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What does it mean to be British after Brexit?

Written by Lorna Hopkins.
Brexit left a lot of internationally-minded Brits feeling…well, not particularly British.

Lorna Hopkins reflects on identifying as a Londoner instead, and how the current political climate has made her grateful for her rich heritage and eager to connect with a multicultural city and world.

Coming from a diverse background, with a rich mix of Zimbabwean, Irish and god-only-knows-what to my name, I have always felt quite at home identifying myself as a Londoner.

I have never felt any particular connection to my heritage, in the sense of it defining a large part of who I am, nor have I had any real desire to delve into my ancestral history beyond what I already know. On paper, I’m just a Brit with mixed heritage.

However, like many of us coming to terms with the world as it stands today, I find myself in the midst of having to shift my understanding of what it actually means to be British.

I understand the fear that has reared its ugly head over this past year, politically, socially and economically.  How are we supposed to connect with one another on the most basic of human levels if we are constantly being denied access to the fullness of our potential, purely based on where it is we come from?

This is why it’s so important to embrace the richness of a multicultural society as opposed to denying its beauty and rejecting its power.

London is a haven for those seeking to be embraced, and it is still the beating heart of multiculturalism.

Of course this doesn’t mean to say that it is flawless – far from it. But at least there still remains a sense of unity through diversity.

Gate of the famous Chinatown in London, UK, at dusk.

Being a Londoner has fed my passion for the arts simply because I’m surrounded by so many vibrant cultures and viewpoints, constantly and consistently. I have friends from every walk of life, and have been fortunate enough to deepen my appreciation for other cultures as a result of growing up in the world’s biggest melting pot!

There is nothing I love more than slinking off to enjoy the delights of the V&A museum in all of its worldly goodness, and gems like these remind me how lucky we are to have access to the entire world through the delights of this city.

My first school introduced me to true London living, with hundreds of kids nestled in together with backgrounds spanning the entire globe, all exquisite in their own way and all important in the tapestry of a fully functioning, accepting and loving world.

But with Brexit upon the horizon, somehow the essence of what it means to be British has lost its vision somewhere along the way.

There have been those who have experienced discrimination, particularly in wake of Brexit, who feel uneasy in a country they adopted as their own. For many people the makeup of their background is directly linked with how they see themselves within society and the nature of belonging to a community.

If being British suddenly doesn’t stand for diversification and multiculturalism then I, like many others, have to question how to fit into the landscape of it all.

Or perhaps that common British vision was never truly there in the first place…either way, I’ve realized I resonate more solidly with being a Londoner.

As the polls dictated during the referendum, London still considers itself a welcoming, eclectic hubbub for all to enjoy.

But the fabric of how we identify what it means to be British is changing, and so we must shift our perception along with it in order to stay grounded in our humanity.

My mixed heritage has perhaps gifted me an innate appreciation for diversity and the importance of multiculturalism in society that goes beyond the obvious and dives into the abstract. I don’t wish to be defined by where my parents happened to come from.

As wonderful as it is being made up of a concoction of many exciting ingredients, I am much more than my heritage. I am a fully functioning, creative human being who is still very much curious and excited by life, and I wish to thrive and continue being excited wherever it is I may end up. And I would hope the same for others regardless of their circumstance.

What lies at the heart of all this turmoil is simple: a longing connection.

As a society, there seems to be an integral disconnect from our humanity.

I choose to break away from identifying myself so rigidly or allowing the powers that be to put me in a category of their choice. It is a clinical approach that I do not resonate with. This nomadic sense of self brings with it great freedom in many ways but, on a bad day, can also present a state of basking in the unknown, and what is unknown is uncomfortable.

That is why living in London has levered this feeling in many ways as I have always felt rooted within the diverse melting pot of culture in this city.

In a time that calls for true authentic connection, a connectivity with each other as humans, we, as a collective, seem to be separating and growing further from the truth of who we are. It seems the essence of what it means to be British has somehow got lost in the abyss of bizarreness this year alone has brought with it. The political climate has undoubtedly unearthed a ferocious beast that seemed to lay dormant for many a year.

As individuals we are all uniquely brilliant, and this is something to be celebrated, encouraged and respected.

The truth of what we are all craving is connection, as individuals, as a society and as a world. Staying constantly curious, excited and maintaining a real zest for life can be found through exploring unchartered waters and getting to grips with a culture foreign to our own.

The madness that has been unearthed this year is a call to evolve out of an archaic mind-set rooted in separation, and a time to embrace the beauty of diversity and multiculturalism in all of its splendour. It is not something to fear or resist but to celebrate, educate and entice our curiosity further.

At the very least we can all connect on the importance of being human.