Immigration, Racism, and Scapegoating


Recently I find myself more exhausted than usual with the rampant racism which is apparently acceptable amongst a particular dynamic of people.  These are people who regularly post bile on Facebook, generally targeting immigration as the root of all evil, especially the Roma.  This occurs alongside a drastic increase in the power of neo-fascist and far right xenophobic groups, and displays a terrifying surge in apparently moderate and well-educated individuals aligning themselves with far-right rhetoric.

I suppose I should be specific and acknowledge the fact that the bulk of this hate is written in one of the two languages I speak: Italian.  This isn’t to say that racism isn’t rampant amongst English-speakers, merely to acknowledge that the individuals who have recently been flooding my newsfeed with hate are posting in Italian.  They live in Italy, and therefore they base their misguided opinions upon the Italian political, economic, and cultural situation.

Let me begin from a basic premise.  Within sociology, nationalism is based upon the idea that the nation is imagined, constructed.  There are differing theories on who is responsible, how this was accomplished, and to what ends, generally suggesting that a sensation of group cohesion loosely based around the political state is useful for those in power, in order for them to accomplish nationalist projects.

Overall, these concepts give us humans a sense of belonging and a way of making sense of others.  I am American.  You are French.  All of the stereotypes, all of our personal knowledge and experiences, these give us a way of comprehending people’s positions in the world.  The point is, that while national identity has deep roots in shared experiences, religions, customs, these things were combined into this concept of nation and nationality, imagined, created.  Americans weren’t suddenly born all at once on July 4, 1776, loving football and Budweiser.  Instead, these symbols became incorporated over time.  Plus, nationalities, as the late George Carlin stated, occur by accident of birth.

So the first thing I don’t understand when it comes to the fear of immigrants, is this idea that because you happen to be born in one physical location, you are owed something by your particular country, which other people don’t deserve. This idea that you have a right to live in a safe neighborhood, find a job, see a doctor, but someone who has a piece of paper saying they were born across an invisible line, does not.  This is what I hear when people complain about immigration.

I believe that what it comes down to is fear and anger.  Fear because the economy is bad, because the opportunities which we are offered are slim in comparison to those which our parents had.  People are angry, and that anger is in many ways justified.  In Italy people are angry because they graduate with high level degrees in chemistry, in engineering, and they can’t find jobs in their home country.  In the US students are angry because they are stuck with overwhelming student debt working unpaid internships.  I understand the rage.  What I don’t understand is how people can possibly believe that the multitude of problems in our societies can be appropriately placed at the feet of immigrants.

The fears cited by these individuals are generally these:

  1. Immigrants cause crime, ranging from theft to murder and rape.  This is a popular claim amongst far right (read neo-nazi/neo-fascist) groups.  A perfect example is Forza Nuova’s campaign claiming that immigration kills, which has been covered internationally in connection to racist attacks on Integration Minister Kyenge.
  2. Immigrants steal jobs.
  3. Immigrants cost us tax dollars because we are stuck paying for programs to integrate them into the work force and because they take advantage of welfare.

Let me briefly address why all of this is wrong, wrong, and wrong:

As far as crime, a study by researchers from the London School of Economics concluded that more immigrants does not mean more crime, but rather “Brian Bell, a research fellow at the London School of Economics, said: ‘The view that foreigners commit more crime is not true. The truth is that immigrants are just like natives: if they have a good job and a good income they don’t commit crime.'”

Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has an excellent critique of many of the economic reasons people fear immigration.  He claims that in the USA immigration not only does not “steal” American jobs, but boosts the economy, creating new jobs, and that as long as immigrants are able to immigrate legally, they seek citizenship, meaning that they pay taxes and social security.  Similar empirical evidence has been found in the UK.

Despite the fact that no empirical evidence proves their negative impact on their host country, many immigrants are horrifically discriminated against.  This occurs through public policy made popular by public opinion and a climate of fear fueled by right-wing groups which win elections off of discriminatory and racist policies.  In Italy, this is seen most prevalently in the treatment of the Roma who were forcibly moved forcibly moved to isolated and racially segregated camps, which create massive barriers to education and work.  According to an article in the Financial Times, “‘Italy is the only country in Europe to boast a systematic, publicly organised and sponsored network of ghettos aimed at depriving Roma of full participation or even contact or interaction with Italian life,’ says the European Roma Rights Centre, a Budapest-based lobbying group.”

Furthermore, Nils Muiznieks, commissioner for human rights of the Council of Europe watchdog critiques the policy, which spent tax dollars on removing the Roma to the peripheries of the city rather than working to provide them with the opportunity to create better lives for themselves and their family.  This move was popular with the racist sector of society, but according to Muizieks, “has been an absolute disaster, costing incredible amounts of money, traumatising families, leading to further segregation, marginalisation from society, and breeding racism.”

Immigrants are feared because they are seen to contribute negatively to the countries in which they live.  The fact is, that if they are given equal opportunities, they boost the economies of their host countries.  Italy’s birth rate is the lowest in the EU, at a mere 1.41 per woman.  This means that the population of native Italians is drastically declining, and immigrants are needed to continue maintaining the economy, unless something else changes.

The fact is that while the Italian economy is indeed struggling, there is no reason to believe that immigration is to blame.  Nor does immigration create crime when immigrants are treated with justicePoverty leads to desperation and crime but the ones to blame for this are not, indeed the immigrants which so many seem so eager to blame, but the government which has consistently denied these individuals basic human rights.

And so, I find myself wondering why no one blames their government.  I wonder why Italians don’t blame the government for not creating new jobs in lucrative sectors, even when Prime Minister Enrico Letta recently acknowledged the government’s culpability.  I wonder why people aren’t angry that their tax dollars go to bloating the wallets of overpaid politicians.  I wonder why everyone isn’t angry with the government for policies which breed inequality, when we know that inequality of opportunity leads to poverty, which can lead to criminal behavior out of desperation.

I think I have the answer to why everyone is so eager to blame immigrants.  Prejudice, scapegoating, hatred, is the easy way out. History has shown that desperate times lead to public hatred being directed towards particular minority groups.  And individuals who are part of a historically privileged group have a lot to lose these days, and the world doesn’t seem as kind to them as it used to.  People are selfish, people are scared, and let’s be honest, things right now are pretty damn difficult.

But what I would beg of all of you, is that you take a moment to consider your words, to consider your hate, and to wonder, really are these disadvantaged individuals, these people who have worked so hard to make a better life for themselves only to be confronted with your hatred, are they really the ones you should be angry at?  Because the way I see it, it’s those with power who are causing all these negative changes in the world, not the powerless.

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