by Sophie Cooper
The United States is a country that was almost entirely built and to this day is largely peopled by immigrants and their descendants. The Statue of Liberty, a treasured symbol of acceptance, implores passers-by to “Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Lady Liberty may stand some hundreds of feet tall, but she cannot protect us from the demagogues who would rather not welcome these “huddled masses.” Instead, they prefer to promote and proliferate the “Shared Bad Identification” that immigrants and others who look, sound or pray differently are criminals and terrorists who should be met with fear instead of open arms. Such hate-mongers eschew the tolerance and diversity that America depends on, and defile a nation once cherished as a refuge for the persecuted. Xenophobia is, in fact, what must be regarded as dangerous.
Tribalism is inevitable, or course. Any child on a playground knows that it is far too easy to adopt an “outsider vs. insider” perspective, far too easy for the “insiders” to scapegoat and pillory the supposed “outsiders.” It is easier still for bigotry to spread when we accept fear over love, and especially fear over fact.
Victims of this bigotry are everywhere. The unabashed targeting of Muslims in the United States is now not only evident in nasty rhetoric, but also entrenched in real policy, like President Trump’s infamous travel ban, which specifically bars some people from majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. The President and his followers justify this move by warning against the risk posed by “radical Islamic terrorism,” equating and associating the heinous crimes of the few with the peaceful faith of the many and blissfully apathetic to the fact that between 9/11 and 2015, white supremacists and other anti government fanatics killed almost twice as many Americans as self-proclaimed jihadists. Dates, numbers and statistics can never quell the Shared Bad Identification encompassing the “other,” the “unfamiliar,” the “foreign.” This prejudice is easily articulated and exploited, especially by mavericks willing to deepen divisions in order to seize personal power.
Demagogues have silently sown bigotry into American hearts for too long, sown it with the claims that our friends and fellow citizens —citizens who speak different tongues, wear different garb or darker skin or hail from different countries— are poised with weapons and bombs, and are plotting to steal jobs, houses, power. Anyone with such a mentality is not only an affront to the (clichéd but crucial) “melting pot” of this country and a threat to the very existence of a nation built on and by immigrants, but also distinctly un-American.
How can we possibly eradicate this pervasive and probably inevitable fear of difference? How can we convince the ones left inside the wall that immigrants are not only necessary, but brave, hard-working members of our country that should be lauded for their courage and dreams of a better life? We can only undertake such a feat by making our society more diverse, more integrated, so that we no longer see anyone as an unfamiliar outsider (and therefore a threat) — no small task, to be sure, but one that must be accomplished. Recent research demonstrates (unsurprisingly) that adults born in the United States living in places with immigrant communities feel more positively about immigrants than those who live in places without. What “American” looks like is changing, and although we may never eliminate the fear of the unfamiliar, we can strive to embrace people from different places, of different religions, skin colors and levels of citizenship. Only then can we ensure that Americans will join together to lift their lamps beside the golden door.
1 "Homegrown Extremists Tied to Deadlier Toll Than Jihadists in U.S. Since 9/11," Scott Shane, The New York Times, accessed April 23, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/25/us/tally-of-attacks-in-us-challenges-perceptions-of-top-terror-threat.html?_r=0.
2 "U.S. Public Has Mixed Views of Immigrants and Immigration," Pew Research Center: Hispanic Trends, accessed April 23, 2017, http://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/09/28/chapter-4-u-s-public-has-mixed-views-of-immigrants-and-immigration/.