News Top

Post-Brexit backlash targets languages other than English

People hung welcoming notes in many languages in a Norwich apartment building after a racist flyer announced no tolerance for anyone speaking a language other than English. (Emily Fromant/YJI)

Norwich, England, UK – The division and fighting fueled by Brexit carries on in a tower of flats where tensions erupted with the appearance of a racist flyer.

Winchester Tower in Norwich, England. (Emily Fromant/YJI)

Though the UK officially left the European Union last month, the tumultuous time hasn’t ended. Now, though, those fighting are not battling the idea of leaving, but the hate they see in the wake of Brexit.

At Winchester Tower in Norwich on January 31, residents found a typed piece of paper on a fire door that alarmed some and scared others. It said:

 “As we finally have our great country back, we feel there is one rule to that needs to be made clear to residents.

We do not tolerate people speaking other languages than English in the flats. We are now our own country again and the Queens English is the spoken tongue here.

If you do want to speak whatever is the mother tongue of the country you came from then we suggest you return to that place and return your flat to the council so they can let British people live here and we can return to what was normality before you infected this once great island.”

This didn’t sit well with some residents, who held a protest the next day.

“I think it made people very angry that someone should try to tarnish the reputation of this block of flats and its residents. I feel it also made those people targeted by the poster scared and left them feeling they were not welcome here,” said Winchester resident Poppy Rose, a member of Stand Up to Racism who was instrumental in organizing the protests.

But Rose said that while the horrific display of hatred upset her community, there was some hope to come out of the situation.

“I totally condemn (the person who wrote the poster) and call for the full weight of the law to fall on their shoulders,” Rose said, but added, “I might in a small way thank them.  This is because their actions have had the total opposite effect to what their intention was and brought out a sense of community which I am proud to have been part of.”

Poppy Rose

At the protest, dozens of residents gathered outside a block of flats saying, ‘thank you’ in a variety of European languages, and demonstrators from Stand Up To Racism joined up with locals to give what they called a ‘crystal clear message.’

Protesters also replaced the racist poster with welcoming ones.

Other residents of Norwich expressed their sadness, disgust and anger at the hateful poster, not wanting it to be seen as representative of their city.

“It surprised me to see that kind of discriminatory language in my neighborhood. As someone who regularly speaks a foreign language (Spanish) in my home I felt myself questioning whether the space I live in is really as welcoming as I previously believed,” said Nathalia Santana-Hernández, who lives close to the flats.

“Although I do not live in the tower itself, the message still hit me that people like myself were being painted as a threat to Britain for simply expressing themselves in the language which they feel most comfortable with, as is their right,” said Santana-Hernández, who identifies as both bilingual and multicultural.

June Nyaburu Dorita Turner

Norwich resident June Nyaburu Dorita Turner said she believed Brexit has spurred racism within UK society.

“Posters like that just show how backward our society has become,” Turner said. “The rise of nationalist parties such as the Brexit Party, show how unwelcoming the UK has become for ethnic minorities. Nobody should feel unsafe in their own country because of the color of their skin or their ethnicity.”

For Turner, the message on the poster was personal.

“The poster made me as a Black British person feel uncomfortable. Should I feel embarrassed or on edge about speaking my native tongue with my mum in public? I shouldn’t have to feel that way and no one living in the UK – British or not – should feel that they can’t speak their native language,” Turner said.

When asked what she would say to the individual who wrote the poster Santanta- Hernández said, “I would encourage them to speak to someone who speaks a foreign language or has a different culture or religion to them. Someone that “scares” them. Because truly I think the root of this xenophobia is simple ignorance. If they truly tried to understand what unites us as people and not just to focus on the divides of nationality, they could embrace the diversification of the UK.”

Emily Fromant is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International. Click here to read her commentary on this issue.

More positive notes hung at Winchester Tower. (Emily Fromant/YJI)

Leave a Comment