Prejudice and Fear Are Hurting Everybody’s Children
Canadian school groups are cancelling U.S. visits.
By Art Willer, M.Ed.
Prejudice and fear are emotions and habits of thought that are in us all. On occasion, they rise to a level where they get out of control. Good people do something about that, especially when it hurts children. This article explains the problem, how it is hurting children, and offers suggestions about what can be done. With common resolve, fear and prejudice can be rolled back almost as easily as it is allowed forward.
I am a Canadian. Having studied in the US, I have admired Americans and the United States throughout my life. I have many American friends, customers and business partners, all of whom are a pleasure to know.
As a frequent visitor to the United States, most American immigration officers I have encountered have represented their country admirably. However, those officers have a job to do, and they act at the direction of the current US administration. Unfortunately, that is not going well for Canadians. And the effects are rolling south.
Links to news sources of events I mention in this article are listed at the end. Actions alleged in the referenced articles, may not have been fully or accurately reported. However, Americans need to know that US immigration officers are barring Canadian travelers at increasing rates, in increasingly bizarre situations.
A coach and a group of 19 year old athletes approach the US border, bound for a track-and-field competition in New Hampshire. A US immigration officer takes the only brown-skinned youth aside for questioning, for five hours. The athlete’s Canadian passport confirms that he is a 19-year old student born in Canada. On questioning, the youth shares he is of the Islamic faith. He shares that his parents are also Canadian but they are first-generation immigrants from Morocco. After several hours of questioning, his cell phone is seized and officers find a photo of him, coincidentally including a suspected radicalized student. The youth is finger-printed and barred from entering the United States.
Justified? Maybe. Necessary to protect America? I sincerely doubt it.
The youth is Canadian-born. He has competed for many years, and he has competed several times in the United States. The young man is so politely Canadian, he is later quoted as saying he did not suspect racism on the immigration officer’s part. He is only confused because the denial of access was documented to be on the basis of insufficient papers. He had a current Canadian passport, which is all the US government requires a Canadian to have.
A young brown-skinned Canadian female is traveling with friends across the US border. She is stopped for questioning, for many hours. Her Canadian passport confirms she is a Canadian-born citizen of Canada. Her parents are also Canadian. They came from India about 1960.
While none of her white traveling companions are barred, she is barred from entry. Additionally, the woman is told that she will need a visa if she ever wants to enter the United States.
Other incidents have been reported to the press and Canadian authorities, where border encounters are literally unbelievable, considering the values Americans and Canadians share.
Ever since the current US administration came into power, Canadians have faced increasingly negative receptions at the US border, especially when they are brown-skinned, Muslim or Muslim-looking, and are of the Islamic faith. The negative receptions are not reserved for this group alone. Every type of Canadian is getting this treatment to a degree, causing all Canadians of any race, origin or religion to re-consider their next visit to the United States.
The prejudice is apparent, but where is the fear?
US immigration officers must protect America. The 19-year old could be a terrorist, or he could be planning to stay in the United States waiting for his terrorist parents to tell him to attack America. The 30-year old Indian-Canadian woman’s parents could have planned to attack America before coming to Canada in the 1960s. They moved to Canada, had a daughter, and then groomed her for Jihad. Both scenarios are highly unlikely, and there is nothing to suggest any intent of wrongdoing, or that their purpose for entering the Unites States is some sinister ruse.
When good sense leaves us, fear is usually the only explanation.
How Canadian Children are being Hurt
Most of the Canadian population lives at or near the US border, so US travel and joint American-Canadian events are a normal course of life, often being a highlight of the Canadian child’s education.
The Canadian Girl Guides leadership have now cancelled all Girl Guide events involving travel to the United States.
Many Canadian school districts have also declared all events involving US border crossings, to be canceled.
Canadians are not hysterical people. They watch American news, and they note the incidents mentioned here. However, this is not why Canadians are canceling their US travel.
Like Americans, Canadians are fiercely protective of their children. Canadians are canceling US travel because they can no longer be certain that Canadians or their children will be received and processed at the US border, without experiencing unfair scrutiny or being barred from entry on the basis of color, origin or religion. It’s the same response all parents have when a neighbor acts unpredictably. The parents keep their children away from that neighbor.
Why Americans Should Care
When anybody hurts other people out of fear or prejudice, the act itself sends a powerful message to their own children. It teaches their children to be prejudiced and fearful too.
How is an American Girl Guide to understand why her Canadian counterparts are not attending this year’s Girl Guide convention? How is an American student to interpret the news that Canadian school acquaintances are not coming this year?
Regardless of what we tell children, they construct their understanding of the world by making the pieces logically fit together. With limited knowledge of Canada, American children could logically conclude that Canadians should not be trusted. Otherwise, why are US border officers turning any Canadians away? If terrorists are brown-skinned people, then why shouldn’t we be suspicious of all brown-skinned people? The seeds of prejudice and fear are quickly sown.
American courts have over-ruled the US administration’s first ban on immigration to the United States, and they have stayed the revised ban. These actions speak loudly and clearly that prejudice and fear have no place at American borders.
However, children are directly affected by the attitudes of adults and the atmosphere they breathe, not by the pronouncements of American officials.
Although the following incident is not directly related to the Canadian experience, it shows how prejudice and fear have already caught root in some American adults and children.
A group of grade four students – two African-American children and three Mexican-American children – recently won a district robotics and science competition. During the awards ceremony, some parents and their children shouted, “Go back to Mexico!” The children, their parents and their teacher were also accosted in the parking lot.
The school district has condemned this outrageous behavior. But the damage is there and it cannot be undone by declarations from the school board.
What Concerned Americans Can Do
Understand that prejudice and fear are started by people, and it takes determined pro-active people to stop it. And they can, as long as enough people take individual responsibility to act against it.
- Speak up! Express your praise for justices and other authorities who are fighting back, by writing to them. Then tell your neighbors and coworkers about your written support.
- Challenge people who express prejudice and fear. You don’t have to fight with them. Just let them know that you believe prejudice and fear are un-American. You believe it is not acceptable to discuss or identify people by their race, origin, culture or religion, as if all people in any group are the same or deserve to be feared because they belong to a certain group.
- When fellow Americans persist in spreading prejudice and fear, tell them that discouraging anybody from traveling to the United States, immediately loses money and costs American jobs.
- Explain that sweeping bans on any particular group of people, discourage all people from visiting the United States, not just the people or countries banned. For evidence on how badly America is being economically hurt, ask any professional association how the current US atmosphere is affecting attendance at US-based conferences. Some of those organizations are moving their conventions to other countries.
- If you are a professional educator, use your professional authority to express your deep concern for what prejudice and fear are teaching American children. Remind them that adult behavior and how people talk around children, directly teach children their values, whether right or wrong. All civilized countries -- with America usually leading --have worked for decades to expunge prejudice and fear. That work is undone easily and quickly just by exposing children to the venom.
- If you are a parent, discuss the current situation with your children. Help them understand that sometimes prejudice and fear seem to be everywhere. It’s like a heavy snowfall, a heavy rain, or a snowstorm. It is important that we resist prejudice and fear, even when it is a popular way of thinking and talking. Talk about your own prejudice and fear, and how we always have to repel the natural urge to pre-judge others and react out of fear.
- Write to your Congress Persons, Senators and any other government officials to let them know where you stand, and that you expect them to stand for the best American values -- lest they lose your vote next election.
- If you did not vote during the last election, be sure to vote next time. You might not particularly like any of the candidates, but don’t fail to exercise your democratic right to vote. Never again let other people decide who is going to represent and guide your country. This last suggestion is one I have learned myself from observing recent events.
Prejudice and fear spreads, one person at a time. Pride, courage, good sense and compassion are also spread one person at a time. Let’s make this happen together, especially for our children.
- CBC - Vermont businesses anxious as Canadians turned away at border
- USA Today - Schools and Girl Guides nixing trips to U.S.
- Travel Market Report - Canadians Finding Travel Document Confusion At US Border