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Essay: Unpacking the Racial Dynamics Behind Brexit and Its Aftermath

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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  • Words: 912 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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Paste your essay in here…The participating electorate of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union on June 23rd, 2016 by a 52% majority (Goodwin 1). Brexit fundamentally splintered Britain’s economic and political ties with the rest of countries in the EU. The success of the referendum set a different course of history for all of Europe, thus prompting the question of why and how this drastic action by the people happened. Brexit lies on a continuum of public policy statements that reflect the current populist attitudes of the country as well as its inability to reconcile with its colonial demons of the past. With Britain’s brutal colonial history, Brexit cannot be analyzed within a vacuum. The racial violence which aggressively ensued post-referendum were not spontaneous acts of mindless bigots. The violence was specifically targeted towards migrants or those who appeared as migrants if they did not fit the euro-centric features of Englishness or spoke a different language. “Taking Back Control” of the United Kingdom was the rallying cry of the Leave campaign. Racial aggressors operate and cultivate their malicious mentality towards non-UK born migrants from cues that their society and institutions set forth as the dominant position of the state. In short, “If a hostile environment is embedded politically, why should we be surprised when it takes root culturally?” (Burnett 86).  When the referendum to leave the EU passed, it sanctioned racial violence for some who have harbored disdain for people who were told that immigrants do not belong in the country. Brexit was preceded by a racist climate, born not out of the recent nativist referendum debate, but in line with the divisive policies and programs of the past. The problematic framing of Brexit and its aftermath of racial violence naively disregards its centuries long history of systemic racism. Blaming the racial violence on individuals and isolating the solution to law and order ignores the more fundamental issue that Britain has with racial dynamics. Thus, authoritarian power of the state becomes stronger because of the state’s perceived issue with criminality. Broader social reform through serious self-reflection will never take place in Britain as long as this misunderstanding of racial violence towards immigrants continues to be perpetuated in the media, by politicians, the criminal justice system, and other elite opinion leaders.

At its height, the sun was said to never set on the British empire. Its global grasp was so immense that there are still consequential effects to their rampant imperialism, on the groups of people they colonized abroad and the sense of entitlement to power that the British feel today. Global superpowers of the 21st century like Britain developed as nation states as borders became privileged gateways that separate who rightfully belongs in country from those who have no business being in it. “Business” underscores the popular trend of immigration strategy seen today. It is an economic policy of immigration which asks the potential immigrant what they can do for the country, not what the country can do for them or, more elaborately, what refuge they can provide to protect the potential immigrant from prosecution. This division of the haves and have nots fosters racism in and of itself. It is the separation of human beings in regard to their face value like the fattest cattle being chosen on the ranch to breed. The collective agreement of the importance of multiculturalism has been overshadowed by rhetoric that homogeneity strengthens countries while diversity divides it. Individuals sensed this change of national identity by being able to see the increase of ethnic diversity around them. Populist right voting is “predicted by immigration attitudes, which in turn are associated with cultural motivations, notably ethnic nationalism” (Bowler 7).

Britain embraced multiculturalism for a short period of time following anti-discrimination legislation and community programs of the 1970s which offset the anti-immigrant sentiments that the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act had catalyzed. However, paired with an explosion of the “neoliberal consensus in Europe, crafted over three decades by conservative and social democratic political parties alike” (Virdee 1) in the 1980s, trickle-down economics were championed and reverted the progressive sentiments of anti-discrimination legislation. This economic policy is also a social statement as neoliberalism entails a shift from the downward distribution of resources from the most elite and wealthy, creating a welfare state, to an upwards redistribution of resources. This shift makes the rich richer and the poor more entrenched in their poverty by giving tax breaks to the rich and defunding social and economic programs. In Britain, the shift of the government’s role in wealth and resource distribution was not split between party lines. It swallowed the whole political system and philosophy of the country. While the conservatives and liberals espoused policy which supported the neoliberal agenda, the social and economic inequality of the people began to grow larger thus polarizing the populous. However, it was the far right who politicized this divide and capitalized on its power of persuasion and ability to ignite passion during election seasons, seen in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 elective successes of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and rising popularity of right-wing populist figures like Nigel Farage.

Reactionary populism swept over the UK as they sensed their country changing. The leaders of the Brexit movement for the Leave campaign saw the opportunity to use the growing anti-immigrant/foreign sentiments fostered by populist movements and successful political party breakthroughs like UKIP to initiate institutional change that was a reflection of the anxieties of the electorate. (Burnett 85).

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