’s important that we acknowledge this, and make sure we’re not undermining one another’s sense of reality.

    1. Dear Ana, I seriously despair. The whole Brexit debate has reached a new low in British politics, and clearly the great British education has failed a lot of people because so many of them seem to privilege (ugly) emotions over fact and think that voting Leave is sticking it to the man. And the murder of Jo Cox is just appalling, such a dreadful loss, her poor family. What with all this and the football hooliganism I am ashamed to be British.

      For what it's worth (which I agree isn't much), I think that if you're already living in Britain and working you should be OK, but it is a deeply unsettling time for anyone who wasn't born there and I'm sorry that you're having such a crap time.

      There's a great article by Olivia Laing in the Guardian which I think you'd find interesting if you haven't already seen it. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/16/orlando-shooting-and-a-sense-of-erasure?CMP=share_btn_tw

      Best wishes, Ana, and I hope you enjoy Belle & Sebastian. :)

      1. Dear Helen, thank you for your kindness and good wishes - they help. I mean that. A lot of people have reassured me it's unlikely I'll lose my right to live here even if the worst happens tomorrow, but I find it hard not to feel uneasy. As you say, I should be okay if I'm working - but I could lose my job, as could any of us, and the last thing I'd need on top of the distress and anguish a situation like that would cause me would be knowing I only had a couple of months to find another one before I lost my right to live here, in the place where I've build my life for the past five years. Or all it would take would be for the government to introduce some sort of financial cap - you need to make however much per year, or off you go. Even if it wasn't Theresa May's infamous £35,000, I'd be unlikely to ever meet it as a public sector worker.

        It's hard. Let us hope for the best tomorrow.

        Thank you for the Olivia Laing link - I got her book just the other day and I can't wait to read it.

      2. Ana - was thinking of you yesterday. What an awful mess, at the moment it looks even worse than my worst fears. I hope you're OK.

      3. Thank you so much, Helen. I'm devastated, to be honest. I have no idea what this will mean for my life, and I'm aghast at the reports of outright racist and xenophobic attacks against people who are even more vulnerable than me.

    2. About the misperceptions overestimating how many EU-born people now live in the UK. There are so many on the right fueling the misinformation. It is similar, of course, and most unfortunately, to Donald Trump. As Eugene Robinson writes today in The Washington Post (enumerating all the lies Trump promulgates with his listeners just soaking it up):

      "Trump . . . claimed that a “tremendous flow of Syrian refugees” has been entering the country; the total between 2012 and 2015 was around 2,000, barely a trickle. He claimed that “we have no idea” who those refugees are; they undergo up to two years of careful vetting before being admitted."

      Trump wants to stir up fear and he has been doing a great job of it. Sad to say, a lot of people are doing a great job of it all over the world. And oh, gaaah, the "I'm not racist but..." people. So many of them too!

      and yes, yes, re "[candidates] pandered to facile anti-immigration rhetoric instead of honestly discussing global inequality." Instead of honestly discussing just about *anything*! Most people only seem to want sound bites now, and it just is not enough to understand issues and their complexities.

      All very frustrating, sad, and very scary!

      1. It's the same pattern everywhere, isn't it? I just want it to stop. What an awful, awful year politically. Let us do what we can, and hope for the best. Thank you for listening and being there. I appreciate you a lot.

    3. Oh, Ana. Thank you for all the very informative links.

      I agree that people often think minorities or "problem groups" are an outsized portion of the population when they are not. There is so much misinformation and laziness. And, like you said, couching of racism in other terms to make it seem OK. WHEN IT IS NOT OK.

      1. It's awful. They haven't even been subtle here when it comes to stirring up people's fears and shamelessly racialising this mythical "other" - there were horrible, horrible posters with the population numbers for Turkey and claiming "they" were all coming here if we stay in the EU.

    4. Oh, Ana. I wish I could do anything other than just hope for the best to help you. I wish you didn't have to deal with this so, so much.

    5. I wish you didn't have to keep worrying about this, friend. It's rough, and I know it's weighing really heavily on your mind. And I wish there were something I could do to help ease your mind, but in lieu of that, just know that I'm sending tons of good thoughts.


    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.