The past two weeks have been tumultuous for Britain at best. In a stunning lapse of judgement on the part of David Cameron, a referendum was proposed that allowed individuals to vote on whether or not they wanted to stay in the European Union. You’d think that since 44% of Britain’s exports go to other EU nations and since about 3 million jobs held by British individuals are linked to the European Union that citizens would vote in their best interest. However, similar to the fervor surrounding Trump in America, British citizens bought into the fiery rhetoric of the leading anti-EU party, UKIP, and voted to leave the European Union. Or to Brexit, as the pundits are saying.
The reason why? Immigration. A major caveat of participating in the European Union is that nations within the Union are required to have open borders and freedom of movement. That means that the United Kingdom cannot control its own immigration policy. Although it’s fairly reasonable to want to exercise national sovereignty as one sees fit, Britain’s distaste for immigration is a lot more classist and racist than it may first appear. For example, according to Migration Observatory, most Britons think immigration is harmful and should be reduced. They also prefer immigrants that are students or highly skilled workers, but look down upon asylum seekers and refugees. And even though those surveyed believe that immigrants cause problems in neighborhoods, few found that immigrants within their own neighborhoods caused problems (meaning there’s a disconnect between perception and reality). If the data isn’t enough to convince you, consider the fact that within hours of the Brexit announcement, Britons have faced spikes of racist rhetoric and vandalism. Signs claiming, “Leave the EU. No more Polish Vermin,” appeared on car windows, and the Muslim Council of Britain released a gallery of “100 Hate Incidents” that they had managed to collect just from reports of abuse on social media. Ultimately the decision to leave the EU seems to be more about keeping immigrants out than it is about national sovereignty and self determination.
So what does this have to do with your new Pottermore house?
J.K. Rowling has recently released a sorting quiz for the North American Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. While anticipated for its peek into what the Harry Potter universe would look like for its massive American fan base, Rowling managed to disappoint and isolate many of her fans with a white imperialist narrative. In the content leading to the house quiz release, she painted Native American traditions as if they were a monolithic fantasy, not the diverse set of living traditions of an already severely marginalized community. Furthermore, the history of Ilvermony is that of white settlers (there is not a single Native character in the story of Ilvermony’s foundation, although there is a creature from Wampanoag lore who is promptly named William and treated as a servant). As if to add insult to injury, the Ilvermony houses are named after creatures in native traditions, as if those creatures are nothing more than mascots (and as if natives haven’t had enough of being treated like mascots). Rowling’s silence in the wake of the controversy is also concerning.
So now, back to Brexit.
Europeans, and especially Britons, often claim that racism isn’t an issue in their respective nations, and that Americans struggle with racism far more. Perhaps Americans do, but xenophobia and racism is still prevalent in Europe, and that can’t be ignored in the face of massive global refugee and economic crises. Our cultures, economies, and politics are so terribly interconnected with one another that it is our responsibility as Americans to pay heed to British conflicts as much as it is Britain’s responsibility to pay heed to American conflicts. We must hold one another accountable and seek to stay informed. It matters that Britain voted to leave the European Union over their fear of immigration. It matters that J.K. Rowling decided that Native traditions were open to manipulation and theft for the sake of fiction. And if Britain’s rejection of the EU for the sole sake of curbing immigration disturbs you, then maybe you should take a glance at America’s procedures and policies for accepting refugees. These events don’t exist in a vacuum, and to assume that they do is to be complacent in injustice against the marginalized communities who are affected the most.