A few days ago, I sat on my couch in front of the TV, riveted by the events unfolding across the pond. The United Kingdom had just voted out of the European Union, and the Leave campaign had won. It was historic, unbelievable and incredibly disturbing.
I admit, I had only been partially paying attention to "Brexit" in the weeks leading up to the referendum. After all, US politics and the many issues taking place in this country captured so much of my attention that my focus was not on the events happening in the UK. But as the day drew nearer, I realized just how close this vote would be, based on pre-referendum poll results being reported in the news. I began to pay more attention to understand the platforms of the Leave and Remain campaigns.
There's no way the UK will vote out of the EU, I thought at the time. The UK is so central to the world, they won't leave. This will be like when Scotland held their referendum and ultimately decided to stay in the UK.
Well, it turns out the UK did not decide to stay. Almost 52% of voters made their decision known: they wanted out.
In the days following, many articles and news reports popped up. What does Brexit mean for the global economy? What will become of the European Union? And, on a more micro level, what does the UK referendum decision mean for travel? Topics included businesses possibly moving their European headquarters to other capital cities in the EU, potential increased leisure travel to the UK due to the lower currency exchange rate (the lowest since the 1980s), impacts on EU citizens' right to work in the UK, and so on.
Yes, the global economy has gone into shock and markets may suffer, but let's also talk about this very public embrace of ostracizing and banning entire groups of people.
I also had a number of conversations with people — family, friends living in London (both British and expat), friends living outside of London and colleagues at work. My social circle was overall united in their shock and disappointment. Not necessarily because they were thinking of things like the global markets and currency exchange (though I'm sure some were), or because they don't believe there are people out there who are frustrated with the status quo and felt the need to make that known. Most of the people I know were and are disappointed because of what this decision signifies and the success of the Leave campaign, a platform that tapped into one of the worst aspects of humanity: fear, hatred and an "Us vs Them" mentality. It's scarily similar to what we're seeing in the US, this notion that "they don't belong here" and we need to ban "them." And it's this positioning and the public championing of it that's so disturbing. It's what I see as the biggest danger. Yes, the global economy has gone into shock and markets may suffer, but let's also talk about this very public embrace of ostracizing and banning entire groups of people. What does this say about our society and its future? This feels like the most upsetting part.
I wish I could say this sentiment is new, but it's age-old. Fear and subsequent hatred of the "other," racism, xenophobia...whatever it may be, it stems from a vicious part of human nature that is only fueled by ignorance, misunderstanding and, at times, the need for power and the upper hand.
Which brings me to travel.
Yes, travel. It feels somewhat ridiculous to bring up travel while talking about racism, xenophobia and the very real events taking place in the UK, US and elsewhere in the world. But I believe, with instances like this, travel – near or far – matters. Interacting with people different from you, hearing their experiences and understanding the importance of diversity matters. Travel isn't just about taking that long overdue vacation but about exposing yourself to other cultures, beliefs and ways of life.
When you don't know or understand a group of people and can only go off of what you see and hear from others, aren't you bound to believe it, at least on a subconscious level? But if you stepped away from what you've always known or thought and interacted with a group of people unlike yourself, or at least exposed yourself to things and people who are different, you may realize there is no "Us vs Them," and it's not about banning but understanding. Sadly, we don't see this thought process in many of our politicians and other people in positions of power. So, again, I say, this is why travel matters. This is why being open to new experiences and backgrounds matters. As the Mark Twain quote says: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
The day before the UK referendum, I received an email from Monocle, a media company headquartered in London, with an op-ed that really resonated with me. In it, they made the case for immigration and diversity, saying:
"Our economy is stronger, our culture is better and our cities are more vibrant thanks to those who have chosen to make this country their home. They create businesses, work in public services and are leading figures in the worlds of art, science and education. Some do the jobs the rest of the UK would rather not: picking fruit, cleaning offices, caring for the elderly. They are our friends, our partners, our family."
It's this sentiment and understanding that diversity — whether that's diversity of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or something else — enriches us and our communities.
I hope we vote and elect a leader based on inclusion and acceptance rather than hatred and fear.
I don't know what will become of the UK or EU following Brexit, nor does anyone else know until the negotiations have been finalized (this can take two years or longer if an extension is granted). But I do know we have an election here in the US in November and, not to get all political on this blog (actually I think I've already gotten political), but I hope we vote and elect a leader based on inclusion and acceptance rather than hatred and fear.
And with that, I'm getting off my soapbox.
What are your thoughts on Brexit? Do you think travel matters in situations like this?