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How Brexit feels for an immigrant

25 Jun 2016

Yesterday, I woke up to the result that the British majority have decided to leave the EU. I stared at the news headline in complete shock and disbelief. Even as I watched the referendum spiral into a playground for hate, fear-mongering, dirty propaganda and false promises, I had maintained my hope. I thought that surely supporters of Farage, Boris and the like did not constitute the majority of the population. I remained cautiously optimistic, because what else could I do? Yet yesterday morning, that hope was shattered and I was heartbroken.

Growing up in the UK but being from Iraq has always made me feel like an outsider. It is perhaps not immediately apparent when you meet me, but it’s there. It’s what happens when you go to a pub and a guy says he “kills fucking Iraqis for a living”. It’s what happens when someone refuses to be served by you because he doesn’t trust you not to spit in his food. It’s the creepy old man who calls you “exotic” whilst asking whereabouts in “Arabia” you’re from. It’s the girl who makes fun of your hair because it’s different. It’s the times when, because you’re “white” enough, friends feel you’d be OK with casual jokes on terrorism. It’s the time your brother comes home from school, saying he wants to change his name, because the kids made fun of “Omar”. It’s all the times you stop telling people where you’re from and what you believe in because you fear for your safety, or, honestly, because you want to have a nice night and don’t want to get shouted at by a drunk stranger.

For me, this result is a reassurance by Britain that I am an outsider. It is saying that no matter how hard I work, no matter how kind I am to everyone, no matter how much I contribute to society, I will always be a second class citizen. And yet, I am meant to call it home.

From looking at the result, it’s obvious that the majority of the Leave campaign managed to obtain came from the older population. And yes, it’s frustrating to see how the eldest have now decided the fate of the youngest. However, what is more worrying is that only 75 percent of 18-24 year olds voted remain. Whilst it seems incredibly high, for me 25 percent voting leave is 25 percent too many. It saddens me that people so young have already been brainwashed into thinking people like me are the enemy. And for what? What are you fighting for? For our next prime minister to be even worse than the one we have currently? For expensive European flights? Do you want to cosy up to Trump in the US? Segregation? A cold and distrustful society? Truly, what do you want?

In a state of anguish, yesterday morning I sat contemplating how my family could leave. My parents came here for a better life for their children, but I am tired of how they’re treated at work. I am tired of hearing how they’re taking other people’s jobs, while they save lives, work ridiculous hours every day, and have almost half their income taxed away.

Instead of blaming immigrants for a lack of jobs, learning from them and adopting their hardworking attitude is the way forward. The attitude that leads to a bus driver’s son becoming mayor of London. The attitude that got my dad from working in a care home because he graduated from a foreign medical school, to a well-respected consultant. The attitude that my parents instilled in me, the one where failure is never an option because to work is to survive. There are hundreds of stories, millions of people, who would amaze those who voted to leave the EU – if only they took the time to listen to them and not a fascist media.

I am terrified for the Britain my nine-year-old brother will grow up in. A Britain where the vote swings in favour of those who preach warped nationalism fuelled by hate, instead of those who preach unity and understanding. A Britain where xenophobia is the norm, even created and encouraged by our media. I am sure many immigrants today will want to up and leave, but it is not that easy to rip your life up like that. And it is also not the answer to give racism what it wants.

I find it almost funny that there are those who want a return to “empire”, as if keeping all the foreigners out is the key to rewinding time and triggering the return of colonialism, imperialism and sickening class values as a bonus. Is this what Britain thinks makes it “Great”? I don’t think I want the answer to that, but regardless, it’s not going to happen. The world has changed, and the UK is now standing on the wrong side of progress. It has voted for its own demise.

However, not all hope is lost. I do not feel as I did yesterday morning. I shared these thoughts with my friends on Facebook, and the response to it was so overwhelmingly beautiful that I started to cry. I was hesitant to speak out, expecting backlash, but instead I was told again and again by friends that they were so happy that I did. That it gave them courage, that they could relate or empathise. I received so many messages from people offering open arms, open homes and even open countries. I had friends tell me they loved my hair. I had friends thank me for sharing my story; for being honest. And most touching of all, I had friends state that not only was I welcome here, but that I was the sort of person Britain needs. I was told to keep fighting, to even run for prime minister.

For every single person who liked, commented and shared, thank you for returning my hope. You are so whole heartedly good and it amazes me beyond words. It is people like you who will define Britain. Correction, it is people like us who will define it. It is not those who put their vote through the ballot box with undeserved self-righteousness. It never will be. Not here, not anywhere.

Whatever happens next, I am sure of one thing: the hopeful will win. The good will prevail. And the only outsiders who will be left will be those who voted to stay away from everyone else.