Two themes played out strongly in the EU referendum and they are themes we can see around the world these days.
They both centre around difference and our attitudes to the “other”.
Immigration was the defining theme of the referendum. The consequences of making that the issue are what we are dealing with now.
On one side people from other countries have been portrayed as a problem and a threat, taking away jobs, driving down wages, flooding schools, hospitals and doctors’ clinics and bringing cultural beliefs and practices which “are not British” (People often say “British” when they mean “English”, and vice versa, but British in this context, is indeed almost exclusively English). When the Leave campaigners say “I want my country back”, do they mean their culturally and racially diverse country, or do they mean a white, English-speaking one?
Since the referendum result hate crimes, racial abuse, insults and demands to “go back to your own country” have multiplied. They are directed towards people who aren’t white and to people who are speaking a language other than English.
The fear and hatred of the “other” is building walls – social walls which separate and exclude, political walls which prevent free movement of people between countries, and even calls for physical walls (as we hear from Donald Trump in others who want a wall between Mexico and the US).
I find all of that horrifying.
On the other side there is are declarations of support for the “other”. From the sharing of the stories of people who were born in one European country but now live in another one, (#IamanEUmigrant on twitter), to a Scottish government Minister making a video of his visit to both a Polish cafe and a Portuguese one in Edinburgh to reassure the people who work there that they are welcome in Scotland – see here
So maybe we need to build a different kind of wall. Walls can be built to exclude but walls are also boundaries. They can say “don’t go beyond here”.
I think all of us who respect difference, uniqueness and the “other”, all of us who believe in the freedom of people to move around the world to study, work and live in other countries, all of us who abhor racism, should build our wall of diversity and say no to all forms of racism.
It’s not ok to say “I’m not racist but……” because after that “but” will come a racist expression.
By creating respectful, loving relationships we can form a barrier to intolerance and bigotry.
We do need boundaries in life, so let’s make our own good ones.