Brexit is a term that most of us in the UK hear, on estimation, at least once a day. Whether it’s on the radio, on the TV, or in conversation, Brexit is everywhere. The bombardment of information is overwhelming, and the slaloming actions of parliament are becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with. In this age of uncertainty of the UK’s future within the EU, we ask: why is Brexit a feminist issue? Why is it something our readers should be concerned about? Why have we chosen it as a theme for this month’s box? We were fascinated by the writing of Rachel Edwards, whose debut novel Darling sparks not only an innovative thriller narrative, but also negates the complexity of the relationship between the result of the referendum and the lived experience of people of colour; and is one of the first pieces of literature to do so. We included her novel in first-edition paperback form in this month’s box, in hopes to create a wider discussion about how Brexit affects the social experience of people in the UK. In a nutshell, Brexit, if and when it occurs, will see the UK leave the European Union, and with this comes a separation that has promised “independence” for the nation. However, the very notion of cutting ties has led to an increase in social intolerance, scapegoating, xenophobia, and racism as right-wing views are validated and perpetuated in the media. In short, Brexit has not only the capacity to affect economics, but has the potential to fuel xenophobic actions affecting minorities already at risk, which is what Darling depicts and encourages us to question.
The economics of Brexit is a hugely debated issue, the centre of the political arguments for and against leaving the EU, and an effect on the nation which is not to be dismissed lightly. However, the rhetoric used during political campaigns and rallies has undoubtedly been a catalyst for actions seen on the streets of the UK in recent years, leaving already scapegoated minorities vulnerable. MP David Lammy, who is part of the pro-Europe Best for Britain campaign spoke out about the rise in hate crime and it’s coincidence with the language used by Brexiters: “The extent to which hate crimes have risen in recent years is shameful. It comes from the very top. Divisive, xenophobic rhetoric from politicians and leaders trickles down into abuse and violence in our streets,” he said. Our fascination with the work of Rachel Edwards, and a large part of our motivation for choosing her novel, Darling, as our February read, was how she depicted the effects of validating right wing, xenophobic views with the outcome of the EU Referendum vote.
It is, indeed, all very well white people (particularly white politicians) worrying about the economic effects of Brexit on the country, and that certainly is a huge part of the Brexit debate, but what about the victims of racist abuse, the people of colour being attacked, verbally assaulted, and worse? When we look objectively at intersectional feminism, the core value is understanding the experiences of those around us from all walks of life; the lived experience of women of colour, migrant families, LGBTQ+ people, trans women and men, disabled women, vulnerable women. When we pair this with understanding Brexit, we need to look beyond the economical and firstly, begin with how these political decisions affect the lived experience of those around us. This extract from Darling depicts this reality:
A heap of a man was arriving, belly first; lumping his way down from the high street, prickled scalp tilted high. From where we stood you could see he was a meeting of both triumph and disaster.
The red face, the glittering glare: joy gone bad. He was coming closer.
“Enger-lurrrnd!” he sang, as three more prickleheads straggled around the corner behind him. (…)
Then he was nearly upon me, blue marble eyes swivelling, ready to bash at this other thing, this other thing, this dark blot on his brand-new swept street, his clean sheet. A black woman wearing rushed makeup and a look of contempt for his playground punch-up politics.
He spoke: “We voted Leave, love. Outcha go!”
Rachel Edwards was inspired to write Darling after experiencing racist abuse a few days after the EU Referendum, and the result is an earth-shattering mirror held up to the reality of society, and the language bred from contemporary politics. MP David Lammy’s example tied xenophobic attacks in London directly to politician rhetoric: “It is no surprise that Islamophobic attacks on Muslim women who wear veils rose in the days following Boris Johnson’s ‘letterbox’ insult. Similarly, it is no coincidence that the type of anti-immigrant language used by some mainstream politicians has corresponded with spikes in hate crimes.” Intolerance displayed and tolerated within the political sphere, given a platform, infiltrates into our society and has a direct impact on vulnerable people. Rachel creates the character of Will, Lola’s love interest, who follows in the footsteps of his heavily racist father and growing right wing community to support the “Bright New Britain” campaign. He is a character who certainly shows how the language in the newspapers and on the television infiltrates into daily use, passed down through generations young and old, and becomes somehow normalised. It may be an uncomfortable reality, but it is a tangible way that Brexit- in it’s language, in it’s tolerance of right-wing politics and action-is affecting our society and the lived experience of people within it.
It is paramount to see through the economical to-ings and fro-ings of the political climate to question the effects of language and promised policies on the social experience of society, however, the economics at play are set to affect women and minorities the most. There is a clear economic divide in Britain between the majority and the minority. Austerity exists, and the growing concern of late is the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, which some say comes as a result of choices being made in favour of the leading party as opposed to in the interests of the country. The concern here is that women and minorities will be disproportionately worse off in a Brexit of any kind, especially a no-deal Brexit. Women and minorities are overrepresented in zero-hour contract roles, retail, and care work; which would be sorely affected by a no-deal outcome. Furthermore, Rosie Duffield, writing for the New Statesmen, has outlined how a no-deal Brexit could also affect women in Northern Ireland accessing safe abortions, and could mean terrifying cuts to women’s health and wellbeing services, as well as public services that keep women safe. She states: “This is not ‘project fear’ hyperbole: every analysis of Brexit, including that from the Treasury itself, shows that Brexit will lead to an economic downturn and less money for public services – services that women rely on the most.” Duffield goes on to add: “Make no mistake: Brexit is a feminist issue. It has been negotiated by and for white men, yet it will be economically worse off women, ethnic minorities, and LGBT+ communities who will be hit the hardest.”
Overall, the evidence supporting why Brexit is a feminist issue (and an intersectional one at that), is overwhelming. Not only are women and minorities affected the most economically, as well as the services they depend on, but they are also disproportionately affected by the social onslaught perpetuated by discriminatory language in the political sphere. MP and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot stated: “The fact that hate crime has more than doubled in the last five years must serve as an urgent wake-up call. We must stand up to hatred and discrimination wherever it is found. (..) The Tories promised to tackle burning injustices but they are clearly not tackling the injustice of people being attacked simply because of their religion, sexuality, the colour of their skin or their disability.”So what can we do about this now? Aside from keeping ourselves informed, and alerting authorities to any form of discrimination or injustices happening around us, there are many things we can do. Firstly, we can take it upon ourselves to report any hate speech on social platforms; social media is a safe space for all, and anything that makes you or anyone else uncomfortable, or is a direct form of hate speech against a social group can and should be reported. Furthermore, there are many wonderful organisations one can choose to support and/or follow the work of during difficult political times, for example, Hope not Hate, Amnesty International UK, Abortion Support Network (for information on how Brexit will affect Northern Ireland residents and their access to safe abortions), and the all important Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. We owe it to ourselves and society to stay well informed about all areas and effects of the EU Referendum, and to look out for and support those that will be hit hardest by the upcoming changes in the UK.