Making America a safe haven again

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Jade Cohen ’17

Just the other day while I was babysitting, I witnessed the infamous fight between two five-year-old girls over whose painting was better. After the girls exchanged a series of hostile words, their squabble ended with one of them storming off to her room under the weight of the comment that she was no longer welcomed in the activity. 
As any responsible babysitter would, I followed her upstairs and spent the next 20 minutes restoring a sense of belonging and inviting her to rejoin the fun.
As a teenager witnessing this frivolous disagreement between two young girls, it was easy to be amused and wonder how painting pictures could escalate into such severe exclusion.

Jade Cohen '17
Jade Cohen ’17

Adults in contemporary society, however, are in no position to scorn the exclusion of the young girl when the same treatment is being imposed on American-born foreigners on a daily basis. As racial prejudice continues to dominate society, America’s democratic ideals slip farther and farther away.  
Just recently, an American-born Asian named Michael Luo experienced this sense of rejection as he and his family were leaving church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The rejection came in the form of a well-to-do American woman exhorting him and his family to “Go back to China,” according to the New York Times.
In the same way that the five-year-old girl retreated into the safety of her room to escape a state of unwantedness, so too do the majority of foreigners in America seek refuge from relentless and unwarranted exclusion based on race. 
As Michael Luo observed, according to the New York Times, “It’s this persistent sense of otherness that a lot of us struggle with every day. That no matter what we do, how successful we are, what friends we make, we don’t belong. We’re foreign. We’re not American.”
Of course, I could suggest that Americans should put themselves in the shoes of foreigners and try to understand their struggle to belong, but this methodology is no more likely to succeed now than it has in the past. It is as though a sense of superiority blinds American citizens. As a result, they are incapable of recognizing the inherent value of all individuals at the most fundamental level. 
It is not as though the marginalization of those who are different is a new societal epidemic. Rather, it is woven throughout the fabric of American history and brought into the spotlight
Jade Cohen '17
Jade Cohen ’17

particularly through literature.
In fact, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter immediately comes to mind as a text which reveals the instinctual exclusivity and closed-mindedness of human nature. Hester Prynne’s stringent Puritan counterparts scorn her bold act of straying from the norm as a free-spirited adulteress. She seeks refuge in her cottage on the outskirts of the town in the same way that the five-year-old girl retreated to her room. Although the theme of “othering” that dominates this novel is not rooted in race or ethnicity, it highlights the alienation and estrangement catalyzed by exclusion. 
There is something inherently wrong, however, with the fact that Americans are able to stand by and watch foreigners retreat, hide, and grovel for acceptance in the country that is meant to be their home and even their birthplace. Additionally, America is unique in that foreigners are entitled to expect a sense of belonging in a democratic nation founded upon the ideals of equality and justice.
Ultimately, we can try to curb the shameful act of othering, marginalizing, and rejecting foreigners by drawing attention to it through literature and discussion. As with any societal issue, however, the change comes from within ourselves. We need to cultivate fluid mindsets, force ourselves to be more accepting, and learn to look beyond appearance and our own unfounded fears to discover the authenticity and value of all individuals regardless of origin.
– Jade Cohen, Content Editor