Me: [I post one of about a thousand pro-immigrant rights/justice items on my profile]
FB Friend: Illegal is illegal // Call thieves Robin Hoods? // Murderers, life exchangers // Rapists, can’t even say it…// Karen, why is it wrong to say what is true?
Me: Are we talking “illegal” related to the immigration debate? Because an action is illegal, not a human being.
FB Friend: Crossing the border w/o visa is illegal // Overstaying visa is illegal // I appreciate your compassion, yet disagree with your logic // Don’t wanna get into a Chomsky debate
Me: it’s a civil infraction (that’s my understanding) yet people are detained, sometimes months at a time. but because it’s not criminal, they don’t have a right to due process, and thusly a lawyer. not cool
One of the joys of Facebook, and I mean that without snark, is that I get to connect with people of my past. High school friends. People I went to college with. In my experience, it’s not always re-connection. Some of the FB connections are with people with whom I was once friends, or at least friendly, so that counts as a reconnection. But other connections are just that – basically, first time.
For instance, I have been communicating with someone who I FB-friended early in my presence on FB when I was in the phase of competitive collecting: I wanted a really BIG number of friends. Please don’t ask me with whom I was competing. Myself? My high school self? – cuz, girl, I could slap you down just by looking at you, I am so much more evolved (and popular) than you ever thought you could be, so shuddup. Yeah, right.
I must fess up now that I was a pretty dogmatic young person in the world when I was a young adult. I was politically active (op-eds, graffiti, civil disobedience, and got arrested). I attended a highly divided, primarily conservative campus with intense gender, race, and class politics, some of which were explicit and some of which were subterranean. On campus, it was safe for no one to come out as GLBT and “queer” wasn’t in use yet (it was just starting as I left college). Nationally, it was the height of identity politics. All of this made for intense interactions.
My senior year, I took a seminar called Women and Activism; in it there were 10 of us: eight women, two men (one of whom is a dear friend still). At some point, the categorization of men emerged: wolves and foxes. Wolves are outright aggressive, you know to be weary of them, you know they can hurt you. Foxes are sly, they can hide in plain sight, they might even seem cute and friendly, they can sneak up on you without you knowing it, they are dangerous. Most, though not all of the women, agreed they would rather be with a wolf than a fox. There was near consensus that one of the men in class was a wolf (a fraternity brother who enrolled in the class because he lost a bet) and one (my friend) was a fox. Eventually, the class reorganized so that the men took the course separately from the women. The wolf did so incredulously. The fox did so in support of creating safe women’s space, his feelings hurt, but wanting to be in solidarity. I doubt that was legal, but that’s how it played out then.
Clearly my FB friend understands and analyzes immigration justice and policy differently than I do. Since I don’t know him well, I can only speculate, but one of my guesses, based on our periodic exchanges, is not only do we not share similar political leanings, but that we have different temperaments. I know we access Spirit differently – we’ve talked about that explicitly, as well as have different comfort with how involved in community each of us wants to be.
I know that a lot of what I write about and advocate can hardly be called pragmatic. I wonder about pragmatic qualities – when they are wholesome and worthy, when they are selling ourselves short in the future by seeing only what the now presents. I recently starting like the difference between managing and transforming: conflict, national borders, human relationships. I think pragmatic is about management. I aim to transform (and fail mostly, but it’s still a worthy aim).
Me: [I post another of about a thousand pro-immigrant rights/justice items on my profile]
FB Friend: Are Jews illegal in settlements?
Me: The settlements are illegal, in my opinion.
FB Friend: And the settlers?
Me: Haven’t ever thought of this, but I guess my answer would be not. Their actions, their product, but not their person.
The conversations between me and my FB friend, particularly around the use of the word “illegal” to describe any human being, has brought to mind two quotes. The first is from Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”
And then another quote, sometimes attributed to the Buddha, recently attributed to Gandhi by Tara Brach (see my post on laziness regarding attribution), but actually from The Dhammapada, a collection of truisms put into writing in the 3rd century BCE. Here is a translation by Thomas Byrom:
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
There are so many reasons not to call immigrants in this country without proper documentation illegal. Maria Hinojosa, while delivering the Ware Lecture at the UU General Assembly last June spoke of her learning from Elie Wiesel. Hinojosa, a Latina is a respected journalist. She told a story about some years back, when she was using the terms “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant” until Elie Wiesel prompted her to think such a thing through. Not only did he say that no human being is illegal, she mentioned that he said to her, no doubt paraphrased, that this is how it started in Nazi Germany, by making Jews (and others) illegal. You can see that powerful Ware Lecture here.
So many reasons not to call a human being illegal. Because if I use that word, I must be thinking it. How I think, is how I conceptualize or how I make the world. I engage others based on this conceptualization. It is the basis for rational emotive theory, it is the basis of Buddhist understandings. If I use the word illegal to describe you, I begin to think that’s what you are, what your being is. Not only does it impact what I think of you, it impacts who I think I am; it impacts what my character is.
So no more wolves, no more foxes, and no more illegals. Out of respect for them, as well as out of respect for my own character, my integrity, which I am always, humbly, trying to strengthen in service of this world and a future I help to co-create.
FB Friend: Always be consistent! I’ll be watching you. 🙂
Me: okay. let me know when i’m inconsistent and flawed. i know i am, but am not always aware of it. thanks for your company…
FB Friend: Makes at least two of us. Thanks to you, too. // Be careful about being surrounded by those who agree with you. No challenge there! // I love your passion; beware of passion.
Me: [quoting Wendell Berry’s, How to Be a Poet] Any readers // who like your poems, // doubt their judgment.