Colorism has long been a problem in many countries around the world. From India and their commercials for harmful “skin lightening” products, to the United States and the political advertisements warning against Mexican migrant caravans full of asylum-seekers hoping for refuge from the cartels. Unfortunately, in the current political climate, the problems associated with colorism are becoming far more frequent than in previous years. In particular, issues arising from Executive Order 13769, or what is more commonly referred to as Trump’s travel ban, seem to be the most pressing and daunting for our nation. No matter what someone’s stance is on these issues, we must understand the implications that such a measure can have on how the United States is viewed by the world.
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Colorism is defined as a within-group and between-group prejudice in favor of lighter skin color (Knight, 2015). Bias to skin color has been researched ever since the famous doll study of the 1950’s. This study showed that Black children preferred the lighter-skinned dolls because they had internalized the thought that the darker-skinned doll was evil, bad, or dirty. Internalization of colorism can lead to implicit biases that favor light skin (Knight, 2015). Another more recent study of colorism from Eddie Fergus at New York University showed that Mexican and Puerto Rican males with white-looking skin are treated better than boys with the same ethnicity that have darker skin (Knight, 2015). Some of these boys received different educational and economic outcomes, depending on their skin colors.
Religious discrimination has also been a prevalent occurrence in the United States. Religious discrimination is treating a person unfavorably because of their religious beliefs (U.S. EEOC). Although the First Amendment to the Constitution gives citizens a right to religious freedom, this has not stopped biases from occurring during our history. For example, when colonizing America, many Native Americans were slaughtered under the premise that they were “heathens” or those that had no God, and so they had no right to the land (Davis, 2010). In addition to that, there were many laws on the books regarding religion when America was a newly independent country. For example, in Massachusetts during the late 1700’s, only Christians were allowed to hold public office (Davis, 2010). Though these are old examples, unconscious biases have been passed down and been reinvented into discrimination towards Muslims and those with darker complexions or who use a different language than English.
One of the most common stereotypes in America is that darker skin has an association with criminality, according to social scientists (Knight 2015). Studies have shown that people with darker skin are thought to misbehave more, be more suspicious, and are more likely to commit crimes that people with lighter skin. Additionally, the United States still has a problem with religious discrimination. The Trump administration has long been accused of this through potential laws and ordinances they have attempted to create. Obviously, these are deep-rooted issues that must be addressed and looked at through the context of one of the highest positions in the United States: the presidency and the use of executive orders. Executive Order 13769, or the travel ban, is the one that will be talked about in detail.
Executive Order 13769 was issued on January 27, 2017 by Donald Trump in response to apparent terrorist attacks, such as 9/11, that we have seen more frequently on United States’ soil. The ‘Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States’ aims to “prevent the admission of foreign nationals who intend to exploit United States immigration laws for malevolent purposes” (Trump, 2017). However, this ban only applied to several predominantly Muslim countries. This can be seen as a religious intolerance problem as well as a problem of colorism. None of the countries on this so-called ban included countries that were predominantly White. Further, Trump used this “zero tolerance” for illegal immigration to separate young children from their parents while they crossed into the country “illegally” (Liptak & Shear, 2018)
While Trump’s executive order tries to justify the travel ban by stating the need to “…be vigilant during the visa-issuance process to ensure that… do not intend to harm Americans and that they have no ties to terrorism” (Trump, 2017), the ban has no empirical evidence that people who are seeking visas and asylum from those countries have any ties to terrorism. In addition to the first travel ban, created in January 2017, Trump launched a new travel ban. This ban came into effect in December 2018, and the Supreme Court confirmed its legality in a 5-to-4 decision (Liptak & Shear, 2018). This ban effectively suspended the issuance of visas from Muslim-majority countries including Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Venezuela, and North Korea (Liptak & Shear, 2018).
While Trump’s administration adamantly denied that the ban was anti-Muslim, it was hard to justify the ban of those specific countries otherwise. Other than North Korea, whose citizens are usually not allowed to travel, and Venezuela, the countries on the travel ban are majority Muslim (Liptak & Shear, 2018). Also, in the Executive Order from 2017, there are phrases that upset many people. “The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law” (Trump, 2017). However, these “violent ideologies” do not relate to a majority of the immigrants from those countries that are seeking visas to come to the United States. A large number of the people are students, coming for an education and to better their lives. Trump’s ban grants exceptions for these students, but their applications are delayed for months following the extensive background checks (Gladstone & Sugiyama, 2018).
The harsher vetting processes for student applications left many of United States colleges seeing a large drop in the number of immigrant students (Gladstone & Sugiyama, 2018). This lead to many Iranian students who accepted offers in the United States to look elsewhere for their education and for future job prospects. This should bother us, because immigrants help to diversify colleges and the workforce. With this travel ban in place, essentially we are losing brilliant minds to other more progressive and open countries in exchange for perceived “protection” from possible terrorist attacks.
Unfortunately, the travel ban led to more drastic measures taken by the Trump administration, including calls to action to build “the wall”, effectively separating the United States from Mexico with a larger physical border. To top it off, Trump began the practice of removing children from their parents who were illegally crossing the border and placing them in detainment camps. In his fight to “stop the drugs”, Trump ripped away innocent children from their families and left them with emotional trauma and scars (Gladstone & Sugiyama, 2018).
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It seems as though the travel ban’s existence may have come about because of Trump’s seemingly anti-Muslim agenda. For example, during his presidency he made certain statements on the social media platform Twitter that “we need a TRAVEL BAN for certain DANGEROUS countries”, followed by him retweeting several anti-Muslim videos (Liptak & Shear, 2018). This is simply conjecture, but it gives a new light to this seemingly protective and pro-American executive order.
Those who support Trump argue that his travel ban will show the world that the United States is no longer tolerating terrorist attacks from foreign nationals. However, over the past 40 years, zero people have been killed on U.S. soil in terrorist attacks involving immigrants from any of the nations on the banned list (Griffiths, Dewan, & Smith, 2018). Additionally, it is important to look at what is happening in the countries Trump is ignoring. In North Korea, for example, there are major human rights violations that occur daily. The citizens are restricted from traveling, and if they want to leave they must enter work programs that have “slave-like” conditions (Griffiths, Dewan, & Smith, 2018). In Syria, the civil war has killed over 400,000 people and hundreds of thousands more have fled, seeking refuge in neighboring countries and the United States. In Iran, because of economic sanctions due to oil production, the country has hit a period of immense unemployment and therefore riots have broken out in retaliation (Griffiths, Dewan, & Smith, 2018).
In my opinion, I believe that the travel ban should be considered unconstitutional and biased. There has been too many instances of Trump and his administration using the ban to fuel their own biases and hatred towards those coming from different countries. In addition, I think that it is fundamentally unfair that those on the banned travel list are majority Muslim and have darker complexion. Many immigrants from Russia and Europe are allowed into the United States and some of the reason why has to do with their complexion. I also do not think that a larger physical border separating the United States with Mexico will help the drug problem in this country. Many of the immigrants from these countries are seeking asylum or to get an education, and should not be treated as though they are criminals.
In order to fix this problem, I think that the travel ban should be removed permanently. There has not been a terror attack in this country at the hands of immigrants since September 11, 2011, and even then it was the actions of a few people that caused those horrific events. In order to grow as a country and follow the First Amendment of the Constitution, we need to do better. We cannot let fear run this country, and we cannot, and hopefully will not, let discrimination win. As Michelle Obama fittingly said, “When they go low, we go high.”
- Davis, K. C. (2010, October 01). America’s True History of Religious Tolerance. Retrieved December 8, 2018, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/americas-true-history-of-religious-tolerance-61312684/
- Gladstone, R., & Sugiyama, S. (2018, July 01). Trump’s Travel Ban: How It Works and Who Is Affected. Retrieved December 8, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/01/world/americas/travel-ban-trump-how-it-works.html
- Griffiths, J., Dewan, A., & Smith, E. (2018, June 27). What it’s like in the 7 countries on Trump’s travel ban list. Retrieved December 8, 2018, from https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/27/politics/trump-travel-ban-countries-intl/index.html
- Knight, D. (2015, Fall). “What’s ‘Colorism’?” Retrieved December 8, 2018, from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2015/whats-colorism
- Liptak, A., & Shear, M. D. (2018, June 26). Trump’s Travel Ban Is Upheld by Supreme Court. Retrieved December 8, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/26/us/politics/supreme-court-trump-travel-ban.html
- Religious Discrimination. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2018, from https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/religion.cfm
- Trump, D. J. (2017, January 27). Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. Retrieved December 8, 2018, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-protecting-nation-foreign-terrorist-entry-united-states/
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