Wednesday’s New York Times was crammed with condescension and hostility toward racist Brexit voters. Rachel Donadio had previously “credited” “a campaign of open xenophobia” for the victory of the Leave choice. On Wednesday she peppered some left-wing British in writing and theatre fields with loaded questions, and they delivered the artists’ predictable low opinions of their fellow citizen-xenophobes who’d had the bad taste to vote for national sovereignty. And two other reporters toured two struggling towns that had voted Leave, and predictably found racism, xenophobia, and economic ignorance.
The front of the Arts page featured Donadio’s “‘Britain Is No Home To Me’: 5 Artists Respond to ‘Brexit.’”
Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has led to intense soul-searching in that country’s cultural establishment. The New York Times asked five writers and theater professionals for their thoughts.
Marianne Elliott, a theater director, was paranoid.
I feel that art, somehow, has to be at the heart of what’s happening now. We need to relay stories. Ever more needed in moments when there is an atmosphere of extreme right politics gaining ground and people are looking for scapegoats.
Novelist Elif Shafak was condescending:
Xenophobia did not happen overnight. It was there all along, dormant. Whenever there is a crisis, perceived or real, and whenever there is a historical momentum that unleashes it, even kind neighbors can turn into xenophobes. If I were writing a novel I would have liked to have a protagonist that goes through a similar radical transformation. How does it happen? How do kind, well-meaning people turn into xenophobes?
The irascible Philip Pullman, author of the anti-religious fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, was acidic:
Well, the form I am most at home in is the novel. I can imagine a novel that looks at a single family whose members disagree about Brexit, and at their friends and work colleagues, and shows how many different causes (from Churchill’s early rejection of a closer union with Europe in the ’50s, to the persistent misuse of ‘‘Great” in Great Britain, to the Chicago school of economics and Thatcher’s peculiar personality, to the structural flaws in the Labor Party, to the hollowing out of communities following privatization of industry, to the peculiar personalities of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, to the fundamental unsuitability of the British “unwritten constitution” to modern life, and so on) have played on the different personalities in the family, and led to the result of the referendum and its effects.
The same day found a condescending story by Danny Hakim, “In Wales, Consequences of a ‘Leave’ Vote Sink In.” Hakim was flummoxed at how a poor country like Wales could vote for their national sovereignty, and reject the supposedly obvious economic benefits continued European Union membership would (one day) bring.
David Adams co-owns a painting business here. His leanings in the recent referendum to leave the European Union would seem obvious.
Grants from the European Union have funded many of the projects he works on, including the former bank branch he was painting last week in this city in southern Wales. European Union funds also helped him hire apprentices, including his own son. And Wales gets back far more money from the European Union than it pays in.
But many of the poorer places in Britain that receive the most aid from Europe also voted decisively to leave...
Boris Johnson was a ripe target for yet more personal attacks by supposedly objective Times reporters.
Boris Johnson, the former London mayor who was one of the campaign’s most visible leaders, even rode around on a bus with the false claim that Britain pays Europe £350 million a week painted on its side. (It’s more like £150 million, or about $197 million, a week, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.) The maneuver led the comedian John Oliver to refer to Mr. Johnson as “a man with both the look, and the economic insight, of Bamm-Bamm from the Flintstones.”
After the condescension, Hakim eventually stumbled upon the Times’ favored explanation for the Leave success: Xenophobia.
During a visit, it did not take long to determine the Leave campaign’s appeal for a number of residents.
“I’m definitely not a racist,” said Thomas Reynolds, an 88-year-old retired construction worker. But he said he was “delighted” by the outcome. “Muslims don’t like Christians. I don’t want Muslims next to me, I prefer Christian. But they probably would think the same, so we’re on the same page.”
Higgins let his favored sources dish out the insults.
The disquieting racism the referendum has inflamed was tangible when a small group of young white men were heard briefly hooting monkey sounds as they walked past a black man on a downtown street.
But this was hardly a reflection of the whole city.
Dean Jeffery Beddis, 51, the heavily tattooed owner of Kriminal Records, a shop in a downtown arcade, said, “I don’t think people knew the consequences of their vote, to be honest.”
“It’s a mixture of things, ignorance, lack of education, fear and just not knowing,” he said, denouncing the “fear mongering” of The Sun, a right-wing tabloid, before turning his fire to Boris Johnson and then Donald J. Trump. A rug with President John F. Kennedy’s image hung behind him.
Finally, on the front of Wednesday’s paper, in “Class Anger Fuels Town’s Pro-‘Brexit’ Defiance,” reporter Andrew Higgins did some mind-reading from the “gritty northern English town” of Wigan to show the Leave supporters they were remembering their own personal history wrong:
But rocking the boat, no matter what the risks, was precisely what he and millions of other Britons -- who, regardless of their real economic situation, see themselves as members of a downtrodden “working class” -- wanted to do. To them, it was a last, desperate effort to restore a lost world of secure jobs and communities that was far harsher in reality than it is in recollection.
The real number of immigrants living and working in Wigan is tiny, with only 2.9 percent of the population born outside Britain, compared with a nationwide figure of 11.5 percent, the Office of National Statistics says. Only 1.7 percent of those living in Wigan were born in European Union countries other than Britain. The unemployment rate, the local council says, is only 5 percent, slightly below the national level and half the rate in European countries that use the euro.
But this has not stopped even some of Wigan’s immigrants from complaining about there being too many foreigners, particularly Poles, in the area.