President Trump’s decision to not allow Bahamians displaced by Hurricane Dorian to shelter in the United States puts our xenophobia on the world’s big screen. Our intolerance for people, places and things we consider different has expanded to the point of total exclusion.
Our government is choosing fear and demonization over our historic reputation for generosity and kindness. It is even applying its exclusionary principles to children born to American families stationed overseas. It is choosing destruction over creation.
My father was a great storyteller, and I grew up hearing tales about his early life in rural Idaho – stories about the Great Depression, poverty and displaced persons.
Sometimes, uprooted families would camp on the river and walk up to nearby farms to ask for food or work.
In that hard scrabble sheep farming country, there were no stories about running them off, turning them away or passing vagrant camping laws. Everyone was nearly in the same boat. Whoever had a house, a job or a skill helped their neighbor.
My mother’s Louisiana family, during that same period, filled their small home with grandparents, nieces and friends who would otherwise have been homeless. That is what you did. You took care of family and you helped your neighbor – and everyone was your neighbor. Your religion, your government and your own moral code expected you to do the right thing and lend a hand.
Our current acceptance of selfish behavior would be an embarrassment to our predecessors. Our intolerance for anyone needing a handout or a hand up seems without limits. We are up in arms about a few homeless people and ready to mobilize against immigrants.
I frequently hear people around here say, “I am blessed,” which implies that, through no effort on their part, good things have come their way. You are blessed. The flip side of that phrase implies that if you are less blessed or not blessed, that is also through no fault of your own. But, no, that’s not how it works.
Instead, those less blessed – the less privileged, the less fortunate – who are in that condition are faulted for being in that condition. As if they caused it or chose it.
As we have become more focused on our own possessions, our own comfort and enjoyment, we have become less generous, less forgiving and more accusatory. We see nothing wrong in imposing our beliefs over the rights of others. After all, they are less than us, less deserving and more different. Therefore, they need to stay out of our space, our line of vision and our country.
The internet is full of videos of otherwise normal Americans turning attempting to remove another human, another American from a coffee shop, a park, a store, a neighborhood, a border town. They appear to believe that if they are here, that other person cannot be here.
Now our flawed and contrary president is turning away neighbors whose homes, food and water, jobs, churches, roads and families have been destroyed or washed away – probably forever in many cases.
We have never been a perfect country. We have always been a country that has tolerated prejudices, preferences and privilege. But in times of crisis, we stood tall. We went to war, literally and figuratively, to help those in trouble. We donated millions of dollars, made room for evacuees, and we prayed over the losses of people we will never meet. We gave them shelter and we healed their wounds.
What has changed us? Today, the model is to make desperate situations worse by finding ways to keep our blessings to ourselves. I am not trying say we shouldn’t weigh the consequences or consider the options when dealing with humanitarian crises. I respect that charity and sacrifice is not for everyone and screening may be needed. However, I believe our great country, the country of my forebears, can find a way to be best.
My country, my parents’ country, does not turn away refugees in desperate need. The country I believe in does not shut the door and pull the sidewalk out from under the helpless and broken at our shores. My country says, “You are our neighbors, and we will do all we can to help you so that you, too, can be blessed.”