The Experiences of White and Non-White Immigrants
by Natalie Perlov on Friday, December 5th, 2014
America is often referred to as a “melting-pot,” a conglomeration of cultures, ethnicities, races, and religions. Immigrants from all over the world come to America to take advantage not only of the seemingly limitless opportunities available, but also of the many freedoms it grants its inhabitants. In fact, many of us here at Milton are either immigrants ourselves or second generation immigrants, the children of those immigrants who have come to establish a better life for their families. However, despite the promise of a “better” future, many immigrants, especially those of color, feel dissatisfied with their living conditions upon arriving in America. From personal testimonies and statistics, it is clear to me that non-white immigrants are treated worse than white immigrants.
My own parents immigrated to the United States from South Africa in 1995. They were offered good jobs from a New York-based consulting firm, and took the opportunity to leave behind their relatively precarious lives in South Africa. As white immigrants, they encountered little to no racial discrimination; Americans wholeheartedly accepted them, often complimenting them on their unique accents. While they faced discrimination based on their religion back in South Africa, upon immigrating, people weren’t as hostile towards their Jewish faiths. My parents even found a thriving South African community (including people who had even grown up on the same street as my parents did in South Africa!). Overall, my parents’ immigration was a joyful experience: they assimilated easily and faced no notable racial discrimination.
However, Aeshna Chandra’s (II) parents faced different challenges. Her father came to the States in 1985 as a graduate student on a full scholarship to Penn State; her mother soon joined him in 1991. They were hard-pressed to find anyone who shared their culture or customs. In contrast to my parents’ positive experience, the Chandras faced ignorance more than acceptance of their religion. Dr. Chandra’s education was scorned, despite his matriculation from one of the most prestigious colleges in India. Many immigrants of color have found settling into jobs to be difficult, due to prejudices from their American counterparts. Also, as we see with the border crisis every day, many people dislike immigrants, legal or otherwise, as supposed potential threats to finding jobs. Many immigrants, as with the Chandras, often end up in communities made of those who share similar backgrounds and cultures as places where acceptance is not a problem.
The prejudices the Chandras faced are not unique to their situation. A 2007 Gallup poll, conducted from June 4 to June 24, involved 2,388 random telephone interviews with adults living in the States. The poll revealed that more than 50% of immigrants of color were not pleased with their treatment in the U.S., as opposed to the majority of white immigrants who claimed satisfaction. The statistics, broken down, show that 71% of Hispanics—the largest pool of immigrants to the US—and 68% of black immigrants feel disgruntled by the prejudice and racism confronting them. In contrast, only 44% of white immigrants were dissatisfied with their treatment. As the results of this survey clearly show, white immigrants were treated better than their non-white counterparts.
Looking at the bigger picture, we ourselves can see examples of this inequality across the country. At airports, people who seem as if they could be from the Middle East are often pulled aside for “random” security checks every day. In Arizona, the law allows police officers to demand the papers of people they encounter on the streets due to ‘reasonable suspicion’ that these people are in the country illegally. These police officers can arguably only base their assumptions about the legality of these people on the color of their skin, putting the Latino population, legal or illegal, at a higher risk for being stopped than others. However, if a white immigrant were to walk down a street in Arizona, what would the police do (or, more likely, not do)?
By immigrating to America, both families, Aeshna’s and my own, were able to create a different, arguably even better, life for their children. However, their experiences were different—a discrepancy largely based on the difference in the color of their skin. My parents, white immigrants, faced no discrimination or prejudice based on their race or ethnicity. In contrast, the Chandras, Indian immigrants, often felt ostracized due to racial prejudices, though they never experienced any outright hate crimes. Gallup data provides concrete evidence that, more often than not, non-white immigrants are generally treated worse than are white immigrants. Although Americans think of their country as a haven for people of all races and religions, ethnicities and backgrounds, we must ask the question: how long will it be until all immigrants are treated equally, regardless of the color of their skin?
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