What Happens When Fear Takes Over

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Written by Emily Packer

Think of when you were scared as a child. You might have closed your eyes and hugged your body close, fear playing games with what’s real. The sound of the water pipes became a monster under your bed. Your dog’s footsteps became someone breaking in to the house to kidnap you. You were sure of it. That must be what’s happening.

Next week, before heading off to Rwanda to live for two years, I’ll be attending a citizenship ceremony to officially become a British citizen. While this should be a joyous moment – becoming a dual citizen of the US and the UK – I’ve never felt more ashamed of either of them. Fear has completely taken over. Eyes are closed. Arms retracted. Monsters everywhere.

I’ve lived in London for five years, three in the always buzzing and vibrant neighbourhood of Brixton. When asked why I love living here, there are many reasons. But one in particular always comes out as the frontrunner: the people. The diversity of people from all over the world, living peacefully together. I never felt the racism here that sadly exists against North Africans in Paris (where I lived for two years) or against black lives in the US. In London, past Thanksgiving dinners have included French, Australians, Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Italians and so many other different people with mixed nationalities, ethnicity and identities; labels blurred to a point that people can finally just be people. That was something I was always thankful for, as I dug into my all-American dish of sweet potato with marshmallows.

Since Brexit, I’ve heard many European friends say they no longer feel welcome in the UK (and I can only imagine how non-Europeans have been feeling). People have started calling them ‘migrants’ and telling to leave. These are smart, hard-working, open-minded people who feel proud to be European, and are paying taxes or investing money into this country. And now, fear – or more specifically politicians exploiting people’s fears – are making them feel this is no longer their home. What exactly are we trying to achieve here? Is this all to ensure Syrian families who have fled a bloody war and are in need of protection stay away? Have we lost all sense of humanity? Let’s not forget, it’s the hundreds of thousands of ‘migrants’, such as myself (until next week), who have made this great country what it is today.

With one blow already on record for 2016, I fear a second one is soon to come. After watching the cringe-worthy 60 Minutes piece on Trump and Pence last night, I went to sleep feeling sick to my stomach. Could this aggressive, egocentric, name-calling, spoiled brat (and no, he didn’t make his own money, he was born into millions), who clearly has an ADD problem and wouldn’t last longer than 30 seconds in a thoughtful discussion on diplomacy (just ask his ghostwriter) ….could this man, this awful man, REALLY be our president? I keep waiting for Ashton Kutcher to pop out and tell us we’ve all been seriously Punk’d. Please Ashton, come out already!

If you’re considering voting for him, think of the backwards steps…not even steps, backwards jog…we’ll be taking as Americans. You would be supporting the most extreme Republican platform in memory. Here are some of the ways Trump says he will make “American great again”: bring back water boarding, force the 11 million immigrants to “self-deport,” break relations with NATO, repeal the Affordable Care Act, reduce funding to Planned Parenthood, require Muslim-Americans to register with a government database and carry special identification cards noting their religion, build a costly border fence to keep Mexicans out, ignore the millions of refugees who need protection, protect everyone’s right to bear arms (and kill each other), and the list goes on and on. He is Sarah Palin x 10 with a bad hair cut.

I would rather vote for Alton Sterling for President, the 15 year old whose father was unjustly killed by police, who stood up with grace and asked for peace and unity. And unlike Trump, could actually write his own speech.

I’ve always felt like a citizen of the world. I’ve lived 8 years in Europe, spent a semester studying in Morocco, worked on a peace grant in Senegal, filmed documentaries in Calais, Pakistan, India, Nicaragua and Bangladesh, as well traveled the world for a year, producing a documentary series on various social and environmental issues in 23 countries on 5 continents.

I mention my background to say despite all this, I am still constantly surprised. It’s so easy to have pre-conceived notions of what somewhere is like and how people will be. I can say from experience, that we’re almost always wrong. “One bad apple” really doesn’t mean the whole basket should be discarded. Don’t let fear stop you from being surprised, from realising how similar we all are, no matter our religion or colour or ethnicity.

Fear makes us do funny things. But while it’s tempting to hide under the sheets, let’s open our eyes (and ears) and extend our arms with empathy and hospitality. Only then will we realise that what we thought was a monster, was really the sound of a few doves flying by.

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