It is a strange feeling to all of a sudden find yourself in a country where the largest party to be sent to the European Parliament does so with the specific mandate to get rid of you. Nothing in my daily life, my actual existence has changed. And yet I do feel affected by the idea that more than a quarter of Britons voted for a party that despises me.* Not because of anything I have done. Not because of anything I may ever do. But because of something I can never change: where I was born. Because I am an immigrant, a European.
In a strange way, it is an enlightening experience. I am mostly as privileged as you can get: white, male, able, heterosexual, cisgender and of stable and reasonable means. It is not often I find myself part of the target minority. And even then I have it easy. White, tall, with blue eyes and blonde hair, I’m rather too Aryan to immediately register as a foreigner. I don’t think I would be easily mistaken for a Romanian, for instance.
Still, the idea that to a large part of the population the accident of my birthplace is a sin that cannot be redeemed does hurt. For while I am not a British national, I have been here long enough to feel like a British citizen. I work. I pay my taxes and national insurance contributions. I engage with civil society. And, where possible, I vote, which is apparently more than can be said for about two-thirds of this country.** When all is said and done, I do care about this country.
I am fortunate because I don’t think any of the people I know will have voted UKIP and I am not usually confronted about my ‘otherness’. What stings is the feeling that to so many of my fellow citizens, it doesn’t matter how much I can contribute or achieve here. That there will always be a sense that I do not deserve to be here, that I should return to my own country because my mere presence is considered unacceptable.
Politicians of all stripes have of course already started making excuses. This is a ‘protest vote’ of people who need to express their anger at the EU or the political establishment. Yet such statements mean little to me, even if they are true. It would mean that I was not the target of xenophobia, but merely collateral damage. I am not sure if that is any better.
Perhaps what is most difficult is to find a way to do something with all of this. Even if I wanted to, which I categorically don’t, I cannot change my heritage. If anything, the result strengthens me to work harder for the type of society that I believe in. A society that is not suffused of the Daily Mail mentality where everything that is not white, English, able, heterosexual, conservative, royalist and religious is considered deviant, despicable and dangerous, but instead one that is open, tolerant and progressive.
Great Britain is not perfect, but there is much in this society that I have come to appreciate. I feel the least I can do is help prevent this country turning itself into Little England.
Frank Hemmes is vrij-zinnig’s
token foreigner foreign reporter. He also posts here.
*I know that it is actually only a quarter of the 34% that voted, but that doesn’t immediately make things better.
** It remains one of my prime frustrations that many people will probably not care to vote in the next general elections, whereas I would very much like to do so, but am not allowed to.
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