They say we get to pick our friends, so what does who we choose say about us? I have had the enormous pleasure of “picking” a diverse plethora of friends, ranging in where we’re from to where we’re going. And although cultural clashes are common, walking a mile in their shoes had taught me to be more tolerant and sympathetic of others. It’s not that a lot of us go out our way to exclude those who are different to us, but it’s hard to see struggle when the people around you aren’t struggling. There are definite obstacles in our way, preventing us from getting too close to those who aren’t in the same socioeconomic class to us. Whether that’s catchment areas for schools or companies that only accept applicants from a certain pool of universities, it forces us to interact with those with similar backgrounds. Not only that but we all know that it’s much easier to bond with someone when you have things in common. I myself am not exempt from asking where and what people are studying every time I meet someone new, often followed by instant relief when we share a common subject or live in the same area. I’m sure that many of us look around and find that the people we’re surrounded by people aren’t very different from ourselves at all.
Moving to the UK after spending my formative years in a mono-cultural community was a shock. Growing up I could count on one hand the number of Muslim people I had come into contact with. One week in London and that number had tripled. Suddenly my only source of information on the Muslim experience wasn’t the news but real people with varying lives and motivations. It’s pretty easy to put someone in a box when all you see is the colour of their skin or the where they choose to worship. Yet many have come to fear the long line up of brown faces we see on TV, using that image to paint a broad stroke across those who share their faith or skin tone. It’s natural to fear the unknown, especially when that fear is fostered by flashing images and long speeches on threats to our lives.
On the 23 June 2016, the UK epitomised acting rashly in the face of misplaced fear. The country was angry and scared, immigrants were everywhere “stealing jobs” and “taking up space in A&E waiting rooms” across the country. The government couldn’t control this onslaught and it was all the EU’s fault. At least that’s how 51.9% of us felt. It is now overwhelmingly clear that areas with lowest immigration levels voted for Brexit far more than areas with high levels of immigration. In the 270 low immigration districts, 85% voted Leave. In the areas with higher than average immigrant population only 44% voted Leave. My own district, Lambeth has high levels of immigration, with 38.8% of the population being non-UK born, yet only 21.4% of us voted Leave. Personally, I’ve never felt as though an immigrant was trying to ‘steal my job’. I know that because I’ve actually worked alongside fellow immigrants and know that they deserve just as much chance at making a livelihood as anyone actually born in the UK. An outlier in this data is Boston in Lincolnshire which experienced a 467% increase in immigration between 2001 and 2011, still going on to vote Leave by 75.6%. Then again, the town was labelled Least Integrated by Policy Exchange, a think tank which conducted the study in 2016, suggesting that the Brexit vote was a symptom of a pre-existing reluctance to befriend immigrants.
One man guilty of befriending those too much like himself is President Donald Trump. His cabinet and closest advisers have been nothing but money hungry, loose moralled sycophants, not so different from himself. Over 75% of it is made up of white men, not to mention most being above the age of 50. If old white man wasn’t similar enough, 24% of his cabinet were recently employed as CEO’s, a percentage which is much higher than all 4 previous presidents. It is clear that Trump favours those who are similar to him. It is also clear that this hasn’t worked in his favour. Day by day he sways further from his supporters and further still from those have always distrusted him. It doesn’t help that those he has chosen employ do not reflect the mixed demographic of America. Trump’s cabinet is 87% male, only 49% of America is male, even within his own supporters they only make up 53%. Trump’s cabinet is also the first since 1980 to not have a single Hispanic member, this is no doubt regressive but also idiotic on his part when you consider that 15% of America is Hispanic. It’s clear that Trump has no desire to pander to those who do not support him, but this makes him myopic and inexperienced as the leader of the most diverse country in the world and also generally a worse human being.
Ultimately, we all look for comfort and security in those we keep as company, but that doesn’t have to mean choosing those identical to ourselves. The reality is we surround ourselves with ourselves because it’s easier, you know instantly that the other person is going to be on your side. Once you’re in that comfort zone it’s all too easy to slip up, say things you shouldn’t say, do things you shouldn’t do. The people it could hurt aren’t around, it’s just your friends and they find it funny just like you do. But that doesn’t make it okay. Keeping good company can mean having friends you trust enough to call you out on the offensive things we all occasionally say and letting them tell their side of the story. Although, I am infinitely grateful for the comfort and security friends have offered me, but I am ever more thankful for those of them who have pushed me to do and be better. More kind, more forgiving and more respectful of others who aren’t like me.
By Geo Sato-Rain