Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Racism in Europe and and the Democratic Possibility of Immigrants

Lest you think immigration is only an American issue, this article from the Economist clarifies how Western Europe is undergoing a spasm of xenophobia and outright racism against foreigners.

The racism is unmistakeable. You can watch this video, produced by the Swiss People's Party, for the most recent parlimentary campaign in which the SPP won a sizeable plurality. The video contrasts the "heaven" that could be Switzerland or the "hell" that will result if the leftists win and bring all their dark-skinned friends with them.

Yet, the problem is not completely racial. Some, like French President Sarkozy, are railing against Turkish entry into the EU, of course, but many in Europe are opposed to "white" immigrants from Eastern Europe as well. What is interesting are the contrasting attitudes. As this article makes clear out about Polish immigrants to the UK, many people see them as harder working than natives, and yet feel that they might pose a social problem by taking away jobs. While the situation of Polish immigrants is unique (many are highly educated and yet doing menial labor), the rhetoric surrounding their presence sounds familiar to American ears about Mexicans.

What is interesting about the above article from the Christian Science Monitor is the point about cultural attitudes. Poles are excited about learning new cultural and political attitudes and bringing then back to Poland--a kind of cultural remittance. But as this article examines, maybe there is something that Brits can learn about democratic renewal and the revitalizing of public spaces of discussion from the presence of Poles. Perhaps this can be lesson to Americans--maybe we can learn how to be more democratic by listening to the experiences of our immigrants and take lessons from the way they live their lives around us instead of assuming that it is only they that have something to learn about democracy from us.

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