GUEST BLOG - Arpita Dutt, anti-discrimination lawyer and equal rights campaigner
Response to Brexit vote
(An abridged version of this piece appeared in The Times "The Brief" earlier this week.)
The morning after the referendum, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. That’s often enough to make me feel good but I woke up deeply upset, in shock and disbelief at the outcome - Brexit.
The split of the vote around the country made it clear that this was a country deeply divided, and rather than feel proud of being British, a country I was born in, one that I have loved and worked hard for, as my parents as immigrants to this country had done before me, I just felt sick with a sense of alienation.
It was a feeling that had been growing before the EU referendum vote as it seemed that public figures, posters, newspapers and members of the public had used the Leave campaign to vocalise racist views and lay the ills of years of under-investment in public services, community infrastructure and housing at the door of all ‘immigrants’ indiscriminately, whether from the EU, non–EU ethnic minorities or British born.
I don’t think it’s racist to talk about immigration, but I also believe in calling out racism strongly when it’s vocalised, whatever the context.
Let’s talk factually and not pander to stereotypes, slogans and myths.
I own up to living in the diverse ‘London bubble’ as it’s been called, but for the last 25 years I have been a strident campaigner against racism and xenophobia, strengthening communities and cohesion and listening to people as I have travelled around the country.
I have worked with European anti-racism organisations to build bridges and good practice and to talk about immigration. When I’ve come back from Europe I’ve often felt how lucky we are compared to immigrants in other EU countries.
I‘ve witnessed the lack of facilities for local people, and I’ve experienced the vitriolic words of hate against immigrants. Most of all, I’ve felt ashamed at the deprived areas and circumstances in which I feel no-one in the UK should have to live in.
In the last 5 years I’ve been physically harassed and verbally abused by the English Defence League in Grays and taunted with shouts of ‘there aint no black in the Union Jack’.
Last Friday, I suddenly felt unsafe again, and I felt like the ‘other’.
So, this racism isn’t new; but it appears to have been given greater legitimacy to emerge and is manifesting in nefarious ways around the country as recent reports that have been reported by the media and on the Twitter tag #PostRefRacism show.
But, it’s not just me that feels this way. My ethnic minority friends fear for their children now. Our parents experienced the worst harassment and exclusion, and as British born second and third generation children of immigrants, we too were called ‘Wogs’ and ‘Paki’s’ but that’s not what we expected our children to experience.
As I travelled to work on the bus on Friday, I heard a fellow Spanish passenger talking to relatives on her phone in utter disbelief about the result.
She has two small children and she felt deeply uncertain about the future, and whether she could stay in this country.
Now I fear that the perceived mandate for out and out racism will give oxygen to the far right as the politics of division intensifies.
As a lawyer, I have helped secure justice for victims of race discrimination in their workplaces and in the community; I have chaired a London Borough Hate Crime Forum for 5 years working with the local police, housing agencies, the council and community organisations to instill victims with confidence and create reporting centres to report hate crime; ensuring agencies work together effectively to deal with those reports.
I founded ARA Trust, a charity that has worked to bring young people and families from diverse backgrounds together to educate and create understanding amongst new and existing members of communities.
All of these organisations continue to carry out valuable work, and they are needed more than ever.
I know that we are much stronger when communities work together to eradicate all forms of extremism.
We must all be vigilent, record and report all hate crime and stand together because ‘Brexit’ should not be a proxy to legitimise racism and xenophobia.
We have to do better than this.
We have to be better than this.
In 2016, that’s not what being British is about. I’ll be redoubling my efforts.
Arpita Dutt is a Founder and Partner of employment law firm BDBF LLP and writes in a personal capacity.