It was part way through the first day at my last school (MS3) that I heard about the likelihood of Brexit. I didn’t have a phone yet, so it wasn’t until I was on the way home and bumped into Nelson that he confirmed it had happened. Everything that can be said about it has been said by now, although its hard to believe it’s been so long already (again, I apologise for being so terribly behind). Like many, I was shocked by the result and extremely concerned by what I saw in the following weeks about the increased intolerance from those who felt their racist views had been vindicated by the result.
I was however, not shocked by the immediate withdrawal of the Leave campaign’s promises in regards to the NHS. Quelle surprise.
I have left this so long in fact, that it has now been followed by the equally shocking turn of events in the American presidential election. I was glued to my phone for the day, and my students became just as invested as I was as we checked the polls every few minutes during lunchtime.
As it became more and more likely that Trump would win, I began to think about how to talk about it with my students. I felt like it was something that I should do as someone that is representing the Western world to them.
It was not easy with the language barrier, but at least some of the message got through. What I wanted them to understand was: the fact that these were the presidential options for this election is horrific; that they should go home and talk to their parents about it and watch the news so that they can understand the worldwide fallout better; and most of all to be kind to one another because the hatred that has been stirred up in the US and the UK is terrifying, and while I can’t do anything about it over there, I can at least try and address forms of it here.
Now, on this worldwide platform, I want to make this point in more depth.
With all of the prejudice and hatred surrounding these events, those of us that want to make a change need to be ready to counter barriers to that change in the most effective way. Which is not to fight hatred with hatred. Not to pigeonhole or put down people who express views we don’t agree with. We need to first find out what has caused those views, and find a way to calmly discuss these issues. Most of the time people believe things not because they are bad people, but because they are ignorant or set in familiar ways that they are afraid to break away from for various reasons. Sometimes we are wrong, and we have to always keep that in mind. We need to actually listen, and get to the bottom of a viewpoint, before jumping in with accusations or acting with misplaced moral superiority.
And this: If you are going to discuss an issue with someone that doesn’t share your view, you have to know your shit. If you haven’t researched your opinion well enough, then the likelihood that you will be able to explain yourself clearly and convincingly is not high, and it could actually be more detrimental than helpful.
So if you are invested, try not to jump on social media bandwagons; do your research, then have discussions with people that have opposing opinions. If you don’t want to put the time into research, perhaps don’t engage in discussions where you are not fully equipped. This is especially important for Allies standing up for a minority that they are not personally a part of. Check your privilege. Research what you can do as an Ally that is most helpful, otherwise it could actually be damaging.
I am still working on all these things too, because I know that I easily get carried away by an idea or impatient in a discussion, and sometimes lose sight of how what I say will be taken. So I am trying to be more conscious of this now.
The last point I made to my students is the last I’ll repeat here: be kind. Try to understand those who are different from you. As the saying goes: try to treat people as you would wish to be treated.