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Post-Brexit Racism Rears Its Ugly Head: How Travel Can Help

In the days after Britons voted in favor of leaving the European Union, England seems to be learning a lot about itself—and not in the way you’d hope. The social media hashtag #PostRefRacism emerged this week to highlight increased public expressions of racism in the U.K., ranging from xenophobic graffiti and verbal threats to public harassment.

One example in particular made headlines Tuesday, when two young men on a Manchester tram told a passenger to “get back to Africa” and threatened to attack him. The targeted man was an American, according to some British news outlets, and this instance is just one of many that have been called out with #PostRefRacism.

Rethinking your newly-affordable trip to England yet? Don’t.

We live in what seems like an increasingly troubling world if you judge by headlines, but it’s important to remember that ignorant voices like these are likely a vocal minority, and probably belong to people who haven’t opened themselves up to the world through travel. There’s no excuse for racism, but there’s also no denying that open-minded people are often those who travel more often.

England’s biggest cities are extremely diverse, and voted overwhelmingly in favor of remaining inside the European Union. Experts have attributed the Brexit to xenophobia (the U.K. economy has largely benefitted from the E.U. partnership, and data shows that areas outside of city limits were the those in which a majority voted to leave).

Travel is perhaps the strongest force in fighting hate and racism because it increases empathy and understanding of other cultures. Whenever I hear about clearly racist incidents like the one on the Manchester tram, I always think of this Maya Angelou quote about travel:

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

England is a popular tourist destination that many Americans know and love—and for good reason. TripAdvisor users recently named London the top world travel destination, and many U.K. cities are diverse hubs that embrace people of all races, backgrounds, and walks of life. In watching that cringe-worthy tram video, it’s clear that the entire bus stands behind the man being targeted.

“Absolute disgrace to England,” many of the passengers yelled at those who hurled the insults. “You are a disgrace.”

If ever there were a time to stay true to travel as one of our best weapons in fighting divisiveness, it’s now.

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A former news reporter, Associate Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter @shanmcmahon_.

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