(FOB refers to “Fresh Off the Boat”, a historically derogatory slang used to describe newly-settled immigrants. While it traditionally has negative connotations, there has been a slight amelioration of the term in recent years as globalisation and increasing interconnectivity facilitates the increase of travel and relocation in our technologically-advanced age.
As a disclaimer, this is not meant to be a politically-charged divisive piece as much as it is a simple self-involved reflection on the aftermath of the Brexit, guided by my limited understanding of the economic and political repercussions of the decision.)
At two in the morning last Friday, I was alternating between refreshing the Guardian’s live Brexit ballot count, and Lindsay Lohan’s now-deleted slightly-eccentric-but-still-kinda-entertaining twitter commentary on said referendum. I watched the pendulum swing so slightly between ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ until eventually I fell asleep next to my phone, still hopeful that my Tier 4 visa would remain valid when I woke up (yes, this is sarcasm and an exaggeration, I am aware that the terms of my student visa have no actual direct link to the EU referendum). The next morning, in true millennial fashion, I reached for my phone and refreshed that same live vote count page and found the Brexit result that we’re now all too familiar with. For the next few days, that was all anyone could talk about, both on- and offline.
With my layman understanding of the referendum, its result, and the implications from there, I couldn’t help but share in the uncertainty and vocal dissatisfaction expressed by Netizens, politicians, and media outlets alike.
How will the Brexit shape the future of the UK, and what does it mean for immigrants – EU citizens or otherwise – like myself?
Just about three years ago, when I stepped off the plane at Heathrow ready to start a new chapter of young adult life in London, I was an excited, eager, and to a large degree, rather naïve nineteen-year-old. Growing up in tiny Singapore, I was sold the glorified dream of the West from a young age, chiefly through thoroughly-curated Western media and pop culture, compounded by the increasing interconnectivity of the Internet age. In actuality, not to overdramatise or completely discredit my temporary home, my experience was intensely different from the completely free, liberal, accepting and inclusive utopia I imagined my new life to include. For a long while after, I was homesick and quite disillusioned (though this was probably exacerbated by the fact that I was essentially still a child, thrust into a new environment, trying to figure out her place in modern society – quite the first world problem indeed). I grew to dislike my new home, partially because it was so different from my admittedly delusional and wide-eyed expectations. I wrestled with the idea of what constituted an objectively “good” country – there were bits and pieces of both Singapore and London that I liked and disliked, so which was the “better” place for me? Three years later – and three years older – I’ve reconciled most of the questions I had, and I dare say I can appreciate London so much more for what it is, not what I expect it to be.
My story is not a new or untold one in the least. Every year, hundreds of thousands of foreign students arrive in the UK hoping to find a place in its society, and they make up just a fraction of the entire immigrant population in the country. In the lead-up to the Brexit, many of my friends in London who hail from Commonwealth countries took it upon themselves to read up on the referendum and its implications before casting their votes on Thursday. On Friday morning, many of them took to social media to express their disappointment.
A common thread that ran throughout their collective discontent was the frustration at the xenophobic undercurrents of the decision, and the fear that eventually, the UK will no longer have a place for them.
At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all, or worse, like a social justice warrior, London always redeemed the UK’s long history of colonisation and intervention in my eyes, because of how this contentious past also allows for the vast and diverse population of people of all nationalities and from all regions of the world to congregate in the heart of the country, all trying to make it in a city that is as vibrant and exciting as it can be cold and daunting. It’s London where you find yourself sat on a balcony at a house party amongst friends and acquaintances who hail from everywhere from Singapore to South Africa. It’s London where you can drunkenly stumble into a kebab shop after a night out and have a conversation about commerce in East Asia with its Romanian owner and her Italian husband. And it’s London where the heavy reality of the Brexit is felt the most, particularly by the multicultural and diverse immigrant community that calls it home.
The EU referendum and its aftermath deal with issues way deeper than the UK’s membership within the union. The Brexit is more than just legislation, it is a mind-set and a perspective. And this mind-set is not kind to us quote, unquote, immigrants. This isn’t to say that xenophobia did not already exist in this country – or any country, really – even before this major political change.
But such a charter heralds the beginning of even more exclusive legislation that is likely to keep the long-term presence of us “foreigners” to a minimum.
On another note, this entire experience has reinforced my belief that the power the media has in swaying historical legislation is undeniable and indisputable, and can lead to potentially detrimental results should they choose to exploit their readership in hopes of furthering their political agenda. This is not a new concept – the politicisation of media has persisted throughout history and will perhaps always be part of capitalist modern society. It is as evident in this circumstance as it is in the current US presidential race, where in both cases, right- and left-wing media are so deeply entwined in politics and business that only half of the picture is painted and presented to the general audience.
In this instance, some media outlets chose to frame the possibility of leaving the EU in relation to internal politics (e.g. Boris vs Dave), British exceptionalism, and the implicit promise of reserving economic prosperity for the born-and-bred. In my opinion, by constantly highlighting these UK-centric elements at the expense of examining the short- and long-term effects of the decision on the international community, these outlets were doing a great disservice to the other seven plus billion people affected by the economic and political decisions of such a hegemonic country as the UK.
Moreover, this debacle showed the sheer power and pervasiveness of misinformation spread through both the media and word of mouth. One article I read in the aftermath said that one element of the Brexit result came down to voters believing that disentangling themselves from the EU would protect their economic interests such as by reserving employment within the UK strictly for locals, when in actuality the long-term repercussions of such an exit would leave the UK economy in uncertainty (and certainly it has, as seen from the weakening pound in the past couple of days).
At the risk of belittling the ability of us laymen to see through the misinformation peddled to us through the media, it is unfortunate that in this day and age, we rely on the news to give us a full picture of what we’re getting ourselves into, only to have the carpet pulled from under our feet.
So where do we go from here? In the immediate wake of the Brexit decision, pundits and passers-by alike were constantly speculating on what this decision meant in the grander scheme of things. Days later, while the same few faces continue to dominate the news, and Brexit-related headlines still flood public consciousness, the initial shock and uncertainty has faded, just a little. Walking around London, the capital doesn’t feel all that different to me. But the experiences of both foreigners and locals elsewhere, spreading rapidly through the media, have already begun to tell a different story. While we can only imagine what the future holds for both the UK and the rest of the world – especially when the UK definitively transitions out of the EU after the next few years of negotiations – the reality of a post-Brexit world will begin to unfold in time to come, and we will just have to cross each new bridge as we get to it, whether we decide to do so as a united entity or not.