While politicians and citizens alike debate to what extent we should be helping refugees at a national and state level, refugee families are pushed back and forth between states like ping pong balls and a presidential candidate suggests we ban ALL Muslims from entering our country. Throughout this, I find the echoes of history calling me.
I’ve heard lots of arguments. However, they are also not new. As a history teacher, I’ve heard them all before – over and over again – whenever Americans have felt threatened by a new group of people coming into our country/culture.
So, indulge me today, as I veer from the typical faith blog to a little bit of a history recap.
I think we can all wholly agree that slavery is, simply put, bad and wrong – That abolitionists were in the right to fight for the end of American slavery. After all, what kind of argument could the anti-abolitionists even have had to not free slaves and allow African Americans to integrate into the larger American society?
- There was the blatantly racists argument that we all have heard that, again simply put, all people were not equal; African Americans were fundamentally inferior and not to be counted in the same category of “people” as their white brothers and sisters.
However, there were also some arguments that sound very similar to many of the ones we hear today.
- Economic argument – We cannot simply free the slaves (or free them all at once) because it would disturb the economy. There are not enough jobs and it would mean Americans (by which they meant white Americans) losing their jobs.
- Political argument – What does this mean for citizenship? We cannot free them because then wouldn’t the next logical step be citizenship?
- Safety/wellbeing argument – ALL African Americans are violent. It puts our families at greater danger to have them integrated into society.
Are these sounding familiar? They should if you substitute Muslim, Arab, or refugee for African American.
Interestingly, the debates within the abolitionist group also sound very similar. They debated whether or not the U.S. should free the slaves all at once or do it gradually. They debated whether they should wait before they could create a plan so that a system could be created in order to integrates ex-slaves into American society in a clean, systematic manner.
If we really look closely to our American policies of allowing others into our county and helping those in need, we really start seeing the parallels. We can look at the arguments for limiting/denying many, MANY different groups entry into the U.S.:
- Irish – ALL hot heads, drunks who are a menace to society; they will take honorable Americans’ jobs
- Catholics – (mostly Irish anyways); worship a different God
- Asian – culture is too different to fit within the American way of life; take our jobs; send too much money out of the country; heathens (just look at the political cartoons of the time for evidence);
- Mexicans/Latinos – the rhetoric is the exact same; ALL criminals, drug dealers, rapists; take jobs that Americans want; don’t assimilate into American, English-speaking culture
- Jewish Europeans (trying to escape Nazis) – we felt for their pain, but we didn’t have the structures in place. After all, who was going to financially support them?
- (Imagine Anne Frank’s refugee application being stamped denied at this point – because that is exactly what happened)
We have presented the same argument for closing our borders since the founding of our country. (Truthfully, individual colonies presented the same arguments for their borders against other colonies before we were the United States of America.)
These argument have contributed to the continuation and/or creation of policies and stances which today are almost universally looked at as negative.
There is a reason people say history is deemed to repeat itself. However, the optimist in me likes to think it doesn’t always have to.
Are all these situations the same? No, but the justifications are – much of the fear driving the justifications are the same.
Our beliefs (not facts) about these situations certainly have some parallels.
How about our response? Will they?
What will our history books say about our response to the needs of thousands of people in 50 years, 100 years? Because I can guarantee you that they will not remain silent or unbiased.
I’ll leave you with one more thing: