“A lie that pandered to racism and xenophobia”

Brexit, White Teeth and (Inter)national Borders

  • Orlaith Darling University of Edinburgh


Perhaps one of the most significant votes in British history occurred in June 2016. Primarily dominated by buzzwords such as ‘control’, ‘borders’ and ‘immigration’, Brexit has been a hugely divisive process for the UK. This division and internal wall-building is nowhere more evident than in domestic British race relations; indeed, in the week following the referendum, the number of racial hate crimes committed rose by 500%. This article examines the idea of borders in a contemporary British context, drawing on historic and recurrent iterations of empire (historical colonialism and the Windrush Scandal) and the Second World War as a founding national mythologies. It argues that Brexit represents post-war paranoia regarding European invasion, nostalgia for the glory days of Empire, and a fear of the post-colonial ‘other’ as a threat to monolithic tenets of British identity. Zadie Smith’s novel, White Teeth, is harnessed throughout as a means of giving literary scope to these arguments, and as a means of highlighting how this manic obsession with borders is a long-standing aspect of British life (the novel was published in 2000 and therefore preceded the Brexit conversation). Moreover, discussion of the themes of non-white British identities, inter-racial breeding and genetics in Smith’s novel will be placed alongside a contemplation of ‘maternity tourism’ which has recently abounded in the British press. ‘Maternity tourism’ comprises, I argue, a fear of the post-colonial female body and a distrust of the maternal body as a weak border which threatens the cohesive, white homogeneity of British society.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2218/forum.28.3049
How to Cite