Fear Mongering, Race, and Immigration

diversity hands

Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With the rise of Donald Trump’s popularity in the US Presidential race, we’ve seen and heard a great deal of fear mongering about immigrants and refugees. This fear mongering has long been part of the Republican dialogue in the US, but Trump has managed to unite bigots all over my country, giving them a more prominent voice in the political scene, and I’m sick of it.

I live in a very diverse area of the northern east coast. My neighbors are primarily south Asian, but there are also plenty of people from all different backgrounds–Latino, East Asian, black, white. You name it, there’s someone around here. Despite all this diversity in close proximity to where I lived, I didn’t interact with a very diverse crowd until late in my high school years. This was the result of my upbringing in a Catholic homeschooling community. The vast majority of the people in that community were not only Catholic, but of either Irish or Italian descent. Not a very diverse group of people. I don’t know what it’s like to be part of Trump’s overtly racist crowd, but I do unfortunately know what it’s like to be ignorant about the issues people of color face in this country, and to believe many of the frankly racist narratives spread by the Republican party and conservative media outlets like Fox news as a result of that ignorance.

The people who believe these things aren’t all bad people, and I think it’s important to remember that. If you are a white person who grows up in an all white or nearly all white community, your experience with race and ethnicity is likely very limited. Race is not something you think about in that situation because it’s simply not there to notice much–and when it is, it’s that one person from church who thinks a lot of the same things you do, not a large group of people with any chance of influencing the culture of your community in a major way. You are fortunate –yes, privileged–to not have race influence your life much. But that doesn’t mean that’s the way it is with everybody.

It was in a college class that I first learned racism is not over in this country. It was the same class in which I learned about mass incarceration, about how terrible the prisons in my country are, and about how law enforcement disproportionately targets minority populations, flooding our prisons with them when white people commit crimes at the same rate and are just left to it. College is way too late to learn about these things, but it’s much better than learning them at 55 or 60 when I’ve been voting for decades as if minorities never face any issues, when I’ve been siding with people who just don’t know any better for decades and as a result keeping the status quo.

One of the most pervasive lies that right wingers continue to push is the idea that racism is a thing of the past. Many conservatives claim that if black people would just follow the law, they wouldn’t experience police brutality, which is something I’ve blogged about before. They say this without comprehending that in order to believe that, they must first buy into one of the most racist stereotypes about black people:  that they are more likely to commit crime than people of other backgrounds. Meanwhile, a lot of the crime we see associated with minorities is the direct result of poverty. It’s not as straightforward as a Jean Valjean situation. These people aren’t stealing bread necessarily, but if someone reaches a point in their life when they realize college and a career is virtually unattainable, and that the easiest way for them to make money is to sell drugs on a street corner, what do you think they’re going to do? Maybe it’s time we started addressing the route causes of crime.

Then there’s the strange connection that has been drawn between crime and immigration. One of the biggest fears that Trump’s supporters seem to maintain is that immigrants will come to this country and ruin it. They won’t assimilate to our way of life. Muslims for instance, from places like Syria, who are currently fleeing violence as refugees, will bring radical Islam with them to this country. Mexican immigrants, likewise, will bring their “criminals,” as Trump says. “Rapists.”

This is largely based in a fear that the bad things happening in these countries are innate in the people from them. That their culture and ours can never intermingle peacefully. I hear a lot of these sentiments from members of my own immediate family, and it’s extremely depressing to listen to, to know that the ignorance has remained pervasive in my family.

The other day, I was in the bank, and a South Asian woman in her thirties was waiting for the teller to get something for her, and she started singing “Fight Song,” under her breath. Yep, the one by Rachel Platten that’s been on the radio a lot. That one. I don’t know where this woman grew up. Maybe she grew up here. Maybe she grew up in India, or Sri Lanka. But her family must have come to America relatively recently compared to when my family came, and here she is, participating in aspects of the same culture and livelihood that I participate in on a regular basis. She seemed happy. How can people want to take that away from future people like her, people who are just seeking a better life? How can they say to refugees “No. This country isn’t for you. You’ll ruin it. You’ll ruin our culture.”

They won’t ruin anything. They will participate in it, and also exist outside of it. They will bring their own cultures here, and we’ll probably gain some new restaurants, and our music will have new influences, and we’ll see different clothing on our streets, hear different languages spoken in diverse areas. That’s the America I’ve come to know and love. That’s the America I want for MY children, and for their children. We need to keep talking about race, about refugees, about immigration, so that the ignorant people out there can hear it. I don’t mean getting in people’s faces and pushing it on them, but the media should be talking about it. People should be sharing articles, and vlogging, and blogging, and educators should continue the good work they do of helping people understand the statistics that many of us are fortunate enough to ignore. Maybe it’ll get some people thinking, and that’s at least a start. I came from a family of immigrants if you go enough generations back, and if you live in the United States, you almost definitely did too.

In light of recent events, what are your experiences with diversity? How did you come to your current understanding of the various groups around you?

As always, feel free to leave a comment. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

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