Friday 24 June 2016

I didn't want any of this

Have you heard of the Cambodian killing fields? I hadn’t, until recently. I studied history until A-level, but they only teach you white history at school, don’t they? You learn about Europe mostly. Long lessons on the rise of the far right in Germany and the impact that had on the millions of people living in and around Germany. We watched a video once about the end of the second world war. It was black and white. There were emaciated dead bodies being moved by bulldozers because there were just too many bodies for the soldiers to move by hand. I’ll never get that image out of my mind. It flashes back to me sometimes, reminding me of how horrible people can be. How decent people can become part of it by turning a blind-eye.

A mum from Ebony’s nursery told me about the Cambodian killing fields a couple of weeks ago. She told me what it was like to visit the memorial. I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t heard of it. I mentioned it to another friend who is currently traveling the world and she told me a little more about it. Then I realised we had a book about it somewhere, buried on one of our bookshelves. So I read it. The book was called First They Killed My Father and, if you don’t know anything about the Cambodian genocide, you should read it. It happened in the 1970s. Millions of people were killed. Men, women, children. I read the book three weeks ago, while the referendum coverage was becoming increasingly hateful and misleading, and all I could think was, this could happen again.

Throughout human history, there are cautionary tales of racism, hate and the far right, and yet, that seems to be exactly where we are heading again. Our newspapers are not dissimilar to the propaganda put out by the Nazis in the 1930s. Our referendum campaigning looks almost identical to the propaganda posters used by the Nazis.

We don’t live in a world where people are told, yep, you voted for austerity so that’s what you got. Your hospitals, schools and public services are struggling because there is no money in them. Instead of that, we have far right politicians and ‘journalists’ pointing the blame at innocent minorities. And, for some reason, people believe it. The Daily Mail rhetoric became socially acceptable over the course of the referendum campaign. Attacks on Muslims have increased by 300% since last year and, of course, women are disproportionately affected by this. Racism was suddenly considered to be ‘legitimate’ and people were able to spout off hate without worrying about the consequences.

I didn’t hear any good reasons for voting Leave. I just heard racism and hate and misinformation. People seemed to believe everything they were spoon-fed by the right-wrong press. And, as my grandma so wisely pointed out, “there must be some truth in it, or they wouldn’t be allowed to put it in the papers.” So, there we have it. The newspapers lied, people believed the lies because it made their racist views seem ok, they voted accordingly, and now the whole world knows we’re a country of racist fools.

I never feel proud to be English. How can you, when our football fans travel the world beating people up and being racist? But today feels like a particularly dark day. I always feel embarrassed enough when the election results come out and too many people voted for the far right. But this morning I found out it was over half. The majority of voters decided to vote with the far right. They voted against freedom and against love. And they did this in front of the whole world. It’s embarrassing. I’m sorry, world. Please know we are not all filled with hate.

I thought the Leave campaign were going to win the whole way through this campaign. I grew up in Burnley surrounded by racism and hate, so I feel like I know that people are much more horrible than you might want to think. I have heard people say hideous things, friends, family members even. These aren’t people I don’t know. They’re people I do know. So I always thought fear would win. Hate always wins. It is stronger and drives people more than love ever could. And so I knew we would leave. I knew that those people who had once been in a minority would wake up this morning safe in the knowledge that they were in the majority, that it was ok to be racist and to hate. I thought that right up until yesterday when I foolishly let a little bit of hope in. My Facebook feed was filled with people saying they’d voted in, people who I might not necessarily have expected to vote Remain. And so I started to feel a little hopeful. Maybe good would conquer evil, after all.

Only it didn’t. At all. The power of the racist nan won out. It didn’t matter that 75% of people aged 18-24 voted to stay in the EU, because they couldn’t compete with the racism of the over 50s. The average age of Daily Mail readers is 58, so no surprise there. But it’s not fair, is it? This should never have gone to referendum. This is a big decision and it’s complicated. Decisions like this shouldn’t be based on referendums of people who don’t know what they’re voting for. Decision makers should decide based on facts, not fiction. Rupert Murdoch shouldn’t get to decide what information decision makers have to hand. Nigel Farage shouldn’t get to lie to decision makers. And yet, that’s exactly what happened.

And now, here we are, waking up with the mother of all hangovers. Ashamed, embarrassed and more than a little bit terrified of our neighbours. Who knew there was so much hate in the UK?! My Facebook feed is filled with upset people ranting about the results, so where are the people who voted Leave? They’re here, walking amongst us. Hell, they outnumber us. And they just woke up in a world where they hold the majority view, a world where they are stronger. And that’s a world I didn’t want to wake up in. I don’t want my children to grow up in a society where hate and racism are considered ok. I didn’t want any of this.

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