On Tuesday afternoon, as I packed my bags for a short trip to Italy, I mailed in my vote for the UK’s referendum on whether to leave the European Union. The trip was a last minute decision that, as an EU citizen, I had the luxury to make. On Friday morning, I woke up in Italy to the beginning of my worst nightmare: The country that’s become my closest thing to home had chosen to leave the EU.
In 1998, the year I was born, my heavily pregnant mother took a ship from Nigeria to Ireland just so her baby might have a brighter future than she did. Eighteen years later, as an Irish citizen living in the UK, I was able to vote in Thursday’s referendum. I chose to remain because … what else would I have chosen?
When my mother took that dangerous journey, she did so because she knew the opportunities that I would have simply by being an EU citizen. She grew up in war-torn Sierra Leone, fleeing that country for Nigeria, where she lived in poverty. The ability to move freely across Europe and be exposed to new languages and new cultures, to meet different people—these were opportunities that she was never afforded. The 52 percent of Brits who voted for Brexit voted against the values my mother so cherished—integration, exposure to new cultures and diversity. Now, as a young woman in a black and female body, I am scared. When I return to Britain on Tuesday, I know that as I walk the streets I will not feel safe. After Brexit, I feel like a raw wound, opened, on full display.
But I should have known this was coming.
I never wanted to believe that this tiny island, where I’ve made my closest friends and found family and friendship and everything in between, could really breed so much fascism, xenophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric. I knew about Britain’s imperialist, colonial and racist past, but I wanted it to be its past, not its present and definitely not its future. I blocked my ears as Prime Minister David Cameron called refugees “swarms of migrants.” I put it down to party politics when our government voted to extend airstrikes into Syria. When a woman called Muslim women on a London bus “fucking ISIS bitches,” I chalked it up to one uneducated person’s intolerance. I hid in shame when Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party stood with his back to a poster displaying homeless Syrians reaching Slovenia and the words “Breaking Point” displayed in bold red. When MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed because she was affiliated with the positivity of immigration and stood against hate and intolerance, I cried, but somehow convinced myself that this was only one person’s wrongdoing. I lied to myself about all of these things, but it was easier that way.
It was easier to pretend that Britain was not crumbling at its seams, that far-right politics and racist rhetoric weren’t actually winning. It was easier to pretend that I was not “other,” that my closest friends and family were not being made to feel unwelcome in a country that was just as much theirs as anyone else’s—like my friend of Somali descent who told me she stopped identifying as British because people do not see her as British. It was also easier to tell myself that the man who shouted at me on the Tube, telling me to “go back home” was drunk and did not understand the bigger implication of what he was saying.
For me, what’s tragic here isn’t just the vote and Britain’s departure from the EU. It is the attitudes that me and people who are like me, with my black skin and female body and foreign-sounding name, do not belong here. The attitude that I have nothing good to contribute to this country, that I am like a leech, sucking the best parts of Britain until I am full, and giving nothing in return.
I am usually an optimist, but right now, the future seems bleak. I am 18-years-old; 73 percent of 18-24 year olds voted to remain the UK. Yet, we will not have the same access to housing, social mobility, education and freedom of movement that the older generations enjoyed. It is unfair and wrong. Surviving as black and female in a world that you have been told is not for you has always been difficult. Now I am not sure I have enough resilience to rise from this. The pain I feel is raw. Older, white Brits have made this choice for us—now, somehow, young Brits have to find a way to channel our pain and clean up their mess.
June Eric-Udorie is an 18 year old writer and feminist campaigner based in London. Her writing has been published in The Guardian, The New Statesman, The Pool, amongst many others. She enjoys writing about race, gender and politics and can be found on Twitter @juneericdorie