A Wall of Fear

Guest post by Kristina Smith T’19 | Public Policy and Education

On Friday January 27th, Donald Trump signed an executive order to close borders to refugees and people from seven Muslim countries. While this act, similar to his promises to “build the wall,” are indicative of many things, none more so than a lack of understanding.

This act is a door to the face, a chain on a fence, and a lack of understanding of anything or anyone that is different.

Just today someone expressed to me the true fear, anxiety, and sadness that they feel because of this order. She explained to me and others how her extended family that was planning on moving here may not be able to, how her mother will no longer be able to go back to her home country and visit that family, how the children in that family may never receive the same educational opportunities that she has here in the United States simply because of prejudice masked as fear.

It is a fear so real and yet so false. A fear of anyone and everyone who doesn’t look “American,” speak like an “American,” or practice religion like an “American.”

It is a fear of refugees, of people of color.

But mainly it is a fear of Muslims.

It is a fear so implicit, yet becoming so explicit that it is becoming justified. In the minds of too many Americans there are countless security benefits of closing the borders to these countries, of denying people safety from the persecution or violence that their own governments will not protect them from.

Yet, there are no security benefits. Studies show that US citizens are more likely to be killed by their own clothing than immigrant terrorism from these 9 immigrant countries.

It is a fear so selfish that, rather than consider the people—the people living in fear, the people who are striving for sanctuary, the people who deserve to be seen as people, our fearful society, and our fearful government, is thinking only of itself.

It is a choice to label those who are different from our majorities as dangerous and unworthy. More than anything, it is yet another decision that perpetuates the poor treatment of others.

We as a society are doing little to recognize the power that we hold. And it isn’t even just we as a society, but we as individuals are doing little to acknowledge that we have the ability, which we use everyday, to define people without knowing anything about them. We take places, religions, races and we determine what these characteristics mean about people without acknowledgement that we do not define ourselves simply by where we are from, our belief system, or our race.

So, my question is, why would we as a society choose to do so to others? Why would we limit people who we don’t know in ways that we don’t limit ourselves? Why would we choose to define others by only a few simple factors when we define ourselves by all the complex facets that make us who we are?

To me, the answer is more complex than it is simple. While we are afraid of what is different, there is also an undeniable fear of the power of those we have oppressed.

What happens when those we have silenced for so long finally have a chance to speak out? What power do we lose? How much space do we have to make?

These are inherently selfish questions. These are questions that put us first and everyone else second, even when second means fearing for one’s life or being in danger of persecution. We fear these questions so much that our fear becomes our behavior. This fear manifests itself through many faces of prejudice. This fear influences the way that people treat Black and Brown bodies, view Black and Brown intelligence, and stifle Black and Brown power.

Yet, we as people have power unlike any other in this situation. We have the power to call our Congresspeople, to write letters, and to protest, of course. But, more than anything, we have the power to recognize people as people. We have the choice to give people the benefit of the doubt, to not inherently distrust what is different, to speak up and speak out. We have the power to help those who need it, who ask for it. We have the power to believe in those the way that we would want others to believe in us.

There is a power structure in place here, and we as individual United States citizens are at the top.

And it is the top that has the choice to choose what is fair over what we fear.

This piece was originally published on The Bridge. Photo by Geoff Livingston.