Let’s face it. Human beings generally prefer familiar environments and people. We seem to be wired that way. Infants smile earliest and most frequently at their mothers’ faces. People often choose to live in areas where people look, think and talk like themselves.
With an innate tendency to seek commonalities with others, people often have to be reminded that those who are different aren’t bad, but rather dissimilar. However, it is rather easy to convince individuals that different is dangerous and encourage hate. It’s been done for ages and when leaders, such as President Trump, take this stance, followers who knew it wasn’t acceptable to show their prejudices recognize that it’s now fine to let their “inner” hate out.
It’s not that we Americans previously haven’t expressed our utter dislike for those of other racial and religious groups. Native Americans were first to receive such treatment. African-Americans had to deal with slavery, inhumane treatment and lynchings. We wanted Asians to build our transcontinental railroads, but we didn’t want them to live here. When many Irish and Italian Catholics and European Jews began arriving, they were not welcome.
Economic stressors often give rise to prejudice and racial and religious hate. There is a fear that “those different people” will take over their work opportunities or social values. It’s what is playing out now and what led to America’s more restrictive immigration laws in the 1920s. The same fears provided a rationale for Hitler’s rise to power after that country’s WWI loss.
Hitler was able to convince millions of good Germans that Germans who were Jewish and who had resided in Germany for hundreds of years suddenly needed to not only be removed from his nation, but from the face of the earth.
He legitimized hate and his followers, who needed an explanation for their problems, accepted his virulent anti-Semitism as the answer.
Even in countries where people’s appearances are similar, there are still differences among groups. It’s how clans and tribes are organized. It might even explain how West Virginia, a state that sees itself as unique, has traditionally had such regionalism that has inhibited statewide growth.
In countries and regions where the population has been homogeneous, acceptance of foreigners varies. Sometimes, small groups of immigrants, who readily adapt to the host groups’ values and cultural norms, are acknowledged neutrally or even positively.
Yet, when masses of immigrants try to enter an established or homogeneous group, problems occur. The newcomers often attempt to continue their own social and cultural disharmonious with their new environment. This is happening around the world now as millions flee from the Middle East and Africa.
Most advanced and stable nations recognize that there must be an orderly flow to immigration, but that new ambitious people are often needed to grow a country. It’s how America was formed and many European countries found they needed new immigrants to meet their labor demands.
Immigration isn’t a new problem for our nation. It actually was an issue in 1798 with the Alien and Sedition Acts. It will always be a concern here as there will always be people clamoring to enter our wonderful, but imperfect country.
What we Americans must understand is that when a nation’s leader expresses hate or clear prejudiced opinions of national, ethnic, religious groups or even handicapped people, it legitimatizes hate and permits those who follow the leader to express similar sentiments. How sad it is that our American president has done just that.
[Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist who lives with her husband Maury in Huntington, West Virgina. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in the Huntington, WV Herald-Dispatch on January 25, 2018. We have, with permission, occasionally reprinted articles by Mufson which we found to be especially important and worthy of the widest possible distribution.]