Immigrants are not responsible for educating Americans about xenophobia

A student argues that United States citizens must combat xenophobia through education.


An increased number of Afghan refugees have arrived in the United States since the evacuation of Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control of the country on Aug. 14, AP News reported

More than 25,000 Afghan refugees have landed at the Philadelphia International Airport, as of Oct. 29, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported

In August, former President Donald Trump made a statement asking how many “terrorists” President Biden planned to bring to America, and James David Vance, a 2022 Ohio senatorial candidate, suggested insufficient screening of refugees would lead to the U.S. harboring people who believe they should blow themselves up, FiveThirtyEight reported.

Trump and Vance demonstrate xenophobia against Afghan refugees as they express anger and hatred against the refugees.

Americans need to educate themselves on international affairs to combat their prejudices and they cannot depend on immigrants to enlighten them about different cultures and ethnicities. People should be reading global news, becoming geopolitically educated and learning more about other cultures. After educating themselves, Americans must actively call out xenophobia and hate speech when they see it.

Xenophobia is the fear and hatred of people from other countries, or anything foreign. Ignorance leads to xenophobia, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the virus spreads, panic and hysteria have increased xenophobia and racism toward Asian people.

In March 2021, Robert Long killed six people of Asian descent, which further fueled racially-motivated hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the pandemic, CNBC reported.

Students, like Sahar Niaz, a sophomore biology major, and Vivian Falcão, a junior English major, enjoy teaching others about different aspects of their cultures and misconceptions they experience, but there is a limit to how much they can teach before it becomes tiring.

“It’s more tiring when they really don’t get it, when I have to explain myself again, and again, or try to get through to them,” Niaz said. 

Rymaz Ahmed, a senior bioengineering major, often feels required to educate others about misconceptions Sudanese people experience, she said. But Ahmed reaches her limit when re-teaching people the same things. 

“It’s tiring thinking of different ways to communicate the same point,” Ahmed said.

People often make the U.S. the center of their political understanding, so many Americans don’t understand other cultures, said Cristina Escobar, a sociology professor. 

“The more that you know about something different from the U.S. and abroad, the better you are able to contextualize your thinking, contextualize your situation, understand other people and understand others’ differences,” Escobar said.

Geopolitics can strengthen peoples’ understanding of other culture’s dynamics, which is essential in understanding immigrants’ experiences. 

A lot of misconceptions about immigrants come from not knowing enough information about immigrant perspectives, said Carolina Villamil Grest, a social work professor. 

“Issues are multi-layered, and it’s really difficult to explain something or understand something just from one sentence, or just a five-minute reporting or reading a headline,” Grest said.

The responsibility to educate native-born Americans about international affairs is not solely on immigrants or international students.

“If you’re part of a community, you don’t have a responsibility ever to educate anyone who is outside of that,” Falcão said.

Students must be actively educating themselves by reading global news, becoming literate in geopolitics and learning more about other cultures’ traditions and customs.

Oftentimes, Americans deny the existence of racism or discrimination against people of color. 

Students experience trauma from being discriminated against in an educational setting, which commonly creates barriers, according to United We Dream, an youth-led immigrant community whose goal is to provide welcoming spaces for young people.

Ahmed has experienced microaggressions in class because of preconceived stereotypes, she said.

“I’m lighter skinned and I have features that people don’t usually associate with Africans, so I get like ‘Oh! There’s no way you’re African, there’s no way you’re from Sudan,’” Ahmed said 

Microaggressions in classrooms disrupt students’ ability to engage with learning processes because their feelings are questioned.

While Falcão feels uncomfortable when professors ask where students are from because of classmates’ reactions, she said.

It is not on immigrants to educate native-born Americans. We must be combating our own internalized xenophobia through education.

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