Brexit’s Warning to America

Originally posted to Fay’s Medium.

Brexit’s Warning to America: Don’t Validate Your Racists

In the wee hours of Thursday night, just before falling asleep, I checked the news one last time before bed to see if there were any interesting headlines from around the world. As Washington, D.C. snoozed, those of us tuned into the waking world felt sleep suddenly leave us as we found out the United Kingdom had voted, by a slim margin, to leave the European Union. The Brexit was now a reality, and its implications were sending the media and markets into a tailspin.

Though I read world news for at least an hour every morning for work, I tended to skimp on reading about the Leave campaign or UKIP (U.K. Independence Party) simply because the notion of a Brexit sounded farfetched. The idea of the U.K. shooting itself in the foot both economically and politically by leaving the E.U. sounded even more outrageous and unimaginable than last year’s infamous referendum vote in Greece that inspired a similarly punny term: “Grexit”. In July 2015, the Greek people, beaten down by years 0f austerity and pushed by populism voted overwhelmingly to renege on their debt and leave the E.U. as well. In the end, however, their leadership ignored its people and listened to E.U. leaders. The Greek government opted to avert an even worse financial crisis at the expense of its democratic integrity. Needless to say, as bad as Greece is today, it would have been worse had it left the E.U. and attempted to resuscitate the long-dead drachma.

But I digress. The Grexit and the Brexit are only similar in the fact that from the outset they sounded so unbelievable to the average person. Indeed, a viable Donald Trump candidacy for President of the United States began equally as unbelievable — laughable, even. How could the average, decent human being be caught so off-guard by the burgeoning hate within their own country? Many European countries as well as the United States have supremely underestimated the power of this extremist, xenophobic contagion that has spread across the Western world since the 2008 recession, amplified by the refugee crisis, and stoked by demagogues looking for an easy path to power. This contagion goes by many names and slogans — “Make America Great Again,” “Freedom for Britain,” National Front, Golden Dawn, etc.— , but they all share the same features: the scapegoating of immigrants and ethnic minorities, a propensity toward violence, and a touch of religious extremism.

All this to say, that on June 23rd, 2016, the United Kingdom did not just vote to leave the European Union, they decided to leave the modern world and decent society and legitimize their bigots instead. On Saturday, a compilation of more than 100 tweets from the U.K. went viral on Facebook (they have since been removed for unknown reasons). The tweets came from British citizens who woke up to a “new Britain” they no longer recognized or felt safe in anymore. Decent British citizens suddenly found themselves in a country where people publicly harassed and berated men, women, and children because they had an accent, spoke another language, wore traditional clothing, or had darker skin.


Trending on Twitter: #PostBritishRacism #PostRefRacism

What UKIP and the Leave campaign has done to British society, a Donald Trump White House will do for the United States.

A Plea to the America’s Maybe Trump Voters

It’s not impossible for this kind of blatant hate speech to become more normalized in the United States and manifest in actual violence. Indeed, we have already seen several examples of how Trump’s rabble-rousing is doing just that. But we have a chance to stop it. Let us take the Brexit as a warning and recognize that the United States does not accept blind prejudice, racism, and an unjustifiable fear of immigrants.

There is an unsettling number of maybe-Trump supporters in my life. Many of these folks are not hateful people. They are people who want some kind of genuine change to take place in the American government, and they want to feel like they have a voice in the behemoth of the American political machine. Many are not people who you would call racist/sexist/homophobic/etc., but are people who believe that someone new in the Oval Office who will either frighten or inspire our stagnant Congress into action. Given the option of Clinton or Trump, these people think “at least Trump will shake up the system because he’s an outsider and brash.” Many Americans can sympathize with this sentiment, but the belief that Trump is the outsider we need to shake up the American political system is specious and naive. It is also a bit lazy to believe that all the work you need to do to change your country for the better can be done in a single, specific election.

The true impact of a Trump presidency will not be a 50-foot border wall along the Mexican border nor will it be a Nazi-esque database of Muslims that will track every American Muslim’s information. President Trump’s true impact would be in the public acknowledgement that the majority of Americans are justified in their fear of one another, and that the only way to deal with that fear is to sequester ourselves away from diversity, human decency, and the modern world. To vote for Donald Trump would be to disavow the values and achievements of the United States.

Britain did not just shoot itself in the foot this week economically, but it has further emboldened racism in its country and the ramifications are striking. We have come too far, America, to regress socially as Britain has sadly decided to do. Make no mistake, the general election in November is not about “PC culture” and it’s not about “making America great again.” This election is about preserving the achievements we have made as a nation over the last 240 years in order to make our citizens and soon-to-be citizens safer, more prosperous, and a part of the American community. Because, personally, I don’t remember the past as that great and worth “going back” to, do you?

What utopia from the past would we try to return to? The past where an African American person would essential risk their life simply to exercise their right to vote? The past where women weren’t considered capable or intelligent enough to vote, file for divorce, or acquire contraception? The past where child labor was considered normal? The past where social security didn’t exist and we were perfectly okay to let our seniors die impoverished and alone? The past where people could openly and without retribution deny opportunities in education, housing, and financing just because of someone’s race, sexuality, or gender? I cannot imagine anyone wants this country to go back to any of those versions of America. No matter how bad we think things are today, “going back” is not an option.

The “real America” is not supposed to be a society with a tribal mentality where our freedoms and rights are viewed as a limited resource of privileges that only certain groups can hold at one time. No, the “real America” believes we can move beyond that petty tribal squabbling of “whites v. everyone else,” “immigrants v. native born” “Muslims v. Christians,” etc. and that we are able to engender trust in the presence of diversity and change. There are still severe injustices in our country for people of all groups and classes, but we cannot fix these problems by being suspicious and hateful of one another. Believe it or not, America can become better and better if we work together.

Though the United Kingdom is an ocean away, I urge all Americans, to take the social implications of the Brexit very seriously. The United States must not vote for or encourage the bigotry upon which Donald Trump has built his entire campaign. Hillary can be a great president even if you distrust her last name as a legacy of “the establishment.” At least, she has avoided the use of platitudes, hate speech, and fear mongering to get this far. The same cannot be said for Donald Trump. You, our families, our friends and I will be safer living in a Hillary America than a Trump America.

Being Sick in Taiwan

The only way I can explain this cultural characteristic is in this way: Taiwanese people are super socially sensitive.

What I mean by this is that they are some of the most helpful and warm people I’ve ever met, to an almost overwhelming level. For instance, if you walk to a street corner in Kaohsiung City holding a map and looking confused, in a few minutes someone will come over and try to help you–in varying forms of Chinese and English. They may even go out of their way to walk you to your destination.

Since my arrival, I have had some minor inconveniences associated with moving to a new place: lack of fluent Chinese, getting sick twice, living far away from the city center, moving even farther away from the city center, no car, not sharing an apartment with my partner. They aren’t real problems and I usually manage similar issues on my own. Few people back home would consider that unusual. But this isn’t the U.S. At no point during my stay here was I without the concern, helpful advice or support of any Taiwanese colleagues and friends who knew about these “problems.”

In August, when I got sick, I had to miss the morning session of a day-long pre-teaching meeting with all the LETs (Lead English Teachers) and ETAs (English Teaching Assistants) from Kaohsiung. I felt better by the afternoon and snuck back into the meeting at some point during lunch, hoping not to be disruptive. As soon as someone spotted me, I was flooded with inquiries about my health from more than a dozen people. “Are you okay?” “Shouldn’t you stay home?” “Do you need to lie down?” “Is it your stomach? You should drink some tea. Please have mine.” “If you eat ___ with ___, it’ll make you feel better.” “My husband is a doctor, I can set up an appointment for you today.” I exhausted all the variants of the phrase “I AM FINE I FEEL BETTER NOW THANK YOU,” until all had energy for was simply to smile when someone expressed their concern. The concern was sincere, but it made me wary of ever mentioning any illness or issue that could befall me in the future.

Alas, I went through this ritual again this week thanks to a minor bout of food poisoning. I knew it wasn’t serious and that the food I ate was probably cooked in gutter oil, but I definitely couldn’t go to work on Monday. I just needed to wait for the food to pass through my system, ya know? Like getting over a hangover. I texted my coteacher, Sam, in the morning to inform her that I would be absent. An hour later I get a text from my principal, “so sorry to hear about your illness. Hope you feel better soon.”

Right after, my cell phone rings. It’s the Fulbright director downtown (~50 km away). I pick up and she quickly asks if I need her to drive up to bring me food. I politely decline and say it’s fine. I can manage on my own because I have food I can cook in the fridge.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, thank you, don’t worry.”

“Okay,” she responded, “but I’ll ask Frank to bring you a Fin.” Frank is another coteacher up here in the rural areas of Kaohsiung, and Fin is a sports drink. 30 minutes before lunch, Sam, who is currently suffering through a tendon injury in her foot, asks if she should come by and bring me lunch. She is willing to make the 40-minute drive during her lunch break. Again I say, “no please don’t worry yourself with that. I won’t be eating today anyway. Just drinking lots of water.”

“But what about rice? I can bring you rice.”

“No it’s okay, if anything I have some food here to cook.”

“Are you sure? Do you need me to drive you to the doctor later?”

“I’ll be fine, thank you so much.”

“Okay,” she says, defeated, and then proceeds to explain to me different types of bland, carby foods I can make so that I won’t irritate my stomach. The concept of “not eating” in Taiwanese culture does not exist. Skipping a meal is worse than eating too much or being late. After all, the thinking goes, how can you do ANYTHING if you don’t eat first?

An hour later, I hear my roommate, Tiixa, call me from the hallway. She and Frank have stopped by the house on their lunch break to check in on me, bearing passion fruits. Delicious, but again we go through the gamut of “are you okay? what did you eat? are you hungry? do you need anything? I can drive you to the doctor. I can drive you to downtown Kaohsiung, or I can buy you something from downtown and bring it back.” I reassure Frank that I am indeed okay and alive. I’m just waiting for my body to cleanse itself. Okay,” he says, defeated, and then proceeds to explain to me different types of bland, carby foods I can make so that I won’t irritate my stomach. Afterwards, I thank them both for the concern and the fruits and they head back to their school to finish out the rest of the day.

For the next few hours my phone is quiet. I nap, I read, I write, and I drink lots of water all day. By evening, I’m feeling well enough to hop on my scooter and make a grocery run. I come home, make some rice porridge, eat and go to bed early. I wake up the next morning and get to Shanlin Elementary earlier than expected. I’m greeted by a group of third graders rushing over to me, “LAOSHI ARE YOU OKAY?!?!? You weren’t in school?! WHY?! What’s wrong?! Are you sick?!” And so it goes….