Two relatively minor news items, reflecting the attitudes of some Americans towards immigrants and the homeless, caught my attention.
The first item is about a plan to create a shelter, in the Chicago area, for Indian and Chinese undocumented children. The project has hit a snag because the residents don’t want them there. As is so often the case, the real objections are covered in high-sounding platitudes. Some are concerned that the children could escape and pose a threat. To whom, is not specified. As one community leader self righteously declared, “We are not against the children, we are not against anybody. But the whole purpose of zoning laws is to protect the integrity of the neighborhood.” ‘Integrity’ is the key word. Can’t have “strange” kids running around in the streets. It would lower property values. In essence, what these fine people are saying is; we’re fine with the shelter – as long as it’s not in our backyard.
The second news item concerns Lake Eola Park in Orlando, Florida. Amidst the palm trees and a cascading lake fountain, there are signs – coached in delightful officialese – like “Do not lie or otherwise be in a horizontal position on a park bench”. Or this gem: “Do not sleep or remain in any bushes, scrubs or foliage”. Since dog walkers and joggers are unlikely to snooze in the bushes, these notices are clearly targeted at the homeless. Going one better, an ordinance – currently being challenged by the ACLU – has been passed in Las Vegas, which makes it an offence to give food to even a single transient in any city park.
To an outsider, these types of ordinances would appear to illustrate that Americans are uncaring about the underprivileged in their country. However, as someone who has visited the USA many times and has a number of American friends, I know the opposite to be true. America is probably one of the most tolerant nations on earth. Compare this to Saudi Arabia, for example, where – apart from a few expatriates employed by multinational companies – you cannot even get a job if you don’t happen to embrace Islam. Even some “enlightened” European nations make use of “outsiders” to do the jobs they sneer at – but the “darkies” are barely tolerated.
So how, then, does one explain this dichotomy in America’s case? I believe this sort of discrimination is not part of any national character but, rather, an inescapable facet of the human condition. From the beginning of civilization, human society has been divided into the haves and the have-nots: kings and the aristocracy on one side; and the common folk on the other. Yes, over the centuries, the divine rights of monarchs and nobles have been whittled down – though not done away with altogether. (Anyone who believes that Putin is not the new Czar of Russia, in everything but name, is deluding himself). The world is striving towards the ideals of democracy; and America has always been in the vanguard of this movement.
I guess what I’m getting as at is that – except for a few bleeding heart liberals, perhaps – there is no occasion for the apparent “injustice” towards some immigrants and the homeless to make Americans feel guilty about themselves. These actions do not make them heartless – just human.