Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World

U.S. News


Us vs. Them – Is It About Immigration Or Us?

Worldwide, the issue of immigration far exceeded its focal point – the immigrants. It has transformed into our own value judgment, predicament, and prejudice. In the U.S., the issue morphed into civil rights violation in the wake of a new controversial policy in Arizona. In France, ban on burqa has accentuated the anti-immigration sentiments. In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron’s stance on putting a cap on immigration quota set off an economic qualm between India and the U.K.

My argument is here not about any policy but our moral indignation. How do we become so indifferent to “other” people? We perceive others as “other” because they are different. This is, perhaps, the inherent nature of human being. “Other” invokes our curiosity. “Other” makes us indifferent. “Other” makes us complacent. “Other” makes us contrived. But the “other” also has the power to change us.

The mesmerizing Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Mr. Sudhir Venkatesh opens with a chapter on what is it like to be someone we are not. “Someone we are not” is a reference to the blacks and poor.

Mr. Vankatesh hails from an educated Indian family, very different from the characters of his book. During his experience with a drug lord in Chicago projects, Mr. Vankatesh studied the culture of poverty. The sociologists constantly grapple with poverty. Many of us have preconceived idea about the poor.

Walter Lippmann in his famous book Public Opinion argues that we all have “pictures in our head,” which come from our value systems. When dealing with the “others” in the society, we have many pictures of them. What do we think of the word “immigrant?” The border-crossing immigrants from Mexico, a housemaid, a nanny, a construction worker, a scientist, a scholar?

The pictures we paint in our mind come from various social constructs. These pictures constantly evolve within the context of social, political, and economic conditions. The 9/11 events redefined the word “terrorist.” It created a new race of “terrorist.” In order to be a “terrorist” one needs to fulfill certain criteria. These criteria are autonomous, meaning they are independent of the word “terrorist” itself. The act of terror no longer applies to define a terrorist. Other criteria must be met.

Immigrants in our society invoke the sense of “other” almost instantaneously. They belong to “other” because they are different and someone we are not. Accepting someone we are not is difficult. But it is difficult because we think it is difficult. And it is easy to remain complacent within our own-self. Mr. Vankatesh reminds us that it is possible to see the “other” through our courage, conviction, and morals. He reminds us that it is possible to see ourselves through others.

He reminds us that we should listen more. He reminds us that it is possible to trust without expectations. We just need to do our part.