As a 21 year old London born Politics student, it’s not often that I am forced to consider my ethnic background when making decisions (politically).
My parents immigrated to the UK as Kurdish asylum seekers in the ’80s and I’ve always considered myself to be British, and proudly so.
I’ve never thought of my ethnicity as a barrier to being British or holding British values: I am British. I simultaneously consider myself to be Kurdish, namely through my family and my background.
I understand my family’s political and social struggle as Kurds in Turkey and that this is a reason behind their move to the UK. However, I have recently been on the receiving end of political prejudice characterised by my Kurdish background, an idea with which I am deeply uncomfortable.
It is the idea that voting leave is something that should be specific to English people, rather than to British people. It characterises English people as racist, and tells immigrants how they should be voting rather than encouraging them to make informed political decisions.
It is a rejection of equality, and a rejection of the freedom to hold individual values. Moreover, it is a rejection of the idea that we are all one in this country and paints the idea that we are inherently different and it is something that we should not let go of lightly.
Following last week’s referendum I have been flooded with messages of contempt by fellow students and friends for voting leave, “you need to remember where you came from”, “you have let down your parents”, “how can you vote Leave as a second generation immigrant?”, “you have been manipulated”.
This condemnation against the ethnic Leave vote tells us that voting leave as the child of an immigrant is wrong and stupid. It tells immigrants that they don’t understand what they are doing; they are in an identity crisis. Somehow, we have become divided politically by our ethnicity, or by our ‘whiteness’ or lack thereof.
If you are white then it only makes sense that you vote leave, if you are not then you must vote remain whilst cautiously latching on to your ethnicity for fear of becoming like ‘them’. Immigrants and natives are considered too different to be at one politically; they are not to be mixed.
Voting leave has become an indication that you have betrayed your ethnic roots and plunged into the realms of an identity crisis. You’ve become too British.
The first problem with this line of thinking is that is creates an ‘us’, and a ‘them’. It divides people by their ethnic background, as it tells them that they should be voting in accordance to their ethnicity rather than what they believe in.
It tells us that we are inherently different to each other with set political beliefs- we cannot be one politically and we should not mix politically.
This referendum brings to light the divisions which have been created, defining who should vote what by ethnicity. What troubles me most is that it tells me that it is wrong for me to have the ideas that I do, that my political beliefs are false and invalid because of my ethnicity. It defines me by my parents’ history, and binds me to ethnicity rather than to what I believe in as a British individual.
The second issue at hand is that immigrants are being told that they are not English, and that they are not representative of British values, nor are those values representative of them.
My parents may have immigrated to the UK, however this does not make me feel any less British, or English. To everyone who devalued my vote and my political position because of my ethnic background, I would like you to take a look at some of the most ethnically diverse areas in this country (places like Birmingham, Boston, Luton and Peterborough) who all voted to Leave the EU, and show you that immigrants do not see themselves as different as you may have liked them to.
In fact, apart from London, many areas of the UK with a high number of foreign born individuals have voiced their preference to leave the EU.
In this sense, the referendum is significant because it has shattered the ideas of being divided by ethnicity, and it highlights the fact that we all share a common sentiment, as humans, rather than groups of different people. People from all kinds of backgrounds have come together to call into question the political system, shattering the idea that we are different because of where we come from.
If we want to ease divisions in this country then we must promote this idea rather than tell immigrants that they are different. This reaction towards foreigners voting Leave is representative of the push for identity to dominate politics, rather than ideas and individual motivations. It is characterised by authoritarian thinking, robbing people of their agency; and this is why it is so important that I dispute this idea.
My parents are Kurdish immigrants, and they are proud that I can stand up and voice my opinions loud and clear. It is something that they would not have been able to do in Turkey, and there is nothing more they would have wanted for their children: to be able to hold individual political beliefs and to be able to make these heard.
Many people have unfortunately overlooked this incredibly positive reality and completely ignored the beauty of freedom and democracy in this country. My parents moved to this country for more freedom and more democracy, in this sense their child has not let them down, but, I would like to think, has made them proud.