Disclaimer: I am not a UK citizen, did not have a vote in the EU Referendum, and am not white British by ethnicity. I currently live in Iceland, but as I am married to an Englishman and consider London one of my many homes around the world, the UK is a big part of my life. I consider the United Kingdom my country, too.
If these things disqualify me in your mind from giving an opinion on this week´s developments, feel free to piss off to another corner of the Internet. May I suggest this page full of cat .gifs.
I woke up Friday morning late. 10 am, GMT.
We had gone out to the end of the lake on kayaks and canoes to jump from a bridge into the freezing waters below, and not returned until midnight. The fog on the water was a dreamscape; we floated on a mirror toward it in the late sunset near the local hill and eventually disappeared into it. One couldn´t see more than about 30 feet in the fog, and it gave our tiny kayak the impression of being lost in a dew-lit morning. No shores. No birds. No wind. Gray water reflecting the gray all around us. Beautiful, but a little bit scary at the same time.
We went to sleep when only the first four of the declarations had been made. Sunderland was declared Leave just as we turned in for the night.
At the risk of sounding hackneyed, the metaphor of the fog on the lake was not lost on me the next morning. I sat wrapped in a towel on the 1970s sofa in our shared living room, having not bothered to get dressed before checking the EU Referendum results. We had been fairly sure that the vote would be In. Quick check, then into the shower.
I sat in my towel for more than an hour, unable to unglue my butt from the sofa.
“Russell?” I said, a little alarm in my voice when the BBC´s ´UK Votes Out EU, Cameron to Resign’ headline came up on the window I´d left open from the night before. “They voted out.”
Into the fog, then.
I´ve been a spectator to the paroxysms that have taken over my newsfeeds. Social. Political. Economic. At least a few of the predictions from before the vote have solidified. Our money will go 10% shorter in Iceland, at least the part of it parked in Sterling. We had been telling people that we came to Iceland because Russ could, in theory, have a job here and stay under current rules. I´m sure everyone´s seen a lot of fights on Facebook and Twitter, the #NotMyVote reaction, the #LeaveWins gloating, and the confusion of the global market. A selection of my favourites from the ‘airwaves:’
If we vote Brexit tomorrow I’m staying in the USA and going underground. If the US votes Trump then I’ll go to Canada and drown myself in maple syrup #voteremain
Guys, just to be clear, we’re not desperate to stay so keep your marriage proposals. It’s your economy you just fucked, not us x
51.9% of you, can go fuck yourselves.
I’m so upset for all of my European friends who feel let down and heartbroken by the Brexit, especially those with a strong connection to Britain. Most young people in the UK, including myself, share these feelings with you.
Now we’re stuck with a decision that most of the people who voted to leave will only have 20 more years on this planet to live with. However, We cannot and will not give up hope. Love must prevail over bigotry, racism and ignorance.
Too many feelings for words, really. I feel adrift in the world, in a country that doesn’t want me, pleading for changes I never get.
I really wanted to build a life here, I really did. But I don’t recognise this place.
Welcome to the Idiocracy
It seems my friends on here have similar viewpoints to me. There must be alternate news feeds I am not seeing, full of posts about how proud everyone is that the economy is crashing and how everyone can go back to where they came from now. I am genuinely gutted about the news this morning. As long as half the population (not including Manchester, London or Scotland who apparently voted the other way) are pleased with what they have done. I hope they are proud that we are the laughing stock of the world.
I’ve lived in Hackney (as you know, a very multicultural borough) for over six years and today for the first time, I heard the word p*ki shouted at someone in the street. This may or may not have anything to do with the recent referendum but I fear this is the sort of ‘legitimised’ racism that these examples attest to and I totally understand how upset and desperate you feel.
(I anonymised these quotes from people I do genuinely know since I´m not sure if they wanted to be on my blog with their names on them. If you see your words up there and want to have them attributed or want to be included, contact me!)
That last one up there is the most worrisome thing about the EU Referendum result. Steady reports of idiots empowered by the apparent opinions of their country´s voters have been trickling in on social media, and although I do not accept wholesale that the reports are all sparkly bastions of Truth, it sure as shit is possible some racists will feel emboldened. Try as they might to protest that it´s all about economics, the Leave campaign deliberately stoked xenophobic tendencies in those it wooed. Even if it hadn´t, there would still have been underlying tension.
Immigration has long been a third rail in the UK. I´m no stranger to the ways that people felt long before this referendum about those who have taken advantage of the (now former?) freedom of movement to get jobs in the UK. My blinding whitness shielded me from a lot of criticism when I was a migrant myself in the UK 2013-2015, but it also made it so that those few people who were wont to go on and on about the job stealing culture ruiners we apparently are slammed on the brakes with a blushing, backtracking, ‘Oh, well I didn´t mean you….’ when I pointed out my immigration status.
This was followed by misunderstandings about how marriage does not grant automatic citizenship, right to family life, or leave to remain once we got married in 2014. I wrote in 2014 about my envy of British citizenship:
6. Can’t Beat EU Membership
Oh, yes. Good ol’ Figel Narage and his UKIP kin are vehemently opposed to EU membership. But let’s be honest, the chances of the UK leaving are akin to those of Scotland voting ‘Aye’ on its referendum later this year.Which is to say, pretty slim. The benefits of being in the EU are farther-reaching than most who grew up with them can imagine.
Not being a card-carrying member sucks. UK citizens can travel the world with greater ease than I because of their EU membership. They can work in any number of foreign countries on the continent, or retire to them once it’s time. They can study without barriers, and should they happen to fall in love with someone who has a membership card to this great political experiment, the doors are open.
Despite the misgivings, the EU is often led by the UK. There is no one leader of the EU, but no one can deny that the UK has serious bargaining power. I’d love to be on the cutting edge of international politics, problematic and bizarre though it often is.
That post needs some adjusting now.
I couldn´t form an opinion on the couch on Friday, in my towel. I couldn´t form one later, while we scrubbed toilets on the campsite. I still had not found a way to reconcile my thoughts eight hours of mopping and wiping up later. Even now, several hundred words that started as an incoherent journal entry later, I am not sure what I think about Brexit. But I am fairly certain about how I feel.
I feel disappointed.
On a personal level, I felt the loss of what I had hoped for some time would be the future for my nascent binational family. Me and Russ might not fit in well back´’home’ in the US or the UK, but we could always move to an EU country and stay there. It might actually have been easier for us than if we wanted to move to our ‘own’ countries with a foreign spouse. It might still be possible to live in Europe, but I selfishly wanted it to be easier than it will now be.
Lately, I´ve been toying with the idea that my generation´s political and social inheritance will be one of profound sadness, above all. The Brexit vote shows a massive, clear, and undeniable split between the voter´s ages. On average, Remain was young. On average, Leave was older. But this is not a petulant post about how screwed over by previous generations we are as Milennials, nor a post about how everyone should kowtow to the immense knowledge and wisdom of our elders that wiped 24 years of EU contributions (£200 billion) off the UK stock market in a day.
I wouldn´t characterise the Brexit as a tragedy, as so many have. Tragedy is too close to home, coming from the USA where gun violence is treated like a natural disaster (out of our hands, tragic but as impossible to prevent as a hurricane or earthquake). Nigel Farage appears to have forgotten that his ‘Independence Day’ did not, in fact, come without a shot fired. Sadness is nonetheless the theme of Brexit for me, as it is the theme of so much social and political machination for me.
The sadness that I sense in the reactions of my peers to the news this week is not new to me. It feels oddly similar to the sadness I feel about Barack Obama´s Presidency. Akin sadness to what I feel about the endless two wars that started half my lifetime ago in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadness that I feel about gun control and the huge check on my happiness that LGBT marriage was legalised in the US last summer in the form of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. The sadness I feel looking back on The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. The sadness of a lifetime of inaction and blustering on Climate Change, the single greatest threat to humans since nuclear weapons (which are still around and waiting, too).
I am part of a generation raised on the sacchrine distillation of the last days of the Cold War, our youths sandwiched between the fall of the Berlin Wall and September 11th. Told, through oft-repeated readings of the story of Rosa Parks and the deliberate condensing of complicated 20th century history into Narrative that change can be wrought by individuals. That change is real. That we are ready for it. That change will come. Often, as with The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, it felt like things might actually be changing. Then we are back to where we were, or worse.
That is one speck of hope I have in the confusion and disappointment I feel about the Brexit. I have voted for what I thought was a change, and gotten more of the same. I have participated in more direct forms of democracy, and gotten more of the same. I have fought for years on issues close to my heart to see them pass or fail, and received the great gray sameness of the grinding gears of the same as before. This apparent pendulum swing in the direction of nativism and bonafide right-wing politics in two of ‘my countries’ in the forms of Brexit and the Trump candidacy will not make 2016 a year that lives in any particular infamy. Change happens, but slowly and haphazardly. Unless we´re talking about the Great Barrier Reef or the Greenland Ice Sheet.
Therefore I have some hope that for all their current victory, Leave voters will feel some of the same sameness I feel when looking along the long lines of disappointments. The 10% drop in currency stablised and the recession in the UK assured, things will go back to grinding along as they have for ages. The people who thought they were voting for change and even an ‘Independence Day’ by voting Leave (if all of them understood fully what they were doing, since at least a few appear not to have known what, exactly, the EU is) will not get what they thought they were voting for, except in the knowledge that Leave won a hard-fought and divisive campaign. The fog is now settling on the UK, and if it even manages to come out of this referendum intact the fog of uncertainty will hang over the country for years.
Brexit is not a revolution. It´s not a democratic triumph. It´s not a tragedy just yet. It´s a massive disappointment.