Driving While Dark

Posted on June 23, 2010


There's nothing like sane, rational discourse -- and this is certainly nothing like it.

We often try to make improvements to immigration laws for problems outside their scope. The most lenient immigration policies won’t improve a society composed of myriad, bickering cultures.

And let’s put one old chestnut behind us right now. It’s often said (generally in that reproachful tone reserved for enlightened liberals when talking to ignorant conservatives) that unless we’re Native Indians, we’re all immigrants in North America. For some reason, this is always touted as a reason to ease immigration requirements, despite the fact that the resultant ruination of the Native Indian culture is an excellent historical example of what happens when immigration is left unchecked.

But immigration laws are only part of the story. There must also be a recognition by immigrants and the host culture that socialisation is necessary. Even with unchecked immigration, if the Europeans coming to the New World had felt a responsibility to the native way of life, then while Indian culture may still have changed over time, it would certainly have fared much better, and with far less resentment.

But although immigrants must expect to adapt themselves to the host culture, it is equally important for the host culture to make this adaptation as easy as possible — and to allow immigrants any cultural freedoms possible.

Strange as it may seem, things such the now-infamous “English Only” and “Driving While Dark” laws are just the reactions of a crude public consciousness recognising a very real crisis. I suspect most supporters of these laws, (at least, most of those who wash on a regular basis) are only too happy to allow new immigrants into the country — as long as the new citizens can fit into the society to which they have immigrated.

Are there out-and-out bigots giving their support to these laws? Of course there are. Where else would you expect to find them — singing Kumbaya with Shakira and a batch of illegal immigrants? But that doesn’t make the laws themselves bigoted. The laws are an attempt to return to the expectations that should be inherent in immigration.


Shakira is against the new laws in Arizona. She is also very beautiful (even if not quite up to Avril standards) and therefore, she must be right.

And there is nothing bigoted about these expectations. They are, after all, the exact same expectations we have of ourselves when the situation is reversed. We condemn fellow North Americans who go to other countries for business reasons, become citizens for tax reasons, and throw their weight around with the local governments. We condemn those who simply move to a different country and then complain about the culture and how hard it is because nobody speaks English. Hell, some even consider it insensitive to visit a country for a few weeks without first taking courses in the predominant language.

And that’s just for backpacking.

But as much as we hold ourselves to these standards, we engage in a strange form of racism when it comes to those from other cultures. What we consider rude, ill-mannered, and outright officious behaviour for ourselves, we allow, and even condone for those of other cultures . “Of course we don’t hold you to the same standards as ourselves,” we are effectively saying. “You have strange customs and beliefs and could never be expected to understand such a sophisticated concept.”

This is not meant to justify putting the entire onus of socialisation on immigrants. They have to provide the willingness, but the host culture has to supply a well-funded and extensive infrastructure to help new immigrants in as many ways as possible. This is especially true of  North America which relies so heavily on immigration for its population growth.

One of the foremost components of this infrastructure should be free and effective English classes (or French classes for those immigrating to Quebec). But the key word here is “effective.” Not ESL classes from which students “graduate” without enough English to order a meal at MacDonald’s. English classes for immigrants should be extensively funded and with every resource available to turn out students who can understand and communicate with those around them.

To do otherwise is to short-change our immigrants.

Without being able to read, write, and speak the predominant language of the society in which they live, immigrants have little ability to carve themselves a satisfactory place in that society. As a result, they become resentful, and resentment can lead to violence and civil disorder. Old religious, tribal, familial, and even gang ties are allowed to become more important than those of the culture around them, because they can see no way to integrate into the culture around them.

Yes, there are exceptions — the immigrant who builds a business yet can barely speak English and never learned to read or write it. There are also exceptions to the rule that a violent childhood produces violent adults, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good way to raise kids.

By not teaching — by not insisting, in fact — that our immigrants learn the language, and, where necessary, are schooled to our standards of education, we are effectively robbing them of the dream that motivated their immigration in the first place.

As a further benefit, should such classes be established, we could then send our own children to them, because the education system by which they are presently being held hostage is turning out graduates whose literacy is virtually no better than that of a new immigrant.

But that’s a side issue.

Of course, to take part in this socialisation, it is also necessary for the immigrant to be legal. Illegal immigrants are unable to use even the shoddy infrastructure that actually exists. Their careers are confined to minimum wage jobs, and their commitment to the host culture is virtually nil. Widespread illegal immigration puts a strain on the entire culture, only part of which is economical. In fact, illegal immigration can actually help an economy for a while by providing cheap labour. But as the illegal immigrant population increases in an area, higher end businesses will pull out, and the economy goes down, leaving behind streets run by imported gangs.

Fair immigration laws. Extensive infrastructure for immigrants. And a willingness on the part of immigrants to adapt to a different culture.

Despite their draconian nature, that’s all these Arizona/Nebraska-type laws are about. And at its core, that’s really not too much to ask.

Far better than the demeaning, intolerant attitude of the intelligentsia (most of whom live well away from the problem)  would be a little understanding of what the situation is that has brought about this problem, and what it is these know-nothing rednecks are really after.

Acknowledging the problem, without having your life and career crippled by accusations of racism, is a vital step to solving it.

A response to this post resulted in a second post on the subject: “The Silence of the Lambs.”