The referendum was about me

Bloody hell, it’s happened. This is the beginning of a tweet I posted immediately after it was clear that the leave option won the referendum. This expression of disbelief, shock touched a nerve. I thought that after a few days I would be able to step back and look at what happened more dispassionately. I can’t. So, in this blog, I want to record a very personal perspective on what Brexit means to me.

Saying that I want to share my personal perspective on Brexit, I do understand that the referendum was not about me. It is not entirely clear to me, what it was about, but it certainly was not about Darek Galasiński. And yet, it is very difficult not see me, myself, in it. So many people simply don’t want me here. They don’t single me out, still I am one of those they simply don’t want to see around. It doesn’t matter, it seems, that I have paid my taxes since the first day I set foot in Britain, that so many students thanked me for teaching them, the fact that I am Polish trumps it all and is enough not to want me here. More importantly, my children have my name, which, obviously, identifies them as Polish (Polishness is, I think, an important part of who they are). Even though born here, are they also unwanted? And this possibility releases very strong emotions in me, as I am a protective dad.

Thus even though it was not about me, but, at least partly, about the nameless, anonymous foreigners/migrants, it is hard not to see the vote as quite directly about me. Would it make any difference, for example, if the referendum had been about me? How about voting to let me stay in the UK? Would it have made a difference?

The referendum ended life as I (‘we’?) knew it. It has created a new reality. At the moment it’s a reality I fear. This is why.

Language. I always spoke Polish in public, whether in shops, offices, at university or in waiting rooms. Always without whispering, never hiding the fact that I am Polish. I assumed that for the most part people either didn’t care or where curious about the ‘exotic’ language. Since the referendum I have been asking myself whether this has already changed or will change soon.

To be honest, I will not stop using Polish, if someone doesn’t like it, well, tough! But will it mean something else? Will Polish in public be an act of defiance? Will I be challenged? How will I respond? It’s the first time in 25 years I am asking myself such questions. I am very sad I have to.

Neighbours. I have no idea, if and how my neighbours voted. Have they voted Brexit? Does it mean that they look at me differently? I have always had very good relations with them, has it now changed? Would they prefer I ‘went to my country’?

Colleagues. The same applies to my colleagues. The colleagues I spoke to were all passionately for remaining in the EU. But what about those I haven’t spoken to? Do they (now) perceive me as an immigrant who takes somebody else’s job? Would they like to get rid of me? I am certain no one will tell me anything like that, but does it matter? Isn’t what they think more important?

Students. And then there are students. Will they look at me differently? In the first year of my work in Britain, after one of the courses I taught, I got a feedback form with a note reading something like “We don’t need f…ing Poles to teach us in Britain.” A single unique incident, and yet, I have started thinking how many more will think that now. What will it mean to me, and, also importantly, what will it mean to them?

These are questions I’ve been asking myself. How many more will I ask? Will it ever come to asking myself the most crucial of questions:

Do I still want to live in Britain?,

the country that I have called home for most of my adult life. At the moment it doesn’t bear thinking. What will happen in two or perhaps five years’ time?

The questions I have started asking myself mean that the referendum and the chaos resulting from it, has already had a profound impact on my life. And probably on the lives on hundreds of thousands like me.

And that’s really the point of this blog. I think the referendum was very much about me and it has never been about the country, the Tories, the disenfranchised and whatever else another commentator can think of. The referendum was about the individual lives of all those affected. About me speaking Polish, about my neighbour’s child not being able to go to Berlin or Amsterdam (how about Cracow?!) to study, a researcher losing a job, because a British university will not be able to join a European consortium. This is what the referendum was, is and will be all about. Millions of individual perspectives and lives.

  1. And I can easily pass for English, as a privileged migrant with an international education. But I am determined not to stop speaking German with my son.

    1. Dariusz Galasinski

      We agree. I speak to my (now adult) children in Polish. It has always been like that and it will continue to be. And no referenedum will change that. Its meaning might, though. However, speaking Polish and German is likely to have different meanings, and they are likely to be in flux at the moment as well.

  2. I feel the same.I am from Spain ,I have a son who has borned in UK and I pay taxes like any other british person and I feel that I contribute to this society. For the last ten years I have never had any questions about the perception of other people about myself until Friday…it is sad and disappointed. .

  3. I’m British, living elsewhere in the EU. I don’t suppose people will start attacking me for speaking to my wife in English – at least not until the poison spreads to here, as it surely will – but the result of the referendum has turned my life upside down, so to me, to, it feels like it was very much about me.

    And there are so many more like us.

    1. Dariusz Galasinski

      I agree. There are much more like us. Yes.
      I hope the poison doesn’t spread.

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