I’m called ‘citizen of nowhere’
by Theresa May, who asserts
this as the British Prime Minister,
though this is the land of my birth,
I’m called ‘citizen Jew’;
the day after that vote
each racist chorus grew;
belonging then remote,
I’m called, city
answers for me
in a beat, see –
it knows my feet,
‘not from round here’
as if I’ve walked through walls,
I’m called ‘citizen of nowhere’.
Antonia Sara Zenkevitch
N.B: This poem refers to the intensely alienating comments Theresa May made in a post Brexit 2016 speech. I also connect to other experiences, especially since Brexit that have made me feel unwelcome and unwanted in the country of my birth. Partly because of my surname and some of my mixed family heritage I have been viewed as ‘other’ by many since childhood. If I had my other parent’s surname, I would have been treated differently but I’m proud of my maiden name. Post Brexit Britain has allowed bias and hate to become more blatant. This is not helped by a prime minister not so covertly suggesting that 48% of the voting public do not belong; are not citizens unless they subscribe to narrow-minded extreme nationalism. I have always been both British and European. The first time since 2016 I felt proud to be British was seeing pictures of the million-plus people’s vote march which ill health and complex disability kept me from joining. Being part of a petition of around 6 million to revoke Article 50 also made me feel connected to my fellow citizens. When Tusk recently spoke up for us and called us Europeans, I had tears in my eyes.
Watch the words of leaders. Many feel sorry for Theresa May. I do not. While she is certainly not alone in getting us to this precipice and inherited a right mess when she became Prime Minister, she has played her part since her days in the Home Office. As an interfaith women’s worker at the time, I visited Yarlswood Detention Centre and was faced with quite how racist aspects of our institutions are. Those imprisoned under threat of deportation were BME women and children. Those guarding them were all white and seemed to be mostly men. I had my fingerprints taken in order to visit a friend and colleague; a nurse from Malawi with high blood pressure who was grabbed off the streets after 14 years in this country. She lived on her own and was an easy target to help fulfill the quotas of Home Office of 2013-2014, run by Theresa May. A petition and a whole lot of noise later, after great trauma she was let out and had to go straight to a hospital for her blood pressure. From what I could understand she’d apparently had delays getting clean underwear or access to legal representation let alone her medication.
Once, because my maiden name is not as British as I am, I had an echo of an echo of an echo of this when trying to claim housing benefit. I was asked repeatedly over months when I had no support to prove my Britishness by giving in my passport for photocopying. I took it in at least twice and had it photocopied before being told to send it off. Eventually, my claim was processed and I got my passport back. It had already been a difficult time in my life. Brexit for me is personal; as personal as it gets. A prime minister having the gall to tell us we are ‘citizens of nowhere’ if we do not conform to what I see as jingoistic stereotypes, was chilling to my core. A year before I’d stood for parliament, by that time I was bedbound. The day of the results someone I thought I knew used ‘Jew’ as a slur against me. Another time mud was thrown at my window with the words “go home’, ironic considering I was home.
I have been made to feel like a citizen of nowhere and the only time I felt truly like I belonged was during recent anti-Brexit protests. If, as a British citizen born and bred, I can feel alienated by her words, what damage do they do to others??