‘We’ versus ‘They’

Last week seemed to be a lot about fighting hate with hate. About not accepting the big ‘They’ around us anymore, so we deny them completely. This happened in the US, of course, with Trump closing the borders for (Muslim) immigrants, but something similar happened in the Netherlands too, albeit less drastic. The Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, wrote a letter to ‘all Dutch people’ – although I’m not sure if he meant ‘just the white ones’ when he said ‘all’ – in which he said that anyone who doesn’t want to act normal should leave. The people who don’t act normal according to him are the ones who “abuse our freedom just to ruin everything, even though they came to the Netherlands to enjoy this freedom”. After that he mentions things such as not being willing to adapt, harassing gay people and women in short skirts, and calling ‘ordinary’ (white?) Dutch people racists. He said he feels like the people who “fundamentally reject our country” should just leave.

The letter was met with a lot of critique, because it seemed to be very racist and discriminatory towards immigrants (and Muslim ones in particular). The majority of those immigrants doesn’t abuse our freedom at all, but this letter surely makes it seem that way, and it even seems to give people the right to deny others their place in society by telling them to leave. Rutte replied to the critique by saying that he didn’t mean to exclude people based on a certain race or religion or on if they were born in the Netherlands or not, but based on rude behaviour. Still, even if he puts it that way, he surely seems to think that people from certain ethnic backgrounds are a lot more likely to engage in such behaviour, seeing as he literally mentions “coming to the Netherlands” and some stereotypical views of Muslim immigrants (and not, for example, the stereotypical hooliganism of certain football fans, which can also easily be seen as ‘rude behaviour’).

The actions and words of both Trump and Rutte build on and strengthen the ‘We’ and ‘They’ feelings a lot of people have when talking about Muslims (‘They’) and the West (‘We’). ‘We’ versus ‘They’ feelings are common in a lot of situations, and people generally change their idea of what is ‘We’ (and what is not) depending on context. Compare it to disliking the fans of a certain football club when your club faces them, but not even seeing any big differences between them and you when you are all rooting for the national team. You suddenly share a common goal, so you all become ‘We’ (and the other countries competing for the championship are ‘They’). If people keep on pointing at Muslims as ‘They’, others pick up on that and might start seeing them like that too.

The problem with ‘We’ and ‘They’ feelings is that they influence our thinking a lot. People see the ‘We’ as positive and the ‘They’ as negative, which results in a lot of negative stereotyping, racism, discrimination and even pure hatred. Emphasizing the good of the ‘We’ and the bad of the ‘They’ results in the ‘We’-group feeling more connected, but it doesn’t go unnoticed by the ‘They’-group either. They might start to feel rejected, unheard and uncertain, so to counter this feeling they look for  company among people who feel the same, often people with the same ethnic background, making segregation stronger. Meanwhile, the ‘We’-group gets annoyed by the ‘They’-group because (apparently) they aren’t willing to integrate with the ‘We’-group. But how can we expect people to adapt to ‘our’ society if we keep on seeing them as ‘They’, as being inherently different? How can we expect people to adopt our values, if we keep on pushing them away?

It is time for us to learn that respect goes both ways. If we want people to be a part of our society, we need to start by accepting them as already being a part of it. The diversity is a part of the society, there is no reason to see the biggest group as how society is supposed to be. That doesn’t mean we should give up on the majority’s core values, but we may have to reassess how those core values can exist in conjunction with the core values of the minorities (instead of just denying the minorities theirs). Focus on the similarities instead of on the differences. Of course, we may have to get used to each other’s differences, perhaps even adjust a little to accommodate the others, but in the end, we need to realise that we are all a part of the same big group. In the end, we are all humans. In the end, we are all ‘We’.


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