The past few days haven’t been the easiest. I have seen so many stories of an increase in anti-immigrant sentiment, heartbreaking stories of families and schools being targeted by those who misguidedly thought a vote to leave the EU equalled sending all “foreigners” home. I may be unique amongst my friends as I do know people who voted “Leave” for reasons that didn’t include the immigration issue. They made the decision based on their own feelings and histories, and I really don’t want to detract from that. It’s tragic that though their personal reasons were not have racially motivated, their voices have now given credence to the racists and xenophobes in our country, who have taken their numbers as a sign that hate is justified. 52%. I really want to believe that 52% or Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland aren’t racists, and who want people like me to “go home”.
However, I have also seen a few absolutely horrifying comments from people I know. A woman whose partner I call a friend. A man who I knew through going to techno clubs in Edinburgh. Someone I was close to at university. These aren’t people who would ever say to my face that they believe people like me are unwelcome here, and yet they firmly believe that all immigrants should be sent back to “where they came from”.
You’re not racist.
You think you’re not racist because you consider me to be a friend. You think I’m a good person, we’ve partied together, we’ve drunk shots together. We go to the same club nights and you’ve fallen asleep on my couch. We’ve had long discussions well into the night about anything and everything. You’ve invited me to your house. You’ve told me you don’t think of me as anything but Scottish, or Canadian, and that you don’t see me as a colour. That’s great, but I am not white. You don’t think of me the same way you think of other “foreigners”, because you think of me as a person. An individual. A person you can relate to.
I am friends with your boyfriend, I am friends with your girlfriend. You’ve come to my home, you’ve played with my dog, and I have cooked you dinner. You like my posts on Facebook and we have 96 mutual friends. We went to school together. I was your only “ethnic” friend, but you tell everyone you don’t think of me as any different to you. We went to uni together. We travelled together. You were impressed when we went to France on holiday and you discovered I could speak fluent French, and I told you about going to high school in Europe.
My parents weren’t born in Canada. They weren’t born in the UK. I was born in China, and though I can’t remember a thing because we left when I was a baby, and I call myself Canadian, I am still not white. My mother doesn’t speak English. We left China because of the political climate there, and because my mum and my dad were scared of raising a child in a communist country. They were denounced in their own country because of who they were. They had family and friends and colleagues who were taken away and tortured. And killed. They were terrified when they heard the news of the massacre at Tiananmen Square. They knew people who were there. They knew people who died. They left their home and their families because they didn’t feel they had the choice.
So how does this make me any different from any of the refugees that fled to “safe” countries like Canada, the US, England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland? Is it because we came by plane and not in a boat? Is it because we had money?
When we left China, I couldn’t speak English. My mother couldn’t speak English. From the moment they found out she was pregnant with me, my parents spent every waking moment and every cent they had trying to find a way out so I could have a better future. One where I couldn’t be thrown in jail for speaking my mind. One where I wouldn’t have to see a friend killed for voicing an opinion, or even just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
30 years later and I’d like to think I am a contributing member of society. I have a good job, and I run my own business. I speak English, I bought my own home, I have friends here and a life here. I pay my taxes. I pay my bills. I do all the things that are expected of me. Can you tell these things just by looking at me? If you didn’t know me, I am pretty sure you would think of me the same way you think about “those immigrants” who have come to take “our jobs”.
You talk about Nationalism, like the country where you were born through some sort of genetic lottery is the only one deserving of pride and status. You talk about “what our soldiers fought and died for in WWII” without really knowing what that was. They fought for freedom. They fought against military invasion, not against the people who have had no choice but to leave everything behind because “our” country has decided to bomb the fuck out of theirs.
You’re not racist. But really, you are.