Edit: I've added some of my favourite photos from my time in the UK to highlight how great it is. Enjoy.
On the 23 of June the UK public voted to leave the EU, the so-called Brexit.
I've been unsure whether to write on the topic. Until now, I didn't understand why the events of last week bothered me in a way that no other political issue had ever done.
Last week the people of the UK voted to end their membership in the European Union by a narrow majority of 48.1% vs 51.9%.
Lost in the political and economic sabre-rattling that has been going on in the media are the personal stories of the that have already been affected by Brexit.
I lived in the UK for almost 9 years as a foreign student at Royal Holloway university near London 1. As a non-EU student I'm familiar with the immigration process in the UK and have experienced the effects of and increasingly restrictive immigration policy2. Interminable forms, high application costs; fingerprinting; six month-long waits in limbo without a passport; and most importantly, the feeling that the road was getting harder and harder to traverse. Each extension got more complicated and cumbersome; requirements changing from year to year. The international student team at my university do their best to keep up which changing regulations, but towards the end I got the sense it was starting to wear on them. Regardless, I went through each application because I knew that it was worth it. What I thought of as the UK was worth fighting for.
From 2006 to 2015 I was proud to call the UK my home. I've met wonderful people, some of whom became my best friends; I worked hard and got two degrees in physics; and was lucky enough to meet the person I love the most during my time at university.
I can say without a doubt that the person I am today is a direct result of my time there, surrounded by people from all cultures, with a rich history, and a general collective understanding that being nice and polite is for the benefit of all. I was privileged to work with students and staff from different corners of the globe, from Portugal to the US, Russia and Canada, and many other countries, all coming together to build on our understanding of the universe. To build a common understanding of the reality we live in, knowing that all that matters is your passion for the work you do and how your treat others. I'm better off today because I was part of that vibrant, multicultural, and accepting community.
Its because of those experiences that the results of the referendum bother me so much. Whether you are for Leave or Remain you cannot ignore the outright racist undercurrent of the Leave campaign and a large part of its voters.
The EU referendum gave a chance and a voice for the worst parts of society to flourish. The racist rhetoric spewed on television by the leaders of the Leave campaign has emboldened and legitimized those who until now shared their hateful messages over a beer with the mates or on online forums.
We are already seeing the social effects of this referendum and the Leave campaign, with a series of isolated, but nonetheless serious attacks against immigrants and their communities. What was until now a simmering undercurrent has already bubbled into outright violence and hate crimes.
It appears that a part of the Leave camp feel that multiculturalism, immigration, and globalization, have made the UK worse off. The Leave victory last week and the events that followed highlighted that the country I lived in wasn't mostly about diversity and inclusivity. What I optimistically saw as a prejudiced and backwards fringe turned out to be a portion of the population that I cannot ignore.
A large part of the population said no to everything I represented and hold as important: rationality, acceptance, diversity, and multiculturalism. They said no to what my partner and myself are as an international couple, British and Israeli. We considered getting married and moving back to the UK. Is that still an option? And more importantly do we even want to at this point? Perhaps it's too soon to tell.
To be clear not everyone in the Leave camp is a racist or bigot. Many have serious concerns about the direction their country and their community are taking. They are concerned that their way of life is changing in ways they do not like or can control. I'm not an expert on this issue so I will leave it to better minds to tackle.
There are millions of people who believe that the UK is better when citizens of different nationalities work together for the common good. People like my friends, my girlfriend's family, my university lecturers, and the thousands of other people I've had the pleasure of meeting while I was there. It's not all bad.
However, Leave did win. The campaign that depicted images of refugees as a plague and was headed by an out and out racist, won by popular vote. When that happened the picture that I held in my mind of my home for 9 year cracked just a little.
My niece asked me last week about the university entry requirements outside of Israel. I was genuinely happy at the prospect of her getting the chance to experience a country rich with history and culture, and with lovely people and places. To experience the UK that I got to experience.
But now I'm not so sure I can look her in the eye with that same pride as before and tell her she should go. And that, is just a little sad.
Until next Time. Have a great one.
-- Jay Blanco