It’s the time of year when editors start to commission those ‘year in review’ pieces. I’m not going to write one of those, for all sorts of reasons. But it would be absurd if 2016 had failed to leave a mark on me.
Regular readers may recall the blog I posted after the 2015 General Election. I was shocked by the Tory majority; horrified by what it meant. ‘But’, as always, I said ‘we have to regroup and fight the good fight’. I was resigned to swingeing cuts until 2020 but I had hope that Labour would be an effective opposition. I’ve yet to see much evidence of that, but I digress.
Along came the announcement of the EU referendum. I was disturbed by much of the rhetoric around it and appalled by the murder of an MP, but, despite the polls, I thought the Remain camp would edge it. I didn’t stay up to watch the results – I never do, because I can’t bear the patronising tone of the commentary and I have no interest in Jeremy Vine’s crap graphics – but I checked them as soon as I awoke and I was staggered. But this came at a time when I was still reeling from the shootings at Pulse and I simply couldn’t process it. It was clear to me that the Leave campaign was fuelled by hate and that it spat out lies and I simply couldn’t believe that people – people I knew; people who had been refugees; people who were themselves migrants – could buy into the ‘foreigners go home’ rhetoric.
Despite my best efforts, I am still angry at those people. Because however I try to rationalise it, deep in my heart I am angry at people who have benefitted so much from the EU over the past forty years but decided that my generation should not benefit. Interestingly, I am not as angry at the people who are working-class or poor or who have few opportunities and believed that Farage et al. were their saviours. I’m angry at the migrants who sided with a bunch of racists and fell for their lies. I expect migrants to see through those lies because they have likely been lied about themselves. Every time I think of it I am filled with a fury which is alien to me. I am not, by nature, rage-filled. I am angered by injustice and bigotry and cruelty, but we should all be angered by those things. But to be consumed by a rage so great that it threatens to overwhelm all rational thought is new to me. But beneath the anger, of course, is fear and disbelief.
I cannot believe that we have got to a point in British history where those fleeing for their lives are referred to as ‘cockroaches’; where people who look different are told they’d be better off drowning than reaching these shores. I cannot believe the hate I see and hear around me. This is not the Britain I grew up in. This is not how we do things in the country I have always considered my home. My family came here as refugees and we did everything ‘right’ – they worked and paid their taxes. They raised children who were polite and upstanding and those children were fortunate enough to get a good education and now they – I amongst them – work and contribute to society. We don’t commit crimes. We don’t incite violence. We respect the land that gave us sanctuary when our own lands wouldn’t.
But despite all that, our demographics count against us. The thing about demographics, of course, is that you can’t do a lot about them. I will always be Asian. I will always, for as long as I live here, be a second-generation immigrant. I do, of course, have rather more control over my faith, but if you think you’re going to bully me out of that you’re very much mistaken.
I understand that indigenous populations might fear ‘the other’. That makes sense to me, as a psychologist and a person. But what is beyond me is the divisions that have been exposed between people who have similar experiences. How can someone who sought asylum forty years ago vote against the interests of those seeking asylum now? Where on earth has your humanity gone?
So this is how the EU referendum left me feeling: sick at the success of a campaign which was designed to fragment our society. But it also meant that I became virtually reconciled to the idea of a Trump victory in the US. Not pleased by it, but not naive enough to think that our cousins across the pond would be any better at recognising lies and hate for what they were. So when I awoke last Wednesday, I could barely raise an eyebrow at the result. I can still barely raise an eyebrow. It’s not that I don’t care – it’s just that I feel numb. I suspect that beneath that numbness lurks rage and terror and hurt. Because it does hurt, as someone whose demographics are so vilified, to know that 25 million people voted for a man who may cause you and people like you harm, and that almost 50 million didn’t care enough to vote against him. And again, it’s the minorities who voted for him that I am angriest at. It’s the Mexicans who voted for him, despite him calling them ‘rapists’. It’s the women who voted for a misogynist. It’s the people who have thrown their brothers and sisters – and maybe even themselves – under the bus in the name of freedom.
You may tell me that there’s no need to be terrified; that Trump won’t do half of what he said he would. And you may be right; but there’s no guarantee of that. And if you’re not frightened I suspect you’ve no need to be. The rest of us – the ones who stand out; who wear our difference openly – know that to be frightened is the only realistic response to such a calamitous result.
Not that I’m a fan of Hillary Clinton, mind. And, of course, America has huge problems with bigotry and war-mongering and prejudice. A Trump presidency just lifts the veil on it. But veils are important. Whilst hate is veiled you know it is something mainstream society shuns. When the veil is lifted you know the hate has become mainstream.
This is what I – and maybe others with minority identities – truly fear: the normalising of hate and bigotry. And the problem for me is that I’m not sure how to process that as a person, so I have no idea how I do it as a psychologist. Yes, we engage in small acts of resistance. Yes, we maintain our individual humanity even as society loses its collective humanity. Yes, we continue to fight for those who will be most damaged by this terrible new world we are creating. But the problem is that the hate peddled by these people is pernicious: if we’re not careful, we all become tainted by it. And I am in danger of doing what so many have done and of tarring all those who voted for Trump with one brush. I am in danger, in short, of doing exactly what these people want: of falling for their spin and their lies and of hating people I have never met but who I have constructed in my mind’s eye.
So I don’t know what I do with this, as a psychologist. But as a person, I suspect my first and greatest task is simply this: do not hate. Do not become that which seeks to divide and to destroy.
And that, I suspect, will be much, much easier said than done.