Brig Ambue and the Refugee Crisis (Content Warning: Violence, Terrorism, Racism, Eugenics)

As a woman in a fairly middle-class living situation (owing completely to the generosity of a partner who’s willing to have my back when shit goes sideways), benefiting from the privilege of “Do they even make makeup light enough for this skin tone?”, I’m fully aware that I may not be the right one to beat this drum, and I hope I’m not speaking over someone who’s more qualified to speak to it. But this has been a knot in my gut for weeks, and I have to say something.

The refugee crisis in Europe has reached staggering levels, and the US has only committed to take in ten thousand people. Human rights groups estimate that we should be taking on six times that to pull our fair share of the weight, and yet people at home are screaming that we can’t possibly handle an influx of refugees when we can’t take care of our own. Bullshit. We don’t want to pull our weight on a global scale, unless it involves blowing things up and playing soldier with our guns and bombs. When it comes time to lead in issues of nuclear disarmament, universal health care, human rights, gender equality, and yes, taking in people with nowhere safe to go, we’re more than happy to let other countries take point.

When Brighid, in her aspect of Brig Ambue, went up against the powerful and the rich, it wasn’t for the people who were comfy in their fancy apartment buildings with a nice view of the city skyline. The Ambue were the “cowless ones,” the ones with no wealth, few material goods, and no place in society, and she negotiated a place for them and a way for them to marry (which meant becoming part of “normal” society and having families and homes to go to).  She made a place for them, and I can’t look at the refugees crowding into Europe with nowhere to go on arrival without seeing the Ambue of our time.

Warsan Shire said it better than I can, in her poem “Home.” Fair warning, this is NOT an easy read, but please, click it and read it anyway. (Content warning: very direct references to violence and rape)

For as long as there has been humanity, there has been the scary Them. In the US, it has been Native Americans and a price for every Native scalp a hunter could buy, African-Americans who for much of our shameful history weren’t considered quite human enough to own themselves  and even now get painted in the media as “thugs” to excuse trigger happy police officers, Chinese immigrants who were literally worked to death building railroads, Japanese-Americans locked in internment camps during World War II, so many others that it makes me sick just to think about it. In his book War Against The Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race (2003), Edwin Black even connects the intellectual roots of the Holocaust with the eugenics movement in the US in the early 20th century. So much for “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” right?

I saw an infographic a few weeks ago that really hit home for me. I can’t find it now, and I don’t know how accurate it was, but it talked about asking people around the world what country they thought was the greatest threat to world peace. In the US and Canada, it was Iran. In India, it was Pakistan. But the thing that felt like a kick in my gut was that for many countries in the world, it was the US. You know how people tell you when you’re a kid not to be afraid of spiders and snakes, because they’re as afraid of you as you are of them, and you’re bigger? That’s the reality of the American image around the world. This is not the American dream we’ve been sold, and it’s not a national identity that I want any part of.

I hear people raising the concern about whether ISIL will use the refugee crisis to get operatives into the United States. Quite frankly, I find that far-fetched with the degree of screening the UN is putting these refugees through, but you know what else? It’s ironic to think that people are afraid of people from Middle Eastern countries coming into the United States to commit violence, when the wars our government has manufactured have killed so many people there.

If the US wants to be a major world power, we need to stop trying to be a driving force for war and start being a driving force behind humanitarian efforts. If nothing else, can we stop for a minute and think about all the ways we’ve benefitted from the contributions of our diverse population? I mean, this week when Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for taking a homemade clock to school, with authorities calling it a “hoax bomb,” early reports claimed he was of Syrian descent, not Sudanese. Sorry, but the engineering geek they were thinking of, building stuff at home in his free time, son of a Syrian rather than Sudanese immigrant? That was Steve Jobs.

The most important thing to see about the people flooding into Europe from homes where it’s not safe for them to stay? They’re people. And if there’s anything to be learned from the story of Brig Ambue, it’s that we have a responsibility to those who have nothing. Let’s put the fear aside and be the country we claim to be.