Violent protests erupting across US cities sparked by the death of African-American George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis have been described as the “worst racial riots since the 1960s.”
Rising xenophobia is a sorrowful existence both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to racial attacks against Asians and people of Asian descent, leading to human rights activists urging for immediate action to prevent such racist violence.
Escalating extremism has been bubbling away in Britain since the Brexit referendum in 2016. The killing of Labour MP Jo Cox by an extreme right-wing terrorist just days before the EU referendum was to take place, was the sickening apex of Brexit-induced right-wing extremism.
The right-wing press has played its part in intensifying bigoted hatred in Brexit Britain.
“The Remainer elites are the true bigots of Brexit” read the headline of the hard-right supporting online magazine Spike. The article proceeds to attack what the author refers to as “bitter middle-class Remainers” for their apparent execution of what they feared would take place on Brexit Day – an outburst of hatred and chauvinism.
Like today’s racially-charged protests in the United States, Brexit Day in Britain (aka January 31 2020, the day the country officially left the EU) was filled with protests and clashes between a country bitterly divided over Brexit.
In its critique of so-called “Remoaners,” which Spike describes as hiding an “extreme, Victorian-contempt for ordinary people and their stupid voting habits,” the article cites the Independent’s political writer Tom Peck, for allegedly setting the Remainers’ hate-fuelled tone on Brexit Day.
Peck’s article describes Parliament Square on Brexit Day as a “knuckle-dragging carnival of irredeemable stupidity.”
What Spike referred to as a celebration in “good, lively spirits,” the Parliament Square bash was condemned by others as “dispiriting”, made up of “thugs and morons being nasty about foreigners,” and calls for Parliament Square to be named as “Racist Corner.”
Brexit Day might be now done and dusted, but the passionately conflicting emotions of Britain’s day of independence, showed how intensely divided the country has become. In the ensuing weeks and months, in the wake of a vicious pandemic, the rising discrimination ethnic minorities have faced since the Brexit vote, has exacerbated racial hatred. Sadly, the fears Remainers upheld about Brexit encouraging an outburst of racist and hatred, are sadly surfacing.
One of the most worrying examples of Brexit-induced extremism, took place in a block of flats in Norwich, Norfolk, where flyers were pinned to the walls in all 15 floors of the tower block.
Titled ‘Happy Brexit Day’, the flyer read:
“As we finally have our great country back, we feel there is one rule that needs to be made clear to Winchester Tower residents. We do not tolerate people speaking other languages than English in the flats. We are now our own country again and the Queen’s English is the only spoken tongue here. If you want to speak whatever the native tongue of the country you came from then we suggest you return to that place and return your flat to the council so they can let British people live here and we can return to what was normality before you infected this once great island.
“It’s a simple choice, obey the rule of the majority or leave. You won’t have long till our government will implement rules that will put British first. So, best evolve or leave.
“God Save the Queen, her government and all true patriots.”
This disturbing racist-fuelling propaganda was investigated by Norfolk police. Nonetheless, the posters epitomise Remainers’ worse concerns about how Brexit will aggravate racially-motivated hatred and crime.
Though such concerns were surfacing among pro-Europeans long before January 31, 2020. Statistics show that racism has been on the rise in Britain since the Brexit vote. A survey conducted in 2019 reveals that ethnic minorities in Britain have been facing rising and increasingly overt racism in the wake of the EU referendum.
In February 2019, 71% of people from ethnic minorities reported having faced racial discrimination, compared to 58% in January 2016, around six months before the EU referendum.
In 2018, the number of hate crimes recorded by police in England and Wales increased, whilst the number of race-related hate crimes accounted for around three-quarters of all hate crime offenses.
Adding further fuel to Remainers’ concerns that Brexit and alarming support from the far-right, will lead to a surge in extremism and racism, were the anxieties raised by marginalised communities after Boris Johnson won a majority in the 2019 general election.
As Dr Joe Mulhall, head of research at Hope Not Hate, a charity campaigning against racism and fascism told TIME:
“Among marginalised communities, there is a real angst and fear. It [the election campaign] was a really ugly campaign. It was very divisive and polarised.”
Boris Johnson’s racist remarks haven’t exactly given pro-Europeans confidence that we’re being led by a multiculturally embracing prime minister. One of Johnson’s most infamous racist digs was aimed at burka-wearing Muslim women, who, in his newspaper column Johnson described as looking like “letter boxes.”
In 2017, the director of the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘I am Not Your Negro’, a commentary on the history of US race relations, said that America’s problem “is not just racism – it’s sheer ignorance.”
It’s difficult to deny that the practising any kind of racism and aversion to people of colour does anything but show ignorance.
With overwhelming evidence that reveals racism and extremism is on the rise in Britain’s Brexit era, it could be argued that the pro-Europeans, whom the far-right love to condemn as “bitter middle-class Remoaners”, were right to be fearful of Brexit Day.
Even the Brexiteers’ slogan “Make Britain Great Again” is, in itself, an isolationist ideology that incites nationalism and intolerance of marginalised communities.
As simmering racial tensions reach boiling point in the United States, across the water, rising levels of bigoted hatred, spawned by a combination of the nation’s liberation from the EU and COVID-19 and the “Blame China” narrative, underlines the need for more to be done to tackle racist attitudes and racially-motivated harassment.