When a UK-based colleague (who just happens to be a brilliant Black British woman of Ghanaian descent), told me that her delayed response in our email exchange was because the newly announced Brexit had floored her, I had absolutely no clue what she spoke of. Mainly because I’ve been in a news-less bubble for the past few weeks. I wasn’t always this way. Prior to my year-long journey into Lucumí priesthood, I watched BBC World News 24/7. It was my favorite pastime. I knew about missing airplanes, Boko Haram, beef with Putin, any and everything related to global markets, the royal family, or the British journalistic perspective of America’s Black people getting murder by police problem. But having had to take an extended sensory-overload pause, I haven’t quite returned to my old habit. Because sometimes, as we all know, whether local, national or global, the news can be a little too much.
So when I actually began to inform myself of what I’d missed over the past several days (sort of zooming past the normal U.S. election cycle Charlie Brown’s teacher-esque chatter), I was kind of blown away by the United Kingdom’s decision to secede from the European Union. Of course, my first thoughts went to all of my Black and non-white friends and colleagues there, which is always the case. Anytime anything dramatic is going on in the world, I can’t help but consider its impact on Black people, here or elsewhere. Once I was able to draw links between this racist power play with some overtly racist socio-cultural-political climate changes in the Netherlands, and the Little Shop of Horrors reality-show of an election year here, Donald Trump’s rhetoric didn’t seen so cartoonish anymore.
Great Britain isn’t the only place that’s losing its liberal mind. Recently, Brazil’s government impeached Dilma Rousseff, the country’s first woman president, a former guerrilla activist and fierce fighter of the oppressed. Hundreds of thousands of Afro-Brasilians hit the streets to protest her impeachment.
And what has happened in the aftermath? A conservative all-white, all-male, hyper conservative [read: racist] leadership has replaced her. All that to say what’s happening in the UK isn’t occurring in a vacuum. There are larger implications for people of African-descent everywhere. And a reason, at least for me, for us to re-examine a need for global solidarity if there is such a thing in the 21st Century. So the idea that after electing its first Black president in its history, the U.S. could follow suit by electing Mr. Charlie’s buffoonish cousin for a president, isn’t totally out of the question.
Given the dramatic blow this move could have on the global economy – American friends were online complaining about the fact that ASOS had been down and British Airways briefly halting operations – it’s appalling to consider that millions of Britons voted to leave the EU simply because of immigration. As a global citizen, I’ve always been a little dismayed by my passport not being stamped every time I stepped foot in another EU country during travels, but I’ve also non-selfishly recognized the amount of freedom this movement has given to many Europeans, particularly those of African descent. To recede as a global superpower from the EU and drastically radicalize immigration in ways that haven’t been experienced since the Second World War, is to initiate a global meltdown itself.
The past couple of days, the Brexit-related reports I’ve read and heard from friends are dismal. On more than one occasion, friends were told to go back to where they came from. The only problem is, that they were born in the UK. White Britons, have been making proclamations about taking their country back. All of which, is rather disturbing and comical given the fact that England became a global superpower off of the backs and blood of the Black and brown people that it both enslaved and colonized for centuries. Or the fact that many white Britons themselves have mixed European ancestry.
But ignorance begets fear and fear begets hatred and hatred, violence, which becomes a breeding ground for white supremacy. And not the unbothered, cross-burning white supremacy that was taught about in history books or experienced firsthand in our interactions with rednecks in the American Deep South. No these nouveau white supremacists are your co-workers, and managers, CEOs, and restaurant goers, gentrifiers, policy makers and police officers who make off-putting comments, pull idiotic stunts, and force you to make very uncomfortable decisions about how to respond – either slap the sh*t out of them and risk life-threatening repercussions or silently chew on whatever venom they’re spewing your way. Because those old days are not only coming, they’re here.
White supremacy, which truly exists because of white fear, functions even better under the illusion that it will be upheld and maintained. I think it’s painstakingly clear that Europe, is not more progressive than the U.S. And to many Black and non-white Europeans particularly of our generation, they’re beginning to see the true colors of whiteness in all of its glory. So the question is, what’s our game plan? Are we prepared for the global repercussions of this move on Black bodies? Are we equipped to create spaces for solidarity that will equip our communities with strategies and pro-active blueprints for how to go to battle bigotry? Or we will simply allow, global society to regress to a space where we were in reality, the wretched of the earth?
“In a few years, most Black people are going to be like ‘we got to get out’” says my friend Michelle Escoffery-Ojo, a Black-Brit (by way of Jamaica). If hell were to freeze over and Trump were to be elected, many of us have said the same thing. But the question I’ve been asking everyone is, but where do we go?
– Shantrelle P. Lewis
Featured Image Photo: “Natasha Cooper” (c) Sara Shamsavari, 2012 from her Britain Retold series