Refugees and Racism Part 2

In the first installment of this series on refugees and racism we addressed the modern origins of racism and the difficult concept of white privilege. Today, I want to discuss the difference between legitimate political policies and systemic racism.

Policy vs. Partiality

The primary job of a sovereign nation is to keep its citizens safe, both from outside threats and inside dangers. Government policies should therefore be focused on how to accomplish that goal in practical ways. One of the primary ways that a nation keeps its citizens safe is by protecting its borders and deciding who is allowed to enter the country and on what terms. Policies governing immigration and refugee resettlement ought to bear in mind the safety of their country's current citizens.

Quite a few American politicians and citizens today see  immigration and refugee resettlement as threats and have proposed stopping (or at least temporarily suspending) such programs. Enacting such a policy change is well within the rights and authority of a sovereign nation and would be politically legitimate. If there is a threat to national security (whether that threat is perceived or real is a discussion for another post) I would certainly hope that my government officials would take the precautions necessary to address it. That is their job, after all!

However, individual citizens and politicians need to be very careful that their rhetoric does not cross the line from supporting and advocating for a policy to embracing nativism, or even racism. Too many have already crossed that line, some, I fear, without knowing it. For some passionate and patriotic Americans the arguments of national security and economic well-being are nothing but thin veils over a dangerous desire to preserve some kind of superior homogenous cultural heritage.

America has, from her founding, been a nation of immigrants, all with unique traditions, and after two and a half centuries we have shared those traditions with one another, resulting in a new and unique American culture. Without our heritage as a fledgling nation made up of immigrants and refugees, we would not be characterized by the spirit and drive that America is known for. Continued immigration has the potential to strengthen our cultural heritage even more.

We should speak with remorse and sadness when global terrorism and deadly organizations like Daesh may force a nation that has formerly been a beacon of hope to the displaced to suspend refugee resettlement in the interests of national security. Instead, though, I often hear gloating and anger directed toward the victims of such violence as they are lumped in with the perpetrators.

Some rather vocal figures (I think you know who I'm talking about) have become well know for broad sweeping generalizations that succeed in shocking and scaring people, but utterly fail at offering durable solutions. Stereotyping large groups of people and boiling a potential threat down to one religion or race quickly becomes racist sentiment, even if was not intended to be. I would be far more likely to actually consider the merits of their policies if it was made abundantly clear that the goal was the safety of our nation, rather than the preservation of our white privilege.

We must make a greater effort to consider the merits of significant policies based on their utility in keeping us safe, while also refusing to allow politicians to use those same policies to advance a narrative of nativism and subtle and not-so-subtle) racism. It will never be easy to separate out the legitimacy of political policies from the partiality that is often motivating them, but it is our duty to try.