“This friend of mine, we have really different views on a lot of things — but we just don’t talk about politics!” Sound familiar?
Or what about this one? “This is not the place to discuss politics. This is a travel blog/make-up channel/fashion account. I don’t follow you/read your posts to hear about your ~causes~!”
Well, I’m calling bullshit.
I have never understood why some people think they can divorce issues of basic human rights from their relationships with other people and their everyday lives.
Because, please, make no mistake: when people say “politics,” they nearly always mean “basic human rights.”
Taking things like reproductive justice, sexual violence, or police brutality, and grouping them under an umbrella of “politics” for the sole purpose of dismissing them entirely is…problematic, to say the least. Those topics are far more than just talking points for politicians, no matter how often they might be used or exploited in that way.
We are literally talking about how people live and die. We’re talking about compassion, respect, and human dignity; about the rights of people everywhere to exist, be safe, and feel supported and valued. There’s nothing “just my opinion” about the belief that some people don’t have those rights. It’s not something you can wash your hands of by “agreeing to disagree.”
I write a blog about traveling and living abroad. But those topics are not confined to hiking trails, foodie tours, or the search for the best hidden gems. There’s more to this than passport stamps and shitty Mark Twain quotes. It has everything to do with people and how we view them. It has everything to do with your so-called “politics.”
And the reason why is simple, even if the problems themselves are not: travel does not exist in a vacuum. When we move through the world, we are benefiting from or being challenged by a range of issues, both on a local and a global scale. Racism, sexism, colonialism, homophobia, historical contexts, political climates — you can’t separate travel from these realities any more than you can separate it from adventure, exploration, and the great debate over whether people should be allowed to fully recline their airplane seat.
Travel writing is overwhelmingly done by white people and centered on white perspectives; travel itself is a luxury that, relatively speaking, only a privileged few can even take advantage of. Skipping your takeaway latte every day might help some people save enough money for six months of backpacking through South America — but that’s not going to work for everyone.
Everything — including how hard or easy it is to obtain a passport, cross the border, or safely exist in other spaces — has to do with your nationality, your race, your class, your gender, and everything else that makes up your identity. If you’re not aware of that, it’s probably because you’ve never had to be. That’s what people mean when they talk about privilege.
Twain apparently believed that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” but in my experience, it has just as much potential to reinforce our bigotry as it has to destroy it. Enlightenment does not magically come from traveling anymore than it comes from sitting in your living room. It is not a passive or automatic process; you have to actively put in work to make it happen.
Even in writing this post, my own privilege is glaring. After all, only people who are not directly and immediately affected by problems are able to decide whether or not to ignore them in the first place. As someone who can travel with ease — both in many foreign countries, and in my own without the likelihood of being gunned down by the police for reaching for my ID — I have the luxury of choice. I can close my laptop and walk away, and deal with this another day, or never think about most of it again. The Netherlands is as anti-immigration as any other western country, but no one here has ever told me to “go home.”
However, at the end of the day, I have a responsibility, as do we all. A responsibility to own up to our complicity and work towards a solution. A responsibility to confront truths and obvious logic. A responsibility to think, question, and discuss. These problems don’t cease to exist just because you say so — or just because you say nothing at all.