So I’m sitting here on what should feel like a normal Friday in the middle of June, and I’m trying to form words about what has just happened to my homeland.
Until the last couple of years, I haven’t been very politicised. I knew that I sort of vaguely leaned to the left, but generally I just tried to be nice and keep out of politics. Recent events have forced me to reappraise that perspective. I guess it began for me in the run up to the last general election: A chance conversation with a family member about Farage and immigration opened up a hornet’s nest which took me by surprise. In many ways, it wasn’t their fault. The family member involved lives in a leafy suburb and reads the Daily Express, I live in an urban community where my neighbours deliver incredible samosas at Iftar, and my work has shown me in real life the impact of the austerity cuts. We are living different lives in the same nation.
I went away from that conversation woefully aware of my own lack of political information – where could I find actual statistics on EU migrants claiming benefits? I found them here first. I was shocked. It was easy to access the government’s own statistics, and easy to see how they had been manipulated in the media. It is no wonder so many people have felt afraid and alienated.
I began to feel increasingly incensed, convinced that if people actually sat down and talked to one another, ate together and shared their experience of life in the UK, we would not find ourselves entrenched into such intractable positions. I thought back to the amazing street party we held on our diverse street in 2012 for the Royal Jubilee where my smiling Muslim neighbours clutched chubby babies and waved Union Jacks, as we all shared pakoras and Pavlova.
In the summer of 2015, we began to see the painful reality of the times we live in with the biggest movement of people across Europe since WW2. Pictures of the drowned little boy, Alan Kurdi released an unprecedented outpouring of emotion and for a while, it seemed that humanity might manage to unite, think creatively, share resources and extend compassion to those who have experienced more suffering than many of us can comprehend. Alas, there came a media-driven backlash (some examples of which are here and here), portraying refugees as financially driven or dangerous (because of course, they couldn’t possibly be a mix of wonderful and complex people with wide and varied stories and experiences, could they?) A nation that is being force-fed a diet of xenophobic sound bites will inevitably come to think in binary polarisations that fail to see the uniqueness, complexity and beauty of each human life.
And we come to the events of today, with feelings that are so raw that I can barely write about them yet. What stands out for me the most is the response of my children and their friends, for it is their generation and those who will follow who will bear the full cost of the decisions of their elders. At 8am today, my 16 and 14 year olds were having a group chat with their mates about the vote. They care passionately about their nation, and they have grown up in a diverse world, where social media enables their voice to be heard and grassroots movements can bring change about.
My son’s 16-year-old friend posted on Facebook,
“It deeply saddens me that more than half the nation are so short sighted and impulsive. Great job on stunting development in Britain and Europe, heading our economy into an economic disaster, making it far more difficult to move around Europe, reducing connectivity when we should be more united than ever, f****** over young people’s prospects in life, and a s*** ton of more things that leaving the EU is going to do to f*** up our country and the people in it. If you voted leave, shame on you, I am utterly disgraced.”
It is clear from analysis of the polls, that there is a huge generational divide in the UK, with the older generation voting Brexit whilst 75% of those aged 18-24 voted remain.
We now know that from this day forth, we face unprecedented change in the governance of our nation, so this is what I would like to say to my children and their generation:
Dear Isaac, Caleb and Moses,
Despite your imperfect parents, you are growing up into human beings that I am proud to call my sons. You have grown up in a nation where diversity and inclusion is your wallpaper. An understanding that people are different is so deeply rooted in your characters that old-time discrimination feels clunky and embarrassing when you hear it. Unless your hearts become hardened through suffering and injustice, you will most likely continue to see people as individuals, and accept them as they are.
At the moment, the country that you are growing up in, and that your generation will one day lead, is in a deeply worrying place. This is a time where many choices must be made. These choices run deep, and have wider implications than simply party politics. Some adults that you love and trust voted to stay in the EU, and some voted to leave. These choices are hard to think through, and most decent people did what they thought best with the information they had. It is understandable to be sad and angry that our country seems to be moving away from the values we hold.
Many people who voted to leave will not have done so for racist reasons, but some will, and this is a time in history where those who hold extreme right-wing views could gain more public power than I have seen in my lifetime. This saddens me deeply, but I am not afraid. I am not afraid, because I have seen the passion in your generation. I know that you care about those who suffer, and that you want to see justice. I know that you are a generation who have creativity and activism oozing from every pore, and that you will join together to speak out for those whose voices cannot be heard. You have some new tools at your disposal, with more technology at your fingertips than we could have dreamed or imagined at your age. Use these resources well, to innovate, share stories and speak truth to power.
You may wonder whether your voices will be heard, and I can understand why – you have had huge pressures imposed upon you through SATS and exam changes that you didn’t ask for, and your further education will cost silly money – but here’s the thing that the far right haven’t counted on: You have lived diversity every day of your lives, and no-one can change your story. This is who you are.
So please become all that you can be and lead this nation onwards and upwards out of the pit it finds itself in today. You and your friends are wonderful kids, and you have a chance to be the change. Keep loving, have open hearts, be kind and be brave. Party politics do not define this nation, but human characters do. Become the best version of you that you can be, and never stop caring for those who are overlooked.
I really believe you can do this thing, and your parents will be right behind you.
Love Mum x