On Thursday, June 23rd the UK held a referendum in order to decide whether or not to remain in the European Union. By midday (Thailand time) on Friday the results had been released showing that it was a 52% lead for those who wanted to leave – those who voted in favour of ‘Brexit.’
Firstly, I want it to be known that this is not a discussion about the political or economic impact the decision to leave the EU has had, and will continue to have for many years, but merely a discussion about the social impact. I cannot pretend to understand all of the implications behind the decision – I’m not sure if anyone really can. But I can comment on my observations from social media and accounts from back home in England.
Personally, I wanted to remain in the EU (and organised for my mum to be my proxy on the day of the referendum). As a Brit working abroad, I perhaps have a different take on the matter to others who are living in Britain. Though I live in Thailand now, I did in fact live in Spain (part of the EU) last year and intend to work again in Europe again from January, 2017. Ultimately I want to return to live in England and am confident that I will spend most of my life in England. In my eyes, remaining in the EU was a way of maintaining important international relationships with other European countries that will takes years to rebuild.
However, it is how it is and I am in the minority.
As an immigrant, or an expat, or a ‘farang’ here in Thailand I know what it’s like to live as a foreigner abroad. (It’s interesting to me that to Brits I am an expat, and to Thais I am a farang, and people like me in Britian are immigrants. Though all three words essentially mean the same thing, the connotations do differ. In Britain, foreigners are ‘immigrants’ whereas I am an ‘expat.’ What’s the difference? Merely the negative connotations associated with the word ‘immigrant.’) I feel like I understand how it must feel to be visibly foreign (or even just visibly foreign-looking) in the UK and to be targeted for it. It happens to me on a fairly regular basis. I am not a stranger to casual racism. I often overhear discussions about raising the price for the farang, or people who don’t want to serve me in a shop in case I don’t understand their Thai, or inflated prices at tourist attractions. This is something I thought – I hoped – my home country would not exercise. In Britain, I thought, this wouldn’t happen.
But it has. And it makes me so sad. Because, right now, it is worse in my country. Some people have seen the result as an excuse to exercise racism and intolerance. As a developed country with access to so much of the world’s knowledge, how have we let this happen? I don’t mean the vote. Though it is not what I would have chosen, I accept what has happened and intend to find the good in it. But what I’m seeing is social media full of racism. I have seen examples of foreigners in the UK being verbally abused, with messages threatening to have them sent out of the country, or even sometimes for civilians to make it happen themselves. One that I saw said ‘Britain is a white country.’ Of course it isn’t. Yes, Britian is primarily white, but diversity is what makes a country interesting and helps it thrive.
I have reluctantly but wholeheartedly accepted the outcome of the referendum. It is not the outcome that upsets me, it’s what the outcome means for other people. The fact that some people now feel entitled to verbally abuse those who are not British enough for them, or how some feel that leaving the EU allows them to be racist, makes me sad.
I can accept the outcome of the referendum. But I absolutely cannot accept the racism.