As a third generation Indian immigrant, I was always proud to be British. Now, the country I thought I knew is unrecognisableby Harjeet Johal / August 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
A friend once called me the Fatima Whitbread of flag-waving – sturdy at the hips and record breaking.I am a third generation Indian immigrant, but when it came to supporting Britain, no one could match me for enthusiasm or effort. I would scoff at other third-generation immigrants who had not yet fully declared their allegiance to the country in which they were born.They harboured romantic notions for another place, a land they couldn’t define, and I belittled them for it.
Britain, for me, was a wildly international place.A country who had replaced its once infamous drawbridge with a fixed, well-lit highway out to the world. It understood that we had to be part of something bigger than ourselves and that participation, in turn, made us greater still.It also signed up to the European version of liberalism, and because of that, our acceptance of difference was driven up, to a higher place – so-much-so that we became (perhaps unknowingly) a world leader in it.We were a net-exporter of tolerance.
But then Brexit happened.Brexit was a rejection of my notion of Britain.The place I defended so vigorously fell away from beneath my feet. I still can’t decide whether Britain was changed on that night or whether it revealed itself, ripping off a mask which had itched for the last forty years, inflaming and irritating the true skin beneath.Either way, I felt a gut punch and I’m still struggling to breathe.
Over a year has passed and I live in a swirl of mourning, reminiscence and rage, but I can’t find enough people to mourn with.I am thirty-eight years old, others of my age group look at me with confusion: “get over it”, they say. The keep-calm-and-carry-on has kicked in, yet it shouldn’t have. I can’t be calm; I don’t want to be. I now realise that the 48% are not all like me, in fact very few are like me.I’m in a minority of a minority.
The Britain of old is now the new Britain, but I don’t really know that country. Maybe my immigrant heritage means that I look more into the future for Britain’s definition than into its past:a forever-young nation, beautifully morphing and changing as era gives way to era.I have no elders telling me about the war…