I am 48 years old and one of my parents is German. For those of you who don’t really appreciate what that meant for someone growing up in the north of England in the 1970s and 1980s, it meant being at the brunt end of a lot of casual white-on-white racism. I spent my days in infant and junior school surrounded by boys drawing endless pictures of Action Man in various World War 2 scenarios surrounded by tanks and machine guns, making stuttering machine gun noises with their mouths as they did so. Occasionally the same boys would label me a ‘Nazi’, with their knowledge of Germans being largely drawn from the black and white war films that seemed in endless supply on BBC 2 (a genre described as ‘Naughty Germans’ films in our house). They felt this status gave them licence to steal my PE kit and throw it over the church wall, something which I kept quiet, but which was eventually discovered by the school authorities (with a satisfying result, as the bullies were thoroughly disciplined, and I was no longer in trouble for ‘losing’ my things). Later on we moved to a nearby market town. A couple of neighbours routinely sent their children over to trample on my mother’s bedding plants in the front garden, until they were spoken to. There was a fairly nasty anti-German incident at my parent’s workplace. At secondary school, there was the usual female-on-female adolescent bitchiness, but it was usually underpinned by laughing at my slightly Germanic pronunciation of one or two words picked up at home (pizza, kilometre), my lovely but slightly foreign clothes, often bought while we were visiting my German grandparents, and my ability to speak and think in more than one language. Once some of the worst culprits (army brats with fathers stationed in Monchen-Gladbach and the like) strapped me into a large laundry hamper and rolled me painfully over and over, just for the hell of it, largely just because I was a new kid and a bit different. If you were perceived as foreign, or even worse German, you were fair game, it seemed.
These were my small battles and probably made me more resilient than I might otherwise have been. Other people have different battles, worse battles, the type Jo Cox was fighting for on a much larger scale, so my experiences feel fairly trivial in comparison. But during the 2010 and 2015 election campaigns, and more recently the referendum campaign, I have become aware of the ugly head of intolerance, racism and jingoism rearing its head again. Many of the things Jo Cox stood for, and that I believe in deeply, such as equality, respect, human rights, and a sense of collective purpose, seem to have evaporated from the national debate. They have been replaced with quite unconscionable policies that allow individuals and groups casually to humiliate and disadvantage whomever is the fashionable scapegoat du jour at home and abroad. This is done whilst submitting without protest to the social, political and financial demands of a relatively limited number of supra-national organisations whose oligarchy speaks of ‘leveraging philanthropy’ whilst actively avoiding taxation and failing to recognise the far-reaching social consequences of their various behaviours and decisions.
Please join me in my outrage along with a desire to influence this for the better. Let us make our national polity reflect the best of human nature, rather than the worst. Let it start now. Otherwise Jo’s death really will have been in vain.