The podcast This American Life had a very interesting episode the other day. It was called “Fear and Loathing in Homer and Rockville.” The podcast dealt with the topic of immigration when immigration had nothing to do with the problem perceived by the subjects of the podcast. Or, rather, immigration was seen as the cause of the problems being seen by the subjects.
In Homer, Alaska, the city council proposed a resolution calling Homer a city that was welcoming of immigrants. They thought this would be a good way to oppose the xenophobic speech and executive orders from that ill-conceived lab experiment we have for a president. Well, it turned out to be a divisive issue even though Homer doesn’t really have any kind of outside immigration. It’s just too far away from anything to have an influx of immigrants. In the end, and after a lot of fighting, the city dropped the resolution.
The reporter in the podcast asked one of Homer’s residents why he opposed the resolution. The resident, a man by the name of Ben, explained that he wanted to research the issue. In doing so, he ended up going to right-wing, nationalist sources whose numbers were a little skewed. That is, they were reporting the correct numbers, but they were not putting those numbers in context. For example, they said that over 400,000 additional crimes had been committed by immigrants in Germany over the previous year. However, the grand majority of those crimes were the crime of entering Germany illegally, not the crimes that we are often told about immigrants, like raping and pillaging.
In the end, after speaking to a reporter who lives and works in Germany, and after having the numbers be put into context, Ben felt that he was misinformed (if not lied to) by the far-right, nationalist sources he found online. He felt that he was wrong in reaching the conclusion that he did, but he still feels that his city needed to be careful in who they invite to immigrate to them.
The second half of the podcast was about an incident at a high school in Rockville, Maryland. A 14 year-old girl had a sexual encounter in a bathroom at the school, at 9am, with two boys, one age 17 and the other age 18. The boys were illegal immigrants from Central America, and all three were in the 9th grade. (Don’t ask me how or why a 17 and an 18 year-old are in the 9th grade.) At first, the story was reported as an outright rape. Right wing blogs and Fox News talking heads grabbed the story and ran with it as a clear sign that immigrants are rampant throughout the United States. Later, the charges were dropped against the boys when it was found out that the girl had a relationship with one, that she was not forced into the bathroom with them, and when other witnesses came through to show that the girl had made up some — if not all — of her story.
(This doesn’t in any way excuse what happened. A 14 year-old cannot give consent in Maryland, so the boys were charged with lesser charges.)
Even after the true story came out, there were plenty of phone calls, emails and letters loaded with violent language against the school administration and others surrounding the case. The threats came from people angry that illegal immigrants had done this. As one girl in the podcast puts it, she had to be afraid of boys in the school because of what happened and people looking to shoot and kill immigrants because of what happened. Her fear was palpable.
To cap it all off, Ann Coulter, a known far-right loon, was interviewed. She didn’t see anything wrong with the threats of violence over the rape allegations. She said the people threatening violence were just tired Americans, tired of having to deal with “backwards” civilizations, and something about knives and forks. (I’m not kidding you. She said that the lack of use of knives and forks was some indicator of backwardness.)
At the end of the podcast, we had a town without immigrants but with plenty of citizens worrying themselves sick over immigrants. Not only that, they became angry at each other over an immigration resolution, and some of them drank the koolaid offered by right-wing nationalists about immigrants being rapists, murderers and thieves. We also had a number of adults threatening violence against school administrators and students in Rockville over the sexual encounters of three teens. (Or, rather, a girl, a boy, and a young man.)
Also at the end of the podcast, I was left with a lot of questions. My main question was what to tell my child? How to I teach them to deal with bigotry and hate? As a half-Mexican child in what promises to be an almost all-white part of America, The Child will stand out. Perhaps there will be other reasons why they’ll stand out as well, as my wife and I did because of our interests, intellect, and senses of humor.
I haven’t figured out, but I’ll probably go with this:
Yeah, okay, maybe.
My wife had the best advice on this so far. She said that I am going to have to teach The Child how to deal with people who are angry and hateful by modeling the proper behavior. If The Child sees me stay calm and be reasonable, they will stay calm and be reasonable when they encounter that kind of evil themselves.
So I have to stay calm and reasonable, even in the face of some very hideous people out there… Even in the face of our very own president.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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