Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Scapegoating in St. Joseph (Dialogue Column 6-8-10)

I wrote this originally for The Dialogue, the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), St. Joseph, MO.


1 : a goat upon whose head are symbolically placed the sins of the people after which he is sent into the wilderness in the biblical ceremony for Yom Kippur

2 a : one that bears the blame for others b : one that is the object of irrational hostility

I returned from visiting my in-laws in Atlanta last week and promptly picked up the St. Joseph News-Press. Unfortunately, not a whole heck of a lot had changed during the past week. “It’s Your Call”—the section of our paper that prints anonymous comments left on the newspaper’s answering machine—continues to be a forum for the most ignorant and slanderous arguments our community has to offer. I often wonder why the ¬News-Press continues to showcase the irrationally negative voices of people too cowardly to sign their name to a letter to the editor (aren’t the comments on the News-Press web site enough?). The popular topic right now in “It’s Your Call” seems to be the immigration debate and the ones making their calls are scapegoating in full force.

From the pages of the News-Press to the halls of Washington, illegal immigrants are the scapegoats this election year; not even the ineptitude of BP can avert the anger towards workers who are in the country illegally. Certainly, there are legitimate issues regarding national security, social service costs and businesses employing undocumented immigrants during a time of near 10% unemployment, but none of these issues, in and of themselves or even corporately, are enough to explain the levels of vitriol, paranoia and xenophobia being spewed around the nation. Could there possibly be another explanation?

I would offer that the explanation is an easy one: power. Human history is filled with examples of majority groups demonizing, dehumanizing and scapegoating minority groups. Let the less powerful minority bear the blame for the collective failures of everyone and direct all anger and hostility towards them. That way the majority bears no responsibility for society’s ills; it gets to feel good about itself and look down upon someone else. For those who wish to capitalize upon this shameful human tendency for political or economic gain, scapegoating a minority is an easy and cheap way to gather power.

A specific case of scapegoating has occurred in the proposition to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants who are born on U.S. soil—a proposition endorsed by our representative to Congress, Sam Graves. These politicians could not have focused their attack on a more defenseless population. Who better to attack than children who had no say whatsoever in where they were born? Who better to attack than children who dare not speak publicly for fear of having their parents taken away from them by immigration agents? Could these politicians not find any puppies to kick or kittens to strangle?

Never mind that denying citizenship to people born on U.S. soil is unconstitutional, that’s not the point anyway. The point is to galvanize public anger over a problem with no easy solutions for political gain. I’m not sure which is worse: the politicians from the right who scapegoat the people with the least power—people only looking for a better life for their families OR the politicians on the left who have no backbone and refuse to offer any real solutions because they value their reelection over the demands of justice. It is far easier for the politicians who represent us at the local, state and federal levels to either do nothing or scapegoat than it is to actually ask the hard questions and look for real answers, such as:

Why is it that most companies in our country refuse to voluntarily adopt a system that uniformly checks documentation and identification with a government database?

Why is it that consumers demand goods at lower prices even if it means they were produced by exploited labor either in another country or by illegal workers at home?

Why is it that so many American manufacturing jobs went south of the border thanks to NAFTA and other “free trade” agreements but the flow of undocumented workers coming north has only increased? Weren’t these agreements supposed to help us and them?

Why is it that Mexico, a country adjacent to the largest economy in the world, has remained a hotbed of political corruption, smuggling, drug trafficking, and economic dysfunction? Is it possible that some of our nation’s policies might have had some influence?

Why is it that there are so few people concerned about illegal immigrants who are non-Hispanic? Could it be that things like skin color and language really play a bigger part than we care to admit in this debate?

From our scriptures, we are taught that God has a concern for the “alien” and “stranger” among us. We are taught that when we offer even a drink of water to those whom society calls “the least of these” it is the same as doing it for Jesus. As Christians, we cannot give in to scapegoating. In fact, the command for us to love our neighbor as ourselves demands that we speak up for those who lack the political power to speak for themselves. This election season let us demand that our leaders ask the tough questions and seek real answers rather than scapegoating for easy political gain.

Grace and Peace,



Mya said...

Hi Chase. Barb Edwards, always the faithful evangelizer, though she would never see herself that way, sent me the link for your blog. I am too tired to type a really intelligent comment today, but I agree with what you have to say about scapegoating. I grew up spending much time in Mexico, and as a teacher I have taught several students from Mexico and Guatemala (ESOL students). They have been some of the sweetest and hardworking students I have, and I can easily imagine that some of their parents may have illegal status. Those children are blameless, and their parents truly are here to work hard, make money, send much of it back to less fortunate relatives, and create the best life they can for their kids. And, may I mention, they often do jobs that Americans have not wanted to do. I realize that may not be the case in St. Joseph, but it is a documented fact in other parts of the country, especially during times of lower unemployment. I have never had an ESOL student's parents NOT come for parent conferences, even if they don't speak fluently themselves (the district does provide a translator, which is appreciated, as my Spanish is not so great). It is a sad commentary, but I do believe skin color does come into issue, which is absurd. I believe many of the attacks against our President (whether you agree with him or not) are unfortunately "skin-color" motivated.

On another lighter note . . . I didn't know you were a LOST fanatic like myself. I can't believe I have spent six years in front of the television on the correct night or in front of my laptop catching up, and I don't know what I will do next year! I loved that show and its characters and themes and will miss it dearly. I don't know anyone in my daily life who watches the show, so I have missed talking about it. I started summer school this year still in the "haze" of thinking about LOST, ha!

revpeep said...


thanks for your thoughtful words. I agree with you re: the immigrants among us and about LOST!!! :)