Brexit vote: If that’s not dog-whistle racism, I don’t know what is

Brexit vote: If that’s not dog-whistle racism, I don’t know what is

OPINION: If you find yourself surrounded by mutterings of ‘I’m not racist, but…’ you probably need to remove your blinkers, if not your frontal lobe.

As a Commonwealth citizen living in the UK, I’m afforded the right to vote in the this week’s Brexit referendum.

There’s been a frenzy of campaigning on both sides of the debate, and if I’m completely honest I’m sick of it.

There are only so many times I can stomach images of Nigel Farage’s gnarled mouth spluttering vitriolic froth before I need to click off the telly and hose myself down with bleach.

Given my description of Farage’s façade, you’ve probably guessed where my bias lies. Nonetheless, I’m always keen to keep things cordial and hear the other side’s argument.

The Leave campaign, however, has left a lot to be desired. Watching the campaign unfold over the past few weeks, a very troubling thread of borderline racist sentiment has been woven into the fabric of the debate.

Also see: Brexit: To fulfill a dream, I might have lost my home

Alarm bells should be ringing for the British public.

Leaflets and adverts featuring the ‘threat’ posed by faceless EU migrants (usually poor brown people from countries such as Turkey) have flooded post boxes throughout the country. MPs that have previously supported the Leave campaign have defected to Remain, citing a racist agenda.

Boris Johnson, leader of the Leave campaign and out-and-out wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, even decided to have a go at Barack Obama recently, who had supported Britain remaining in the EU. Johnson suggested that ‘part-Kenyan’ Obama has an ‘ancestral dislike of the British empire’.

If that’s not dog-whistle racism, I don’t know what is.

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Outers including Farage have of course denied any racist undertones to the Leave campaign’s activism. This from the man whose party had to take the step of banning the phrase ‘bongo-bongo land’ in reference to those countries receiving UK development assistance.

The mind boggles.

But it’s not only the Leave camp’s leadership that has branded itself with this sort of damaging rhetoric.

One recent encounter struck me as particularly telling of Brexit’s supporter base.

Chatting to a City executive at a networking event, the conversation turned to the referendum. Clocking my South African accent, he asked what I thought of the referendum and how I planned to vote. Instead of answering, I asked him what he thought of the Remain camp’s take on isolationism.

For context, one of the Remain camp’s arguments has been that isolation has never been a particularly successful strategy for development and prosperity, e.g. the United States in the early 20th century. So I probed, asking whether he thought that was a sound strategy.

The exec didn’t bat an eyelid. He leaned in, nudged my elbow and whispered conspiratorially ‘Well, you lot didn’t do so badly during apartheid, did you?’

It took a moment to fully absorb what he’d implied. After a pause, I picked my jaw up off the floor and reminded him that international pressure and economic failure were two critical contributors to the fall of apartheid and the dissolution of the nationalist state.

He was unfazed.

Also see: UK will adopt Australian points-based immigration, Brexit proponents say

No matter which side of the fence you sit on, if you find yourself surrounded by mutterings of ‘I’m not racist, but…’ you probably need to remove your blinkers, if not your frontal lobe.

One certainly hopes that this pretty pungent mix of isolationism and racism – two key features of the apartheid state – would be enough to deter voters to the point of a landslide. If not, Britain is in for a bumpy ride.

The feature courtesy of

IMAGE: Rally for ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’, the official ‘Remain’ campaign group seeking to a avoid Brexit, ahead of the the forthcoming EU referendum, in Hyde Park in London on June 19, 2016. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned last week that if Britain votes to exit the European Union on June 23, it could deal the economy a ‘negative and substantial’ blow. (BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)