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Why ethnic minorities should vote No to Brexit

15 Jun 2016

Today, Nigel Farage took to the waters of the Thames as part of a “flotilla”. Although warded off by none other than our favourite crazy musician Bob Geldof, this show of Eurocentric, colonialist ridiculousness served as a potent reminder as to why people of colour (PoC) should vote No to Brexit.

It’s difficult to contextualise the Brexit debate. The BBC have tried, as have the Guardian, the Telegraph and even the New York Times, but ultimately this fight is going to come down to people’s emotions. Not everyone is going to have the time or the inclination to put a significant amount of research into the arguments for leaving or staying, and while – in my tiny pocket of the internet – the consensus amongst my 20-something-year-old friends seems to be in favour Remain, numerous polls have now revealed that the rest of the populations’ opinions are not as harmonious as my socialist, utopian Facebook family.

For PoC in particular, Brexit has become more than a decision on whether or not to remain in the EU. With its intrinsic ties to immigration, nationalism and – in some corners – racism, the 14 per cent of us who live in the UK are drawn into this debate whether we like it or not. While there are suggestions that pockets of south Asian immigrants will vote in favour of leaving the EU, including gal-dem Qudrat Khan’s mother, it does seem that the vast majority of us will be in the Remain camp. Recent research from the British Election Study reveals that two-thirds of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) voters will opt to stay, and also shows that our vote could be crucial to the outcome of Brexit overall.

‘There are suggestions that pockets of south Asian immigrants will vote in favour of leaving the EU’

But why should those ethnic minorities who are undecided or considering voting Leave change their minds? Firstly, I suppose it is apt to take a look at who is on the playing field. Politically, both Labour (who are privileged to have the support of 52 per cent of ethnic minorities in the UK), and some key members of the Tories (David Cameron, George Osborne), are fronting the Remain campaign. On the other side, we have such delightful figures as Nigel “I would be concerned if a group of Romanian people suddenly moved in next door” Farage, and Boris “Caribbean people are multiplying like flies” and “blacks have lower IQs” and “part-Kenyan Obama has an ancestral dislike for the UK” Johnson.


I don’t have to tell those of you who are PoC how scary it is to be subjected to racial abuse in your home country because, in my experience most BAME people have at least one recollection of a particularly venomous racist incident – like Siana Bangura, who was called a “black nigger bitch” on a train to Liverpool. As pointed out by Melanin Millenials podcaster Imriel Morgan (who was vilified online after she spoke up against Farage in a televised EU debate) race-related hate crimes on trains have risen by nearly 40 per cent in the past five years, with the number of prosecutions for these crimes declining since 2013. But to see a campaign as venomous as the Leave one is turning out, pandering to the fear of the “Other”, and executed by some of the most powerful people in this country, is truly terrifying on a whole new level.

‘In my experience most BAME people have at least one recollection of a particularly venomous racist incident ‘

The racism of their campaign, which has included such beauties as MPs’ Khalid Mahmood and Dr Sarah Wollaston defecting to the Remain campaign after they acknowledged the “racist” undertones of Vote Leave, and a tell-tale poster warning voters that “Turkey (population 76 million) is joining the EU”, utterly puts me off the concept of Brexit. There are, of course, more sensible arguments to be had that don’t begin and end in the idea that “those lot are coming over here and taking our jobs” (there is a reason why some staunch leftists are supporting Leave), but while Operation Black Vote – the illustrators of the provocative advert featuring an aggressive white “thug” and a south Asian grandmother sitting on a see-saw – have been condemned in some corners for their unfair portrayal of the white working class, Vote Leave aren’t doing much to dispel the crude This is England-esque image.

The reality, and the reason why I am concentrating so much on the racism of the campaign, is that numerous studies and polls have repeatedly found that immigration is a crux for British voters, BAME people included. While I can argue confidently that a fair portion of the Brexiteers are campaigning voraciously because of their own racist views, it also must be noted that, as put by Nazia Parveen in the Guardian, “those originally from Commonwealth countries feel white European migrants do not face the same difficulties with the immigration system as they do”.

‘I can argue confidently that a fair portion of the Brexiteers are campaigning voraciously because of their own racist views’

And this idea of developing a “fairer” immigration system, as Farage likes to bang on about, is intoxicating to many. As one online commenter put it to me, “I am very uncomfortable with the very idea of a political and economic union which is, almost by definition, only open to white, European countries”. The Vote Leave’s Muslims for Britain website encourages this train of thought as well: “By leaving the European Union, Britain would be free to make its own trade deals with commonwealth countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and India,” it reads.

What they don’t perhaps realise is that this “fairer” immigration system a. would not necessarily come to pass or mean that more brown people would be found in the UK and b. leaving the EU would potentially leave us open to even more xenophobia than previously faced. Seema Malhotra, Chuka Umunna and Keith Vaz put it well yesterday when they asked in an article for the Guardian whether “we really think that Ukip, which wants to abolish anti-discrimination law and has sought to bring xenophobia into British political debate and culture, and Johnson, who wants to scrap workers’ rights and is on record for making racist comments, will defend Britain’s minority communities? Of course not: we will be set back generations”.

It’s proven that people who have less exposure to immigration and ethnic minorities tend to be more afraid of them – that’s why UKIP does so well in the places where there are fewer immigrants. So, in the name of a form of “selfishness” at least, I would urge all PoC to consider voting Remain. I certainly will be.