The day after the Brexit vote I woke up feeling the world had irreversibly changed. I felt miserable. I could not understand why people had done it. Then as time passed and I took my own time to start listening to the voices of people who had voted to leave the EU, I began to reach an understanding; not necessarily an agreement, but an understanding.
I also came to realise how small my own world is. No one I know voted differently from me. I live in London, my friends are similarly educated to me, have similar political views and awareness. Like the driving engine of Amazon and so much online selling, I’ll just try the things that other people have also already bought.
And I feel ashamed of this. Inside my bubble I am forgetting a very important principle of my upbringing. My parents didn’t teach me this, they showed me it in their lives: question everything. My father used to argue with his Labour and Conservative supporting relatives. I grew up never knowing how my parents voted because they let me make up my own mind, and have always supported me in all my decisions.
I do not know the people who voted to leave the EU but – and regardless of whether the decision is right or wrong, because no one knows the future – I have made an effort to listen to the reasons of those who did. And much as I love, admire and respect the BBC, I have realised that all the media have been biased and caught up in a London-centric view of this country. The language of the media has been prejudiced and divisive, and I have not noticed this because it has not affected me. The outcome could easily be was portrayed as intelligent, liberal-minded people voting to stay In, and unquestioning, prejudiced, badly-educated people voting Out.
Now I see this is far, far from the case. People are complex, they cannot be simplistically put into two categories. Many lives are hard in this country, especially in the countryside. There are so many voices I never hear, fears that people have that I am unaware of, and a desperation in many communities that I do not feel.
And then there’s
What has shaken me in the past hours is being able to hear why so many people voted for him. Because of all the raging anger, abuse and the terrible, dangerous disrespect of and carelessness with language that has gone on in the campaign (and no one, I repeat NO ONE came out of it smelling of anything but shit), I heard myself saying that America is an ugly country.
Now I am ashamed I said that.
America is a country of a size of which have no concept. I am remembering the film The Witch I wrote about recently, of how the first immigrants there had Yorkshire accents, of how they survived a harsh and hostile landscape with so many odds against them. And now there must be so many people feeling the same in towns where the main source of work has closed down, where people live on credit, where the sick do not have the free treatment I take for granted. As I heard someone say today, people are so exhausted by life they do not have the energy for hope.
It’s too easy to say life is what you make it. Yes some people are made strong through difficulty and suffering – the word crucible comes to my mind, both the object and the Arthur Miller play. But not everyone, not the majority. Another Arthur Miller play: Death of a Salesman.
Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person. You don’t have to be very smart to know what his trouble is. The man is exhausted. He works for a company thirty-six years this March, opens up unheard-of territories to their trademark, and now in his old age they take his salary away.
First performed in 1949.
I heard a young black American from Memphis speaking this morning. He has not long graduated and has a job in a local TV station. He said a lot of his friends he had grown up with were in prison or dead. He had not voted for Trump, but right now he said America cannot have a conversation with itself because it is too angry. He talked of the continuing divisions America is having to deal with. For instance how his entire life has been dealing with police brutality: his mother taught him when he was 19 years old how to talk to the police so he didn’t get beaten up or killed over a misunderstanding.
And then he said something that made me sit up. This young black man, living with daily racism said another main division is that no one talks about the poor white people and their issues.
…a kind of running joke here that the worst thing to be here is a poor white man because white people don’t feel bad for you because you’re white, and you are the majority. And black people really don’t feel bad for you because…you’re white, you have all the benefits.
So you feel like no one listens to you. I know a lot of people say Trump is a racist and all that. I’m not 100% sure he is a racist but he used racism to get in the White House…he pushed every button those poor white people needed to be pushed.
I remember when Obama got in, [this older person said to me] whatever progress we make, we also pay for it. We’re going to pay for Obama being in office in some way, form or fashion. This is us paying for having Obama in office I guess. So I guess for about eight years I’ve been preparing for this.
We do not know what the future holds under Trump. That young man has grown up with the odds against him and has become a thoughtful, empathetic and calm voice in a ferocious storm. The storm must pass, and America and the UK must sit down and listen to themselves. His words I have quoted inspired me to use the photo at the top of this post.
Attention must be paid.