Everything changes. It is a basic fact of life and fighting that constantly moving tide gives one nothing but stress and grief. Still, it comes as a shock when one realizes how much a situation, or a person, can change over time.
I met with an old friend recently. This is a woman I have known for most of my life and someone who was extraordinarily kind to me during a time when I really needed that kindness. I always thought of her as family. Time and distance have done their damage, but she and her kids have always held a special place in my heart.
And then the earth shifted. I had always assumed we were of a similar political bent, but she recently told me, quite proudly, that she voted for Trump. She also informed me that our country should revamp our immigration laws. I could not argue that point. I do think we need to revamp our policies, especially since we no longer allow people to seek asylum if they are fleeing from gang violence or domestic abuse. I knew she meant something different, but said nothing.
And then my friend stated, in front of my adopted Ethiopian immigrant daughter, that only “the right people” should be allowed into our country. She believes that criminals are coming into the country and that the government really isn’t snatching kids from parents and putting them into cages. That whole story, she said, was overblown.
I picked my jaw up off the floor and hit the road with my kid. We left on good terms, but I don’t know how to process this information. This is not my friend from back in the day, but a new version that appears to get her information from Fox News and believes the president, a proven liar and bigot, is doing right by our country.
My daughter, who is only 14 and does not know that when most people talk about only letting “the right people” into our country, they mean “the white people.” However, she is savvy enough to have waited until we were in our car before turning to me and asking, “I wonder how she feels about little black girls coming here?”
I had no answer. I was so overwhelmed with sadness that I could only shake my head. The president has easily tolerated Nazis with tiki torches. He has banned Muslims, though not those from any of the countries that took down the Twin Towers and attacked the Pentagon. He has people convinced that Mexicans will rape our daughters and black athletes taking a knee will undermine democracy. And let’s not forget about all those brown kids in cages.
To me it is fundamentally obvious that racism is at the heart of those most loyal to Trump. I once thought that people liked Trump because of the tax write-offs he promised to the wealthy and do believe a lot of people voted for him precisely for that reason. I know some people wanted a more conservative Supreme Court. But as our nation becomes more isolationist and more aligned with countries known for totalitarian practices and human rights abuses, why are some of them still sticking with him? In my opinion it is because the underlying meaning of “Make America Great” again is really “Make America White Again.”
According to the nonprofit public policy organization, the Brookings Institute:
“New census population projections confirm the importance of racial minorities as the primary demographic engine of the nation’s future growth, countering an aging, slow-growing and soon to be declining white population. The new statistics project that the nation will become “minority white” in 2045. During that year, whites will comprise 49.9 percent of the population in contrast to 24.6 percent for Hispanics, 13.1 percent for blacks, 7.8 percent for Asians, and 3.8 percent for multiracial populations.”
It would not surprise me if a lot of white centrist folks were terrified of those numbers. Years ago, I told my mother-in-law, who was basically Archie Bunker in a dress, that the country was turning browner and whites would be in the minority. She told me she was glad she’d be dead by then so she’d never have to see it happen.
I always understood my mother-in-law to be a product of both her generation and her family, but I never expected such ugliness from my funny and kind friend. In fact, I bet if I asked her she would never even consider herself a racist. After all, she has had African-American friends. After all, she loves my daughter. But none of those people hail from Mexico or Honduras of Guatemala.
I think that what shocked me most about this encounter was the lack of kindness. That may seem naïve, but if you aren’t kind toward your fellow human beings, you can’t get past being afraid of them. If you approach the exhausted and raggedy guy at the border with understanding and empathy, you are less likely to see a terrorist or a rapist. You are less likely to judge him for his poverty. You are more likely to see someone who needs help, a commodity we once doled out in this country with equal dashes of egalitarianism and tolerance. Unless you are native born, chances are someone was once kind to your ancestors. After all, there are only a few ways you can become an American. If you weren’t native born, then you emigrated here, or arrived as a refugee seeking asylum, or were dragged here as a slave. That’s it.
So when my friend told me she had been at church that morning, I had a hard time putting it all together. I am a survivor of Catholic school and the one thing that stuck with me was that we should treat people the way we would want them to treat us. She seems to be failing on that point. And say we take the ethical and moral standings out of the equation and look at racism (and immigration) from a completely Machiavellian viewpoint – we are screwing ourselves on a national level.
According to the New York Times, refugees bring in more revenue than they cost us. Just ask the farmers whose crops are rotting or the owners of meat packing plants who can’t find help. Anglos don’t want those jobs; immigrants are happy to take them.
Looking back at this era, our treatment of immigrants will be lumped into a sorry and mean-spirited episode that can never be whitewashed (pun intended) by history because of our digitized social media and a gaggle of news sources. We will have damaged our economy and hurt our standing on the world platform. We will be shown as intolerant, ignorant, and unkind. I hate to think of my friend as part of the problem, but because she is I can never again see her the same way.