Brexit is not a “rupture”, but simply “more of the same” when it comes to everyday racism, interviews with dozens of British people of colour living in the EU has revealed.
Dr Michaela Benson and Chantelle Lewis from Goldsmiths, University of London spoke with 30 British people of colour living in France, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Italy, Belgium, Germany and Ireland.
A report of the research is published in the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies.
Research and media attention has focused on EU nationals in the UK while the 1.8 – 3.6 million UK nationals in the EU are neglected. Benson and Lewis argue that there is also an assumption that British migrants are white and likely to be comfortable, for example, ‘expats’ with homes in Spain.
People of colour have been left out of public discussion of Brexit in the media. Meanwhile, MEPs have called on the EU and its members to take extra measures in tackling structural racism in their states, with the European Parliament passing a new resolution in March 2019.
In contrast to accounts that pitch Britain and other EU countries as newly racist and xenophobic since the Brexit vote, the majority of interviewees said that the last two years have been “business as usual”. They reported lifelong experiences of racism, wherever they have lived.
The shock reported by many Britons resident overseas in response to Brexit was not matched by people of colour interviewed for this study. Brexit was upsetting, but not a surprise. It was seen as one more step in a long history of racism and xenophobia in Britain, although many interviewees said they were now seeing “masks come off”.
“Racists have always been there but Brexit seems to have brought out the really ugly side and made people feel more emboldened to actually come out with these really ugly views,” said Ida, living in Italy.
Some people reported equal or more pronounced levels of everyday racism – both before and after the Brexit vote - than what they had experienced in the UK, including the assumption that because they are black they must be an illegal migrant.
Kaamil, a man of British Pakistani heritage, works at a Spanish university and described how security guards followed him into the toilets to ask what he was doing there. Other men of south Asian descent also recalled being treated with suspicion.
Several interviewees work for EU institutions which are politically and nationally diverse but as people of colour they often found themselves the only non-white face in a room. They also reported racial slurs or lack of awareness about racism in the workplace.
“How can we really understand what it means to be a British citizen living in the EU if the experience of black and Asian Britons, children, those of working age, disabled Britons and those on limited incomes are ignored,” Dr Benson said.
“Not listening to these accounts indicates an exclusionary understanding of who is British, how they fit into a hierarchy of belonging, and what impact Brexit is having on them as a result.”
Brexit, British People of Colour in the EU-27 and everyday racism in Britain and Europe by Michaela Benson and Chantelle Lewis, Department of Sociology, was published on Wednesday 10 April 2019.
It is the latest paper from the research project BrExpats: freedom of movement, citizenship and Brexit in the lives of Britons resident in Europe led by Michaela Benson and funded by the ESRC and the UK in a Changing Europe Initiative. Find out more: brexitbritsabroad.com