People were already saying that 2016 was a bad year.
The loss of personal icons, whether that loss is perceived as premature or not, expected or not, has been reported widely, and whether the statistics bore it out the anecdotal perception, office conversation, idle discussion was that more reports, or more clumps of reports of deaths were coming in. It seemed for a while that we couldn’t go a day without the death of someone being a major news story; and while I have a temporary personal filter for the obituary column as well, it’s definitely not just me: there are arguments on the Internet (for example) about whether this year is unusually bad or just bad. (To the extent that I have been personally affected, this is more than simply a bad excuse for not updating the blog more often).
But, but, but. Three days ago, 17ish million people voted to support the idea that the UK should leave the European Union. (16ish million people voted to support the idea that staying was the best plan). I voted in the morning, went off to do some important business, and came back in the afternoon and was offered a “I’m IN” sticker by some canvassers that I passed, which I happily took and stuck to my coat. Why not? My children, aged 7 and 4, later picked up “I’m IN” balloons. And then I went to sleep, and woke up at 5am the following morning to read that the BBC and other news outlets had just called the vote as a 52%:48% vote for Leave. My natural pessimism had anticipated this, so while I was not able to go back to sleep with an even heart, I was to some extent prepared for the result, and ready to get on with life to the best of my ability.
What I was not prepared for was what happened on the school run. As I passed some people working on one of the street lamps, with my children on our way to school, I was quite clearly told that “well we’re out, so you can go back to where you came from”. I hadn’t made a conscious choice to carry on wearing my sticker – I don’t think I’m atypical of parents who grab the first coat you find as they hustle the children out of the front door – but that, as far as I can tell, was my only identifying characteristic for what I interpret as mistargeted racism. I am white-skinned, speak with a cut-glass Home Counties accent, have a wife and two white children, do not display any religious symbols or any statement of sexuality: but a minor display of support for a political cause was enough to draw enough attention for public, unkind speech in front of goodness knows how many children.
I was slightly shaken by this, so I did what I have been doing in lieu of blogging these days: I wrote a mini Interactive Fiction about it on my way to work (playable link, source code), talked about my experience a little bit with my colleagues, and then forgot about it. But then I was out, again with my children, on Saturday afternoon, and two separate strangers again found it necessary to shout or say unkindnesses to me about my sticker, and about what that might mean for my continued residence in this country. I had already had to explain to my elder daughter that the vote did not mean that we had to leave, that we were at no point going to be forced to leave: but this kind of experience of course does have me looking up the rules about French citizenship (good news! My children are automatically French, and my wife needs to pass a conversational French test) and thinking about life elsewhere – not that France is currently a bastion of tolerance and inclusiveness, either.
However. I am white, (cis-)male, part of a nuclear family, atheist; it’s been said with some justification that I get to play the Game of Life on the “easy” setting. If this is what I’m getting, for the temerity of not taking off a sticker from my coat, what must others be experiencing? I could reassure my child that we were not going to be uprooted and sent away, but what of those who find that reassurance less easy to give? Two of my friends from the school gate (one German, one South African) have reported similar experiences to mine; I am too scared to extrapolate. And whether or not the politicians fudge the proximate issue are we really going to leave, or is Alexander de Pfeffel Johnson going to find it hard to press the article 50 button – what seems to have happened is a legitimation of behaviour that I, with my privilege, can brush off as unkindness, but will appear to those in weaker positions than me as hatred. How can we fix that?