It’s been a week of trauma for our country, with two mass shootings over the weekend, the passing of one of the greatest writers of our time, questions of our economic stability, and now news of the largest single-state ICE raid in our nation’s history.
My heart is heavy as I think about our divisiveness and attacks on one another, both physical and emotional. This isn’t a note about political ideals or choosing a side. Rather, it’s about the recognition of when we decide to pick on those smaller than us, we inherently make ourselves weak.
When I use the word “small” to refer to an individual or group, it’s not in reference to their worth or meaning. I’m alluding to people who are fighting for their survival, so focused on just having to do what they have no other option to do, who live an unexamined life that the vast majority of us in this country know nothing about.
I contemplate these peoples’ choices a lot, as the vitriolic words about nationalism and legality and keeping families together are everyday headlines. The notion that these people even HAVE a choice when their lives have become so narrow - a single battle to survive - is something, I believe, we don’t discuss enough.
I recommend a listen to This American Life’s two-part special on over eight months of interviews in a rural Alabama town where undocumented immigrants have come to make up over a quarter of the population and work in the town’s poultry plants.
Its similarities to the event of yesterday’s raids in Mississippi are uncanny. And I find myself asking of yesterday’s occurrence the same question I asked when I first listened to that podcast two years ago: “Why do we not hold large establishments responsible, but rather, the smallest of individuals?”
This is what a nation does when it is operating at a low frequency. It zeroes in on the low hanging fruit.
I envision it happening in the middle of the night. In the dark, a pounding on the door. A panicked rustling out of bed to quiet the waking baby. To call and alert the family members across town that they could be next.
But in reality, we’ve made it even simpler. A stark and brash occurrence in broad daylight. We’re seeing it unfold, live. While we watch lines of brown people handcuffed, carted off to a fate none of us could imagine, their children waiting to be picked up from school.
These people - who we have chosen to embroil in a conflict so much more complex than they would ever know - are living in the cramped corners of our society, not privy to networks of middle or upper class acquaintances, friends of lawyers or ties to heads of non-profits, banks, and other institutions. No reference letter or LinkedIn profile. No familial legacy. They can go unnoticed by so many of us because they are almost invisible to a culture drenched in constant media, celebrities, loud politicians, and Instagram influencers. They prepare our food, take out our trash, clean our homes.
I ask you to look at these quiet lives. These small lives that our nation has chosen to tear apart. Because when we decide to ruin the smallest of lives, we become the tiniest version of our potential.
If we were a country tapping into its highest self, we would hold accountable the companies who employ these undocumented workers. This would be hard work. To criminally prosecute someone in a position of power. To go against something bigger than ourselves, rather than make an example out of the weakest laborer we can find. Haven’t we learned that this is how the corporations keep control of all of us? Divide us, and then conquer us. Make us spew words of othering, rather than uniting. Turn the undocumented into devils. It’s a tale as old as time.
It’s so easy to pick on the small. Real effort and discourse rooted in change comes from dismantling a system that no longer fits us. Let us do the work. I hope we are big enough to do so.
With these words lifted off my chest, I feel a little more free. I was already so free. It’s just one of my many privileges: to never second guess vocalizing my inner thoughts. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Toni Morrison quotes:
“When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”