Magazine article New African

Brexit and the Black Atlantic

Magazine article New African

Brexit and the Black Atlantic

Article excerpt

Today, the UK must parse through the results of its historic EU membership referendum. Fifty-two per cent voted to leave, 48% to remain. London is in shock, Scotland and Northern Ireland too. Other parts of the country celebrate.

The UK's Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to resign in three months. And at the time of writing, even the extent to which the next government is obliged to respect the result was in question. In fact, this debate has brought clarity only to the depth of division within and between communities in the British Isles.

Though, for once, the African diaspora is not front and centre of a debate about "floods" of migrants, our community has not been spared the national malaise--the creeping recognition of a constitutional crisis. An identity crisis.

Paul Gilroy made the statement that identity is an intellectual construct. But it is no less real, no less powerful, for the fact that it is the product of collective and individual choices, and wilful imagination. Falling in one camp or another will shape a life.

Fault-lines are complex. On the "leave" side: A significant proportion of the community feel themselves to be on the frontlines of competition for low-paid jobs and assistance from the state. For instance, in 2011 around 30% of Africans and 25% of African-Caribbean people were estimated to live in income-deprived areas compared to a national average of 10%. These same individuals, or others more affluent, are persuaded by the unfairness of an immigration policy whose only mechanism for controlling numbers is to focus on non-EU migration. For example, a South London nurse of Ghanaian origin, adamant that she would vote Leave, "otherwise all the Eastern Europeans will take away the jobs that Africans can do, making it more difficult for Ghanaians who want to work in the UK, particularly over the summer holidays".

Finally, there are those whose social conservatism makes them members of a church (sometimes quite literally) that is terrified of the "Muslim other" that they foresee swarming British homesteads through a European backdoor.

On the other side of the fence are the middle-class children of the "leave" crowd whose differing take on identity and economic interest cause the "remain" arguments to resonate more strongly. …

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