Them and Us

Photo by Pen Waggener
Photo by Pen Waggener

I try to keep politics off this blog. That’s the common advice, isn’t it? Not to alienate potential readers by being overtly political. It’s like bringing politics up at dinner parties or with family. There’s something unsavoury about it. Rarely does consensus come out of political conversations unless you are talking to like-minded people.

But then, sometimes politics becomes so inextricably entwined with the daily grind of life that it is hard to crow bar it off the page. It seeps into my waking thoughts and dreams demanding not to be ignored. Those of you who read me – this blog, my fiction or my poetry – know me intimately. My politics cannot be a surprise to you when you read the white space between the lines.

It seems to me that we have become good at revealing our colours to like-minded people. We seek community, live in bubbles of our own making, where challenges are spurned. Within social and traditional media we preach to our own. Our real life friendship groups and social media relationships are more often than not mirror reflections of our own views and interests.

This is natural, but living within an echo chamber is also dangerous. We lose touch with other people’s reality. How many times have you been tempted to unfollow someone because of an opposing view? These clashes of opinion lead to anger and disappointment, rather than curiosity and compassionate listening. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. Once we’ve formed an opinion, it becomes ingrained almost immediately. It’s hard to accept evidence to the contrary; it’s relatively easy to find evidence to back up our own narratives.

From a British perspective, we find ourselves – ten days after the leave vote won the EU referendum – in no man’s land, facing possibly our biggest peacetime challenge. The unpolitical Everyman has become politicised. We all have an opinion on whether this was the right or wrong choice. Real concerns have been met with accusations of stupidity, snobbery and hysteria. Rather than settling the question of EU membership once and for all, the referendum and respective campaigns unleashed a rise in hate crime and simmering tensions in communities, between neighbours, families and friends. It stings in a country that many believed to be a beacon of tolerance and openness.

I’ve been increasingly tempted in these past few days, when the political storms show no signs of subsiding anytime soon, nationally we are in disarray at both government and civil society level, and news is reaching saturation point, to retreat into my cocoon, and instead concentrate on the nourishment of family life, writing stories that are unconcerned with the themes playing out in front of us. But our environment and our worries have a way of seeping into our daily lives and onto the page, as if in symbiosis.

My worries about racism have plagued my subconscious at night. I turn over in my sleep and notice contrast between my dark-skinned hand and the white bedsheets. Yesterday, I gave a wide berth to a man in the supermarket with my shopping basket, just in case I accidentally bumped him and triggered a racist comment. Such paranoia is not usually mine; it is tied to the mood of the nation.

Photo by Venus Petrov
Photo by Venus Petrov

If these tensions dissipate, it will be because of fatigue, a lack of energy to fight our causes, a resignation and lack of hope about the future. But there can be no doubt what lies beneath the surface, what both government and opposition parties would be foolish to ignore. Alongside the reshaping of our national identity with regards to the EU, they must also grapple with complex questions of racism, democracy, political trust and social mobility.

Complex negotiations lie ahead regarding trade, free movement of people, worker rights, borders and the unity of the existing kingdom. Meanwhile career politicians are stepping back from the fray, shell-shocked, out-manoeuvred, undone. Those at the heads of the respective leave and remain camps can’t press the ejector buttons on their political careers fast enough, to the theme tune of The Benny Hill Show.

One thing is clear. If we find ourselves falling into a Them and Us narrative it should be a signal that we are over-simplifying facts. We cannot retreat into dualism: left vs. right; young vs. old; cities vs. rural areas; working class vs. upper class; black vs. white; nationalists vs. internationalists. Divisions don’t serve anyone well.

Away from the party political manouvres at Westminster and in Brussels, we need to decide what kind of country we will be.

4 thoughts on “Them and Us

  1. I’ve been thinking about cutting off contact with someone who voted to Leave, so your line about placing yourself inside echo chambers gave cause for a grim smile. In the interests of context, it was more than a simple tick on the box – when dissecting the result post-mortem they revealed themselves to be utterly poisonous in a way that genuinely shocked me having known (or thought I’d known) this person for close to a decade. One of those ‘you think you know someone’ moments when you sit slack jawed as they talk about their hatred for foreign accents on British streets, wanting to reclaim England for England, advocating a mass exodus of all non-British nationals back to their respective countries.

    I know, right? You can shrug your shoulders for comic effect and say ‘who knew?’ but really… there are times when you can see no more potential for intelligent back and forth debate and can only see the poison.

    I asked another Leaver recently if they felt cheated? In the long history of pyrrhic victories, this one has to rank high. All the promises thrown out and dismissed by the camp, two central figureheads running away from touching the trophy they’d won, and now a country stumbling along punch drunk and confused. Did they really vote for billions wiped from assets and pensions, a pound that is worth the same as a beer bottle top and a rise in racist attacks on innocent people caught between a Tory power struggle?

    They said they got what they wanted. We got out of the EU. I gave them a sideways glance. The last time so many straws were clutched, someone was clinging to the edges of a sinkhole in a cornfield.

    My only hope, and it is an ongoing light, is that many of the 52% are waking up from their strange hypnotic dream. From letters, opinion pieces and anecdotal tales of frantic letters and phone calls to counsillors begging to change their votes, it sounds like many are realising what they’ve done. We can only hope that the damage caused is not irreversible and that the ink isn’t dry on the Faustian contract.

    1. Hi Jimmi, sorry I missed this comment. It brought me comfort, so I wish I’d read it earlier. I can understand how you feel. I’ve found the last few months politically really tough and it’s driven my away from Twitter and also this blog, where my routine has been like clockwork over the past few years. I’ve tried to avoid political discussions with those I suspect may not agree in the last week or so. It’s just too divisive. And the opposition has been so poor. There’s been not enough media dissection in my opinion. They’ve been too distracted by internal party struggles. I’m also not sure that people are aware yet of the implications. My concerns about racism have been pooh-poohed by everyday friends. ‘It’s always been there’ apparently. No acceptance of the emboldening of that minority of society. I’m torn between wanting to discuss it all day, read myself silly, and to just preserve my sanity and focus on things I can change. Sending love, as always xx

      1. I’m glad that my comment gave you some comfort Nillu. I must confess, I didn’t feel very comforting writing it but if you can see the light in the darkness then that is a positive thing.

        Your everyday friends are, at best complacent and, at worst just wrong. Racism has always been there but this is a new strand with a new political narrative (which gives it legitimacy to these morons) and it is unwise to shrug and say ‘it is what it is’. I can’t imagine how horrible it must be watching all this as a proud Muslim who (and I hope I’m not overreaching myself here) loves this country, although your eloquent and moving entries on the subject have given me a window.

        There’s a line in Men In Black that I’ve always thought was accurate, but recent events have make me realise it isn’t entirely true. It’s a line Tommy Lee Jones says “a person is smart, people are dumb panicky animals…” referring to the reactionary pack mentality. And yet, when you see stories of shops owned by Romanians having their windows smashed by one person, and then a few weeks later the replaced windows covered in hundreds of little pink love hearts all saying ‘we love you please stay’ in English, Polish, Romanian and Arabic, it gives you hope. Just like the mass vigils after terrorist atrocities – perpetrated by (usually) one man and then rejected by society.

        The stats for the Brexit vote were heavily skewed by votes from the older generation, whereas young voters preferred to stay in at something like 70/80% of 18-24 year olds. If so-called adults are rejecting hard working people from overseas, then it sounds like the kids, who will be the first generation to have grown up side by side with their children, are just getting on with getting along. I think through them, this is a fight we, as civilised society, will ultimately win.

      2. Thanks Jimmi. I don’t feel like a proud Muslim to be honest. I’ve always been more comfortable with personal expression of faith rather than communal, and I guess I now consider myself more a cultural Muslim than a religious one. But yes I love Europe. I can’t believe you quoted Men in Black but that line is very apt. The good will still always outweigh the bad, I believe that. I wish the media would report hope as much as they report despair. I agree too that the younger generations give cause for hope. Many older people I know did vote to remain though and these binaries we draw always alienate rather than bring people together. What a complex world it is, when in reality, our basic needs are so simple… Much love

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