Tracking racial attacks and abuse in a post-Brexit world
Since the widely documented surge in racist and xenophobic hate crimes in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum, every Brexit-related political statement and development has filled me, and many of my fellow migrants, with dread.
Theresa May’s Brexit speech, the supreme court ruling on Article 50 and the government bill that followed, the actual triggering of Article 50 expected at the end of March - could any of these unleash a new wave of racist and xenophobic abuse and violence?
The election of Donald Trump has exacerbated this sense of dread. This past week, many people with a migrant background have spent their time compulsively reading news from the US, following the unfolding of Trump’s anti-immigrant executive orders with a knot in their stomach.
The response of the British government to the post-referendum racism and xenophobia and, more recently to the Trump travel ban have consistently fallen short of ameliorating this sense of vulnerability and anxiety that things will get worse before they get better.
The Hate crime action plan published by the government last July, called ‘Action against hate: the UK government’s plan for tackling hate crime’, includes a section on prevention but has no measures under this headline that addresses the well-documented role that polarising and inflammatory political speech and media coverage play in creating both the fear and the frequency of xenophobic and racist attacks.
Similarly, the inquiry into hate crime and its violent consequences being carried out by the Home Affairs Committee, although engaging somewhat with this link in some of its evidence sessions, there has been no line of inquiry that examines it in detail.
A certain level of reassurance and a more nuanced and contextual analysis has instead come from different and perhaps less expected quarters.
Met by the news of a surge in xenophobic and racist attacks, huge numbers of people spontaneously reached out and connected with others on social media to share stories of incidents they had been victims of or witnessed.
This collective documentation of incidents showed a wider community what the extensively quoted 57% surge in reported hate crimes actually looked and felt like. And in doing so mobilised people to stand up to confront it and find ways of protecting themselves and others.
This manifestation of support shared on social media by ordinary people, was moving, empowering - and for many migrants and settled BME communities whose sense of belonging and community had been destroyed by the referendum - surprising.
iStreetWatch was part of this popular online response. It was set up by a group of volunteers as a mapping tool that tracks racist and xenophobic harassment in public places. It provides a space for victims and witness of this type of incident to report their experience via an online form and maps these reports out geographically and over time.
The data that was collected by iStreetWatch went into a report compiled along with two other social media platforms Worrying Signs and PostRefRacism. The analysis of 636 individual reports of incidents of racist and xenophobic hate crime submitted from them provides crucial evidence that reinforces the argument that xenophobic and racist attacks have to be understood and addressed in the context of ‘an increasing normalisation of xeno-racist narratives and the manifestation of the ‘hostile environment principle’.
Migrants’ Rights Network is taking over the running of iStreetWatch, incorporating it in our wider work on xenophobia and racism.
It will be managed in the spirit of its initiators to raise awareness of incidents of racist and anti-migrant abuse in public places and provide a safe space for sharing stories that can inform our understanding of hate crime and its consequences.
We will also develop it to collect verifiable data over time to contribute to the monitoring of the correlation between these incidents and inflammatory speech from the media and politicians.
Perhaps most crucially, iStreetWatch will continue to provide a platform for people to pledge to challenge racism and xenophobia and join the growing manifestations in our streets in showing that, despite what Brexit and Trump have in store for us, people stand ready and together to confront the hate.