June 26, 2016

Us vs. Them—Brexit & the Shadow of White Privilege & Entitlement.

Backbone Campaign/Flickr

With the aftermath of Brexit, the world is running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

The stock market plummeted. Scotland is suggesting it will seek independence from Great Britain. The votes to remain in the European Union (EU) were popular among city populations like London, while many votes to exit the EU came from rural and small population villages. But what the people’s vote says to me is that white, dominant, entitled and privileged people are distrusting and fearful of their future, and are largely blaming it on Middle Eastern immigration.

Brexit is essentially a means to continue the entitlement and white privilege which Great Britain, and England particularly, have held for centuries through world-wide colonialism.

Through colonization, Great Britain has held enormous political, military, economic and legal power in the world. This came with a sense of entitlement and privilege which dominant groups take for granted until a new group enters—a group that doesn’t enjoy these same special rights, but wants them for survival. Rights that include access to housing, employment and education, just to name a few.

British nativists are afraid of losing power to foreign immigrants, and having less political and financial power compared to Germany. It is saddening from a human perspective because this divorce shows the fear of living together with people from different cultures or races, who speak different languages. There is a lack of hope in cooperating as a team with other countries.

This fear and entitlement hit close to home just recently with the trial of Brock Turner, the former Stanford University swimmer who sexually assaulted an unconscious, intoxicated female on campus. He was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation, which was akin to a light slap on the hand and a “behave better next time.” If he was Black, Latino, Asian or Middle Eastern, there would have been a stiffer, more severe punishment. But Turner came from a wealthy, educated family of white privilege and entitlement, which abated the degree of punishment.

Let me be clear by stating that I am not against the white dominant group. What I am against is fear and distrust. What I am against is the ignorance to question what our unconscious and implicit biases towards race, culture and religion are. 

Because this is where stereotypes and perceptions arise. And these issues have seriously unfair repercussions, mainly for the vulnerable and poor, which are often minorities and immigrants. But the victims are not just the minorities. The dominant group suffers too.

Great Britain, Turner and Judge Aaron Persky, who sentenced Turner, thought they were doing what was best to preserve the power that goes along with white privilege and entitlement. The sad reality, for them, is that in the long run, their actions will diminish that illusory power. Scotland wants out of Great Britain. And Jeff Rosen, a Santa Clara District Attorney, is seeking to pass legislation to close loopholes to prevent “future Brock Turners” from getting lenient sentences by including sexual assault of an intoxicated or unconscious person to the list of criminal offenses ineligible for probation.

Being Asian and female, I consider myself a double minority. I see the importance and value of having friends of diverse races, cultures, nationalities and points of view. While we have disagreements on politics, religion and hot topics, there is an underlying basis of respect and friendship. Someone who doesn’t know me might see me having a heated debate with a white male friend and think we are fighting, but a few minutes later we are washing dishes together after enjoying a meal.

Differences can be scary at first glance. But they shouldn’t be dismissed as scary without being evaluated over time. That is what is dangerous about white privilege, entitlement and racism. Racism is a learned behavior, one we are taught and not inherently born with. If we are willing to be a little uncomfortable at the start, we will see that the discomfort goes away and opens up new possibilities of living together and finding solutions to social problems.

Xenophobia, the fear and distrust of foreigners, is based on the instinct to survive, that there are a limited amount of resources. I can understand Britain’s fear of losing resources to immigrants, but how true to reality is this fear? To me, it feels akin to what Donald Trump is saying about immigrants in the United States, which is that we will lose our country to them. In both instances, the goal is to get people scared out of their wits. But our country’s innovation and power has been built by the hard work of immigrants.

I’m afraid that what the Brexit shows is Britain’s desire to isolate itself not only from Europe, but from the world. This was an “us versus them” vote. It’s a sad time for Great Britain and for the European union. My hope is that the United States does not catch this distrustful, deluded bug in November. That we have the courage to look fear and hate straight in the eye and step out of the shadow of white privilege and entitlement.



Author: Stephanie Lee

Image: Backbone Campaign/Flickr

Editor: Nicole Cameron; Catherine Monkman

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