When We’re Entirely Too Comfortable with the Existence of Poverty (Part 2)

I heard this happen:

In the midst of boarding a plane, I overheard the row of people behind me striking up a conversation. They were talking a bit loudly, but initially, it was kind of refreshing to hear them make so many connections to each other. They were each strangers to one another and were introducing themselves and finding some commonalities. At one point, the man sitting in the window seat said, “Now I don’t want to get too controversial, but there’s a lot of ignorance out there these days.” They were talking loudly enough that it was kind of hard to tune out their conversation, but I didn’t hear what he was referring to or why he made the statement.

It’s just kind of interesting because…

Once the flight took off, the woman in the middle seat asked that man in the window seat, “So are you a Jesus freak?”

“Oh yeah, I’m a Jesus freak!”

I wondered where this was going to go. I never heard the man in the aisle seat speak again. Maybe he wasn’t a “Jesus freak.”

At first, they talked about Christian music and bands that they liked, but quickly after asking this question, the woman in the middle seat said, “Once, I was in the airport, and this man wearing a turban approached me! This was right after 9/11, so I was really scared, you know?”

Keep in mind, they are talking really loudly. Do they consider that this might be hurtful or offensive to someone?

“I had a Jesus shirt on. He came straight up to me, and he asked, ‘Are you a Christian?’ And I was like, ‘Oh Lord, help me. What is this?’ I was really scared. Then I said yes, and he said, ‘I really love Christians!'” Then they started laughing.

Then they started talking about immigration. Lord, help me.

“Now I don’t want to get political,” he said, “but we need to do something at the southern border.”

“That’s right,” she chimed in.

“I have no problem with people coming here, if they do it the right way.” He gave an example of somebody coming here in what he determined to be the right way.

This is a pretty common statement from people, but I wondered, do they have any idea how hard it is to come into this country “the right way?” Do they know, or do they care, that this administration is refusing to renew the visas of people who are already here legally and entered the country that way? Do they know that it’s a completely legal process, and more importantly, a human right, to present at the border and seek asylum? Are they willing to consider or have empathy for the violence and poverty people are fleeing? Are they willing to consider the history that the United States has helped destabilize the nations they’ve left, creating some of the very dynamics that have plunged their lives into violence and poverty? Are they willing to have any sense of commonality and connection with immigrants, or is their identity as “Jesus freaks,” less overarching than their determination of who is a citizen (and deserving of it) and who is not? For them, where does the ultimate commonality lie?

All of these questions were swirling around in my mind as they continued to talk, and I admit I was getting angry at the “Jesus freaks” who had no qualms talking loudly with fear and anger about people with brown skin.

“I paid thousands of dollars in taxes last year,” he said, “And that should be going to pay for my Dad with a disability. But it goes to them. They don’t pay any taxes, but my taxes go to them.”

No, his taxes don’t go there. Undocumented immigrants are completely ineligible for government social services, by policy and because they don’t have a social security number. And what’s more, if they are employed, unless they’re being paid under the table, they’re all paying taxes. Undocumented immigrants paid hundreds of billions in taxes, no small number, in 2018. See here and here.

“Yes, it’s just so wrong,” she said, “They are just stealing. Stealing everywhere all the time.”

And that’s when I couldn’t take it anymore, not only because their information was wrong, and not only because they were talking loudly without any concern that their words might hit home or hurt someone else (though definitely that) but also because the “Jesus freaks” were completely willing to stereotype and accuse people different than themselves this whole flight so far.

I turned my head in their direction and said loudly (a bit more exasperated than I intended to sound, though I indeed was) “Immigrants pay taxes too!!!”

They said nothing. Then they said nothing for the rest of the flight. In fact, they soon fell asleep.

I didn’t regret saying that, which was only one tiny piece of a response. But I didn’t feel good about any of this either. The whole thing just felt so yucky.

But I’ve been reflecting about it ever since.

Renee Roederer

This piece is connected to another as well:

When We’re Entirely Too Comfortable with the Existence I’d Poverty (Part 2)

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