There has never been anything, nor will there ever be anything, which so frightens those in power as a great demographic shift among the powerless.
Because the powerless, when they see themselves in the powerful, can delude themselves into thinking they share in the power. After all, they have the same interests, the same concerns, the same ideology. But when the powerless look up and see something that looks so unfamiliar, they begin to feel restless. They clamor for change. They know that these strangers, who purport to speak for them, in no way have their best interests at heart. Ultimately, they threaten the powerful — not overtly (necessarily), but covertly. Not with conflict and protest, with guns and violence, but with that most subversive act of all. With their vote.
There is nothing so threatening to those in power as the vote in the hands of people who know their own interests and who know that those in power do not have those interests at heart.
The demographic threat is known to, and feared by, the powerful, and it is responsible for the most egregious state acts and policies of our time. It is the demographic threat faced by the powerful which we have to thank for the recent hostility towards the world’s most needy. These men of power in America, would they have a problem accepting French refugees? British? Canadian? No. But they have a problem with Syria. They have a problem with Somalia. With Sudan. With Iraq.
These people — these powerless, forgotten souls who have been treated as humanity’s backwash for so long — these people ought to be treated like potential terrorists. They need to wait in overcrowded, under-provisioned refugee camps for weeks, months, years, and even decades while the U.S., that gleaming beacon of freedom and hope in the dark night of reality, double- triple- and quadruple- checks that the malnourished, traumatized children of Syria are not terrorists. Do they even know what a terrorist is anymore?
But the terrorists in our midst are not the children of Syria. They are not the child who built a clock. They are not the women who speak Swahili. The terrorists in our midst are the people in power and their allies, scrambling to regain any semblance of control as this nation wrests itself from their grasp. There is nothing they can do; the demographic shift is an unstoppable force of nature. When the powerful try to take on the powerless, they become locked in never-ending warfare, a subversive battle of numbers games and line-drawing and border control to keep the numerous not-thems out and the few thems in. It is self-protectionist, and it is self-destructive. The regimes in history most hostile to demographic change, to power shifts, to changing worlds, have invariably been those most infamous, most nefarious, remembered only with the the caveat: NEVER AGAIN.
But it will happen again. As it has happened, over and over again, despite our empty promises to the contrary. In the 1930s and 1940s, the UK and the US refused to accept refugees across their borders. Millions of people (if you can’t picture “millions of people”, know that it was a quantity roughly comparable to the CITIES of LA and Houston combined), not only Jewish but of all races, religions, persuasions were slaughtered at the hands of a regime that feared above everything else heterogeneity. In that time we said: never again. But here we are, again.
In our hive-mind networks of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, we claim to be so outraged by these men in power, by their words and their actions, yet we refrain from asking why. But asking why is the most important thing we can do. If we don’t ask why, we don’t see the underlying reasons, the truths of human nature, the patterns that repeat themselves throughout history. We see each incident as isolated, each crisis as unique, each failure of humankind to help one another as independent, an unfortunate incident in a never-ending tide of unfortunate incidents.
But they are not. They are interconnected: they are repeated incidents of the same blindness, the same shortcomings: There is nothing the powerful fear more than becoming powerless, and we can’t for the life of us realize this. And when we don’t see the bigger picture, we are doomed to repeat it.
And as certain (white/Christian/male) governors of the United States are faced with humanity’s most desperate, instead of viewing them with compassion, they view them with contempt. In the face of every refugee, man, woman, or child, they see instead one more vote against them, one more brick paving the road to their own obsolescence. Their fear is not security of the state. Their fear is security of their status. Instead of seeing this as an act of humanity, they see it as a nail in their coffin. (And they’re letting the terrorists win.)
I began this diatribe as a meditation on Thanksgiving. About how I was thankful to not be a victim of a horrendous attack this week, or the civilian whose livelihood has been robbed because of decades of fighting all around me. About how I was thankful that my forebears were lucky enough to immigrate in a time of relative compassion in American history, when immigrants weren’t seen as threats but as the “huddled masses” upon whose backs the greatness of this country would be built.*
But I don’t think this is how I feel. I am not thankful to be an American today, this week, this month, or this year. I feel ashamed, that by my silence, by our silence, and our collective inaction, I am complicit.
Will Americans of our era be seen akin Germans in the early 1940s? Will the world view us as “Nazis” not because we individually sent anyone to their death but because we stayed silent in the face of one of the greatest mis-handlings of one of the greatest human disasters in history? When does complacency become complicity?**
We stand by every single day when a misguided youth with a penchant for the dramatic decides to murder the innocent in a publicity-seeking, race-driven stunt, because he feels his power is threatened. We stand by every single day when the rights of our most vulnerable and systematically oppressed citizens are robbed, because the legislators feel their power is threatened. We stand by every single day — today — when the huddled masses need us, when the men in power decry the legitimate victims of war, and of terror, and of global neglect, as terrorists themselves, because the men in power feel their power is threatened, and they’re running out of excuses.
These men — not the hopeful newcomers they’d have us believe — are the greatest threat to this country: to our progress, to our health, to our spirit as a nation, and to our reputation as a leader on the world stage. Indeed, we should welcome these refugees with open arms, according to the principles upon which this country is founded, principles which I hope I do not have to list for you here. We should reignite for these children, and for ourselves, the American dream.
Not doing enough is not good enough anymore.
If I am thankful for anything, then, it is that I am in a position from which I can create change. I don’t know how yet, but I know that it is imperative in order to regain the humanity of this country, to rediscover our raison-d’être, to once again welcome
your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me
*There has always been lots of anti-immigrant sentiment: majority populations are not immune from the same fears of demographic shift as those in power. However, the US certainly did accept large population waves during their neediest times, in a way that we don’t do anymore.
**In my own complacent way, here I am, word-vomming into the internet. This is NOT how change is made.