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

Ignorance and the Baltimore Riots

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week was a bit crazy for me. It was finals week, and I had to write multiple long assignments while packing and moving out of my dormitory. Everything went smoothly, but I had a brief moment of frustration when my roommate’s family came by to help her move out.

In the middle of the conversation my roommate was having with her family about buying some things she needed, her mother said, “Well, I need toilet paper. We should just go riot. Everybody’s doing it.” She was being sarcastic of course, but that comment got my blood boiling.

I managed to sit down and try to focus on my homework, and I’m proud of myself for staying out of the conversation. My roommate’s family has said many ignorant things in the past in my presence, and one has to pick one’s battles for the sake of getting along with a roommate.

Considering the widespread media coverage of the situation in Baltimore, I knew that was what she was referring to, and her comment showed zero understanding of the nuances of the situation. Yes, people have rioted. Yes, violence is a bad thing. Yes, stealing, vandalism, and other typical riot crimes are all wrong. But cops killing people for reasons other than self-defense? That’s really bad. The frequent racial profiling by police that’s only now coming to light, is absolutely wrong and harmful, and I’m glad the media’s finally catching on. It erodes the trust citizens have in their government, and believe me, my trust in the government had already worn dangerously low. Thanks to police brutality, not only do we currently distrust the policy makers, we’re now also afraid of the enforcers. The people we’re supposed to call in an emergency have shown themselves to be untrustworthy.

Luckily, the police involved in Baltimore did not escape being charged. Whether they will be convicted or not remains to be seen, but at least now we know they will have to face charges for what they have done. We can’t continue to have police offers operating with complete immunity from punishment. It’s tragic that it seems to have taken multiple murders for this issue to be picked up by the media.

But then people like my roommate’s mother come around, and try to turn a complicated situation into cops and robbers. A friend of mine shared this picture below on social media, attempting to do the same thing:

Found on facebook

Found on Facebook

If the situation were as simple as this meme suggests, there’d be no reason to protest. This meme and others like it assumes that the entire situation can be boiled down to the notion that “People broke the law and want to get away with it.” That simply is not the case. Yes, some of the people who’ve been on the receiving end of police brutality have committed crimes. However, the police response to those crimes is what’s in question. Frankly, the police response has often not been appropriate. Time and again, the police, not the criminals as the meme suggests, have been the ones to escalate the situation to the point where a death occurred.

The death of Eric Garner is a perfect example. I’m sure you probably know about him but just in case I’ll sum it up briefly. He was stopped for a minor crime: selling cigarettes illegally. The police involved choked him to death in an attempt to arrest him. The (disturbing) video of his death can be easily found online through a google search, and while he seems extremely upset, he clearly makes no violent movements towards the officers except in self-defense. The officer who was clearly shown choking him ON VIDEO was not indicted.

In addition to police brutality, we’re seeing that the American criminal justice system overall, the system whose job it is to hold people accountable for what they’ve done, seems to be more interested in punishing civilians, particularly black civilians, than anyone else. The system is broken. The people who hold power within it are more concerned about protecting each other than they are about protecting the general public. To simplify the events in Baltimore, in Ferguson, in New York, and beyond, to a clear-cut case of crime and punishment is to completely ignore the facts of the situation.

Regardless of whether this racism and brutality is widespread or “just a couple of bad apples,” as many Republicans are saying, the officers involved need to be held accountable. Otherwise, we’re looking at a country where for a specific group of people the law does not apply, and for another group, the law is enforced violently. That’s not freedom. That’s not what America is supposed to stand for. I hated sitting quietly and typing a paper about William Wordsworth instead of turning around and telling my roommate’s mother that black lives matter. But ignorant people dislike being informed of their ignorance, and unfortunately in that situation, it was the right thing to do.

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

Happy thinking!

-Nancy