Helen Cox is a UK author. She made her on-screen debut in The Krankies in 1990. Given the choice, her Mastermind topic would be Grease 2 and when someone asks her if she is a god she says 'yes.' Oh, you want to know about her books? Best click some of the links below.
“Understand we go hand in hand but we walk alone in fear.”
From the opening, stunned silence to the hurt, distrustful looks between people who thought they knew each other but are now having second thoughts. To me, this clip from Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer sums up the mood in Britain since Thursday’s referendum vote better than any of the rhetoric buzzing around news channels.
Yes, all seven seasons of Buffy are something of a touchstone in my life, and yes, I’m OK with that.
I don’t mind sharing here that I voted remain and was deeply saddened by the result. But, what followed the result saddened me at a much deeper level.
I understand people are angry and scared.
I am too, but, to my mind, nothing can justify the intense hatred that has been shown to those who exercised their democratic right to vote and chose to vote leave.
Before writing further about this I’d like to underline, I’m not denying that a racist element exists within the leave voters. There is no pretending. That element is there and it is shameful. The media have done all they can to promote this element. Given them a mortifying amount of air-time that has skewed the perspective of millions. Please understand however, that it is not just leave voters who have been manipulated by the media, many remain voters have suffered the same fate. Because those with racist opinions have been given a soap box, many have assumed that is the over-riding reason why people voted leave.
Consequently 52% of the British population have been seemingly labelled ‘stupid racists’, anyone who has admitted regret over their vote has been publicly shamed for it and on top of this, I’ve seen online posts suggesting more separatism. ‘Fun’ articles indicating people in Sunderland believe they’ll be living in a gleaming metropolis in the next five years or that London should disconnect itself from the rest of England so it can stay in the EU.
For those still baffled by the referendum result, that last point is essentially the crux of why we are in the situation we are in today. The fact that the irony of such posts hasn’t smacked people in the face has left me stunned.
If you’ve felt angry and frightened, as I have, over the last four days, you should know some people, largely though not exclusively outside London, have been feeling that way for four decades.
Many of these communities are far from Downing Street and they have voted for politician after politician who has promised they will invest in their area. That they will bring jobs and livelihoods and, with that, self-respect for the people who live in marginalised, downtrodden communities.
These politicians have failed all of us.
All they had to do was listen. Keep some of their promises. Instead those politicians brought in zero hour contracts and made cuts to infrastructure, before placing the blame for all this explicitly and squarely on immigration issues (when they weren’t busy blaming whoever was in power last instead of taking responsibility for the situation we were in).
I saw people posting to social media with phrases like, and as I don’t wish to hold this outpouring of grief against anyone I’m paraphrasing here to protect identities, what we had before was great. Why did leavers ruin all that?
Hate to break it to you, what we had before wasn’t great for everyone. This vote is proof of it and if you’re going to write all those people off as ‘stupid racists’ without considering their point of view then I’m afraid you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution. And on the off-chance that some of the people who voted leave do possess less intelligence than you, how cruel it is to berate them for it. How deeply vile to imply that people not gifted with intellect are worth any less as human beings when this is so obviously a failing of our social responsibility.
Before I wrote novels, I was a full-time English teacher for seven years. Every lesson there was an underlined title, date and starter activity waiting on the board for students. What was the first question I was almost always asked? ‘Miss, what’s the title?’
Was this exasperating? Yes. And the students quickly got used to my standard, dry response: ‘The title is on the board, after the word ‘title.’ It is also underlined to indicate to you it’s the title.’
This was undoubtedly the most-asked question of my teaching career. I’d much rather it was ‘Miss, what are your views on Macbeth as an anti-feminist play?’ or ‘What significance did Maya Angelou have to later authors from similar backgrounds?’ I was asked those too, but ‘what’s the title?’ is firmly in the number one spot.
Did I get angry at these children and call them stupid? No. Never. For two reasons. Firstly, they were asking because these children had a sense they weren’t as gifted as other children. How could they not the way we segregate ‘bright’ and ‘weak’ students in our education system? And they were asking because they were frightened of getting things wrong. Because they’d got used to getting things wrong. All day, every day, and they’d been taught getting things wrong was the worst thing they could do since year dot.
So they looked to others they trusted for guidance so that they wouldn’t get it wrong.
If you truly believe that all people who voted leave are stupid, which I emphatically do not, ask yourself this question: who did these people have to look to during the shameful media circus that preceded the vote? Where were the calm, clear voices of reason they needed to explain what the EU was, exactly what we gained and lost by being part of it, or what would happen if we left?
There were no such calm, clear voices and that is our collective failing.
People were given a choice between ‘project hate’ and ‘project fear’. What kind of choice is that for anyone?
The second reason I resisted getting angry with students who asked basic questions was because I knew the education system, dictated by the government, was rigged for them to fail and that they were suffering from a learned helplessness generated by that failing system. It rewards those who excel at assessment and excelling at assessment is held up as the pinnacle of all achievements. The value and power of learning unto itself is barely touched upon, and the worst thing you can do is make a mistake.
As children avoid making mistakes at all costs, they never learn from them and miss out on developing resilience, independence and a sense of discovery. This means, they are more likely to be swayed by the opinions of other people. In a world in which the media can dispense its toxic opinions twenty-four hours a day this is a dangerous prospect.
For those thinking: that argument about failing politicians is all well and good but the poorest of the leave voters will pay the highest price for this decision. Why do that to yourselves? You’re probably right. But, so what? Is being right really the most important thing just now?
More than half the population voted leave, and many did so out of desperation for some kind of change. Any kind of change. Regardless of the consequences. Snapping after years of feeling neglected and unvalued isn’t an admirable thing to do but it is a very, very human thing to do. Isn’t it more important to show compassion? To try and heal these wounds rather than pour salt in them?
As for asking how people could do this to themselves, you try feeling like you have the last four days for the next four decades and see how easy decision-making is for you.
Certainly, when I was rejected for a job at an O2 call centre on the outskirts of Leeds in 2003, I wasn’t feeling so rational. I’d just achieved a 2.1. in Psychology at the University of Teesside. I’d just racked up a mountain of debt because I was told by the government I’d need a degree to get a good job. Like millions of others, I’d found there were no jobs that were even a third cousin twice removed to the kind of jobs I’d been promised. So, wanting to pay my way, and with a rent bill due, I’d applied for any available job and as it happened I couldn’t even get one of those. The guy who broke the news to me that I wasn’t going to have a bright future climbing the ladder at one of the UK’s biggest mobile networks didn’t even stop stuffing his face with a bag of Mini Cheddars as he broke the news to me.
That was a low. And many similar lows followed. If I’d stayed in the North and been this disenfranchised for the last fifteen years, I’m not sure what kind of person I’d be or how I’d even begin to cope with that.
I have no complaints about my life. Hell, my life is charmed in comparison to many of the other people I know who stayed in the North East. But I had to move to London to make it so. For almost a decade, I left behind the home I love because I couldn’t find the work that I’d aspired to as a young girl. Some truly magnificent things happened to me in the capital and I met many people who continue to change the course of my life even now that I’ve moved back to York.
If I hadn’t left the North however, I know my life would look very different today and not everybody is willing to move away from their family and friends to forge a career. Why should they have to? Shouldn’t opportunities be given to people all over the country? Aren’t we all part of Great Britain? Don’t we all count?
Most people I knew told me I’d never be a writer and in their defense, the odds didn’t look great for me. I was a hard worker but I wasn’t an A* student. I’ve never had an A* or a first or a distinction in my life. Based on my academic mediocrity and my social class, I wouldn’t have put money on me achieving great things. But I never gave up and I moved to places where I knew there were opportunities even though, in my heart, that was the last thing I wanted.
The thing is, it shouldn’t have to be this way. Which is what, I believe, was the resounding message of Thursday night’s vote.
Despite the picture the media is painting, I choose to see my fellow British citizens as people and not judge them on one point of view or perspective they may have because I want us to unite, not separate. Because what truly underpins the British way is tolerance to others, and if I’m not seeing the tolerance I want to see from other people, the best thing I can do is lead by example.
The second-best thing I can do is point you at this speech by Verna Myers on overcoming our biases. It is a profound and moving speech that is well worth seventeen minutes of your life.