When Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in June, the UK seemed briefly united in horror and condemnation. We soon resumed our normal lives – but the racism, xenophobia and hatred that fuelled the actions of her neo-Nazi killer, Thomas Mair, haven’t gone away.
As Mair is sentenced to life in prison, Stylist’s Moya Crockett says we must remember Cox’s principles of solidarity and kindness now more than ever.
On Thursday 16 June 2016, Jo Cox was murdered by a neo-Nazi. Thomas Mair attacked her on the street in Birstall, West Yorkshire, shouting “Britain first” as he stabbed the Labour MP with a knife, before shooting her at close range with a sawn-off .22 calibre rifle. Less than an hour later, Cox – the mother of two young children – was pronounced dead. She was 41.
These facts are worth repeating. This story is worth remembering.
We should revisit Cox’s death not just because Mair was sentenced to life in prison without parole this week, by a judge who told him that it was the Labour MP – who was campaigning to remain in the EU at the time of her death, and a passionate advocate for refugees – who was the “true patriot”. We should remind ourselves of the grim, bloody details of her murder so that we can remind ourselves of how we first felt when we heard that she had been killed. And right now, that’s not only necessary – it’s vital.
I don’t know about you, but on that Thursday in June I felt heartbroken. Actually, I take that back: I think I do know about you. You felt heartbroken too, right? And numb, and frightened, and physically sick at the thought of what was happening to our country, and determined to make us be better, do better?
Immediately after Cox was killed, everyone seemed to feel that way. Tributes to her poured in from all sides of the political spectrum, and for a brief moment the national mood – which had been bitter in the run-up to the EU Referendum – shifted. Everyone seemed serious about remembering Cox’s famous words in her maiden speech to parliament: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
But gradually, all those feelings – the grief, the anger, the resolve – seemed to fade. Life went on. I’m ashamed to say that not a great deal of time passed before my own initial shock and fury at Cox’s death subsided. Before too long, and without much fuss, my brain had nimbly recalibrated itself; I got used to the fact that I now lived in a country where neo-Nazis murdered compassionate left-wing MPs in broad daylight. Well, what else could I do? It had happened.
It was the same with the result of the EU Referendum, which took place just seven days after Cox’s murder. I was at Glastonbury the morning Brexit was announced, and was jolted awake at 7am by the sound of someone outside our tent, screaming: “FUCK THIS COUNTRY!” My best friend was already awake, scrolling through the news on her phone and choking back huge, gulping sobs.
At first: disbelief, anger, a surreal kind of sorrow. For those of us who voted to remain in the EU, Brexit initially felt cataclysmic, like a bereavement. For the people of colour and people with European accents who were forced to experience first-hand the “horrible spike” in hate crime that followed the Referendum, it represented something even more frightening.
Yet within a few weeks of the Brexit vote, people had begun to think and talk about other things again: work, relationships, what we were doing at the weekend. We simply couldn’t sustain our early sky-high levels of grief and rage. Of course we weren’t happy about leaving the EU, but we were getting used to it. Well, what else could we do? It was happening.
The same psychological process is taking place in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory, yet another event that left many of us feeling stunned and sickened. Around the world, people are having to adjust to the fact that a man who peddles racism, xenophobia and misogyny like they’re his stock-in-trade is President-elect of the United States. Well, what else can we do? It’s happening.
“We’ve normalised it already,” said the editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick, less than a week after the US election. “Suddenly Washington is going about its business talking about who’s going to get what jobs. You would think that [the vastly more moderate Republican] Mitt Romney had won.”
Getting used to things is human nature. (Literally – some evolutionary scientists believe that adaptability is humanity’s defining characteristic.) And we’re also hardwired to look for simple narratives that help us make sense of the world. So it would be easy to read the news that Jo Cox’s killer has been “brought to justice” and think that her story has come to an end, tied up in a neat bow; that we can, once more, carry on with life as normal.
But this isn’t life as normal. These are not normal times, not when neo-Nazis are celebrating the election of the president of the United States by screaming “Hail Trump” in Washington, D.C. Not when the French fascist Marine Le Pen’s right-hand man is declaring that the liberal “world is crumbling. Ours is taking shape.” Not when we’ve seen a 41% rise in racial and religious hate crimes since the EU vote, and anti-racism charity Hope Not Hate – who received more than £2m in donations after Cox’s death – are warning that British authorities still aren’t taking the threat of far-right extremism seriously enough.
We must remember Jo Cox, and we can do that by not becoming complacent. We can do that by refusing to acclimatise to the strange, dark world we now live in. We can do that by continuing to fight for the things that she so passionately believed in: by volunteering our time or donating money to charities that work to support anti-racism, refugees and asylum seekers; by calling out bigotry whenever we encounter it; and by challenging anyone who endorses the hate-filled, divisive ideology that killed her.
After his wife was murdered, Brendan Cox said that he believed “she would want to stand up for [her views] in death as much as she did in life”. We can remember Jo by remembering that.
Images: Rex Features