"My daughter was accepted at Rutgers and several other American universities. I am thinking of forbidding her to go."
This was the incredible comment that began a conversation here in Hangzhou, China, where I teach a course in ethics in science each summer. My professional colleague here has one child. This is, of course, the norm in China and parents are in constant fear of something happening to their only son or daughter. Our conversation centering on the fear of "looking different" while in the United States in today's political and cultural climate was quite distressing. What have we become in America?
More Information Michael J. Murphy is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus at the State University of New York and high end foreign expert at Zhejiang University of Technology, Hangzhou, China. The images in China from the BBC, CNN, CCTV (China Television), the internet, and the China Daily all paint a bleak picture of the dangers of being the "other" while on American soil. The reports illustrate in graphic detail the numerous accounts of verbal and physical harassment, deadly physical assault, and subtle and not-so-subtle racism and xenophobia.
The recent horrific story of a white Starbucks customer calling a black man a "slave" was something I never thought I would hear in my lifetime. The multiple reports of the killings of unarmed black men are a national shame, as was the recent stabbing attack in Oregon of men attempting to protect two Muslim women. The statistical rise in hate crimes documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center is exponential and unprecedented in recent history. My campus, Zhejiang University of Technology, could easily be an American campus in its make-up. The difference is that the majority population is largely ethnic Chinese with a good representation of international students and faculty. Multiple languages, women in hijabs, men and women of color, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, atheists and others are all are represented. The environment seems similar, yet my colleagues here in Hangzhou are deciding to send their children to Australia instead of the States or the UK.
From their perspective, this is quite reasonable, as the U.S. data concerning the increases in hate crimes is alarming. There is a certain evolving, unbridled meanness and willingness to attack and assault those who look "different" or talk differently in the United States. It is clear from media reports and from data from the Southern Poverty Law Center that it does not matter to the aggressor whether a person is an "illegal" immigrant, a refugee, a legally visiting student or worker, or an American born here with a non-European (white) background. They are different; therefore, they are bad and unwanted. What incredible talent will we lose because of this rampant xenophobia? So, my last week of teaching, we held a discussion in my ethics class that was not planned.
Do Americans still have a moral center? What is happening in the United States that may be a dangerous, pragmatic concern for a visitor? How can we develop strategies to keep talented visitors, students, and all peoples of permanent or temporary residence in the United States safe and flourishing? There are many, many good people in the States. However, it is the unfettered provoking and unleashing of the rabid, often ill-educated, racist and xenophobic that tarnishes our image abroad. That this provocation also comes from some in American leadership is not only a disgrace, but a danger to our national security and diplomacy and to our moral character.