A panel discussion addressing xenophobia under President Donald Trump’s administration was held Monday afternoon in the University of Michigan International Institute, where action against microaggressions and social threats were among the most highlighted topics.
The panel, which more than 50 students and faculty attended, opened with Ann Arbor City Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5), director of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, who led with a call to action against xenophobia not only in the rejection of visible hate crimes, but of microaggressions as well.
“I’ve seen the importance that these social affirmations of values can have for people who are under attack,” he said.
Warpehoski’s sentiments and the panel’s title — “Xenophobia in the Age of Trump: The Roots, Context and Remedies” — alluded to current tensions in both the local and national political climate. With the recent spike in hate crimes following Trump’s election, many audience members expressed their desire to take a stand against xenophobia and inquired for ways to become activists.
History Prof. Anne Berg followed with a brief presentation outlining the approaches the Nazi regime in Germany used to mark “deviants,” specifically those of African descent, differently-abled individuals and Jewish people. She also affirmed these same tropes are rampant in society today, with the fear that “others” in society are somehow a threat to the system and an “us.”
“Usually it's that the inferiors are both painted as dramatically weak and at the same time extremely dangerous,” she said. “They’re accused of being a burden on the system. In that respect, not much has changed.”
Following Berg’s presentation, Sociology Prof. Fatma Müge Göçek explored societal violence, both in the United States and her home country, Turkey. She highlighted the importance of acknowledging structural violence in an effort to delegitimize it, citing examples from sexual assault on college campuses to torture at the Guantanamo Bay prison.
“One problem with the American approach is that we always see this violence occurring everywhere else and we do not actually acknowledge the violence occurring in our own society,” she said.
She went on to outline the distinctions between white guilt versus responsibility, claiming that white Americans need to take moral and ethical responsibility for the past and actively work to make things better, rather than simply feel guilty. She concluded on a positive note, adding she has great faith in millennials for upholding values of inclusivity for the future.
She was followed by Political Science Prof. Vince Hutchings, who provided another perspective with his extensive background in U.S. domestic policy. He stressed the racial divide in politics has provided an incentive for politicians to use racial priming in an effort to pull in voters and satisfy constituents. He vocalized his disapproval of these tactics by both the Democratic and Republican Parties and expressed his hope for a less divided political climate for the future.
LSA senior Christine Liu later expressed her satisfaction with the panel.
“I thought it was a good explanation of what may need to happen to rectify the onset of xenophobia that has been more outwardly expressed with this recent election cycle,” she said.