Monday, March 27, 2006

Myths, stereotypes and scapegoating

America is a nation of myths. Many Americans, refusing to learn the sophistication necessary to resist hate speech and anti-immigrant propaganda, continue to perpetuate many stories and urban legends regarding those who come here from other countries. Additionally, the use of stereotypes and scapegoating apparently helps them to feel more secure.

Take for example, a story on Saturday, in the Boston Globe. This illustrates how looking at facts and evidence dispels many of these myths.

The example found in the Globe, shows that drug usage, often blamed on those damn “minorities,” is actually fueled by white people and their predisposition to illegal narcotics. Yet, even though the Globe story references a study commissioned by the Boston Public Health Commission, many Bostonians will continue to blame the scourge of drugs on people with darker complexions.

The current furor being raised over immigration is another example of how it is so much easier to stereotype and scapegoat Hispanics and others, wanting to come here, with aspirations for a better life. However, politicians and others have used fear and misinformation to once again paint an ugly picture that varies remarkably from the facts.

Our country has a long history of anti-immigrant bias, going back to the 18th century when Ben Franklin said that German immigrants “will never assimilate, learn English, and understand freedom.”

When American deplore our country being “taken over by immigrants,” the actual percentage of foreign born citizens currently stands at 8 percent of the total population, compared to the rate being as high as 15 percent from 1870, to 1920, when my own grandparents arrived from Germany.

Rather than most immigrants arriving illegally, eight out of 11 actually arrive via legal means. And rather than focusing on the “scourge” of illegals swarming across our borders, endangering us, we might want to look at the history of how immigrants are exploited by corporations and other true-blue Americans, such as Mount Olive Pickle, and others. This is the real story of immigration. Groups like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their ongoing work to publicize the way that immigrant farm workers continue to be mistreated and experience an uphill struggle to be treated with dignity and receive fair pay for honest work, is just one example of an organization bringing some sanity to the discussion of immigration. The problem with the truth, however, is the capacity it has to make bigoted and racially backward white people a little uncomfortable, enough so that they return to their palatable stereotypes and the scapegoating of immigrants.

I urge readers to refrain from stereotypes and scapegoating and learn to break down long held myths, often rooted in lies and half-truths. The tactics of divide and conquer used by the elite in our nation, makes all the rest of us weaker and vulnerable.

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