Rethink Optimism Bias and Bystander Apathy in the Face of the New DeNaturalized Task Force
Most of us have heard of something horrific happened to someone in the news and thought, “Oh, that happened to other people but it won’t happen to me”, or seeing an accident on the freeway and thought, “I don’t need to call 911 because, surely, someone else has already done it? The first phenomenon is called “optimism bias” thinking that something bad won’t happen to us, and the second is called “The bystander effect, or bystander apathy” thinking that in someone else in the area with other bystander of an incident have already acted on the victim’s behalf. In my humble opinion, these are the phenomena that we have been experiencing leading up to the 2016 Presidential Election when many gave up their voting privilege, thinking that someone else would vote on our behalf, and surely no bad outcome will befall us as a consequence because, again, surely someone else would fight on our behalf to make it right.
Human beings have a habit of thinking that bad things will only happen to other people, not us. The likelihood of a tree branch breaking and falling on us, or a car jumping the curb and mowing us over is highly unlikely, but alas, it does happen because we do read about them on the news. The optimism bias is our denial of possible tragedy coming our way and it is our protective shell and mechanism. We don’t want to think of the unpleasant scenarios, or be proactive and taking measures to prevent them, or take course of actions when they do.
So it was not entirely surprising when most of us did not take actions or a position when the first Executive Order on the “Travel Ban” took place imposing restrictions on legal immigrants of those countries, followed by multiple versions and ended with the final Supreme Court ruling in June 2018 with seven countries, majority Muslim.
Since the beginning of this administration there has been an escalation of their verbal attacks, denigrating comments and rhetoric against immigrants, refugees, and people of color while criminalizing and dehumanizing them, pitting Americans against each other. I’m a refugee from South Vietnam since 1975, a naturalized citizen since the 1980’s, and for the first time in my life here in the U.S., I’m feeling increasingly as an “other” being a person of color, of possibly being the next victim of racially motivated hate crimes and verbal attacks.
There are countless examples of right-wing populist sentiment and hegemony against immigrants and refugees, and they are coming from the highest office that continuously encouraging and emboldening incivility, hostility, and violence, of us versus them in the name of the hard working Americans versus the criminal and illegal immigrants rhetoric. Immigrants are portrayed as the “others,” a drain on the economy on multiple levels and posed as a safety and security threat to the United States. We are now living in the binary state of us versus them, of hard working Americans versus criminal immigrants, of oligarchy versus the masses, of increasing evidence of fascism over democracy, of oppression over freedom of speech.
The latest action the administration took against families escaping violence in South American countries looking for asylums (mostly due to the result of the US foreign policies. Read more here: https://clas.berkeley.edu/research/immigration-latino-migration-and-us-foreign-policy and https://www.thenation.com/article/how-us-foreign-policy-helped-create-the-immigration-crisis/) and the US ensuing policy of separations of families at the Mexico and US borders have sparked turmoils and protests nationwide. Again, most of us have the previously cited Optimism Bias and Bystander Apathy and we don’t want to get involved or take a position until it directly affects us, our safety or livelihood.
Since the beginning of the new administration, our U.S. political landscape has changed drastically with multiple firestorms daily, and overtime, they have normalized the look of Democracy, truth, intellect, integrity and morality. On Social Media, there are divisive and verbal brawls from both sides causing an alarming sentiment of news fatigue and apathy. Again, most of us don’t react because we don’t think our lives and livelihoods will be affected by any of the administration’s new policies, that is, until they do.
Consider this poem by Niemöller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Now that the tariffs and trade war are real and happening in what’s considered a healthy and strong economy. It will give some people pause as the administration’s policies are biting a substantial chunk from their corporate profits or someone’s livelihood when their jobs at Harley Davidson and the likes are being eliminated. We only act with Optimism Bias and Bystander Apathy until these misfortunes befall us. Will there then be anyone left to advocate for us? Or will everyone else around us have been betrayed as in Niemöller’s cautionary poem?
Last Friday, an Iraqi friend of mine who worked for the U.S. Government in Iraq and a green card holder, granted immigration status in recent years to come to America, messaged frantically me, asking about the newest Task Force to denaturalize questionable cases of citizenships where they should have never been granted https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/in-america-naturalized-citizens-no-longer-have-an-assumption-of-permanence. “Is this real news?” She asked. Albeit, it’s been in placed from another administration, the fact that it was now a stepped up on the priority list to track down those questionable citizenship cases is the latest administration’s effort to shaken the immigrants and naturalized citizens. It’s a fire across the bow to anyone who is from this community to reconsider protesting or dissenting against the administration, or risk being noticed and investigated as the next victim on the denaturalized and deportation list.
This warning shot is widely received in the targeted community. It is heard loud and clear. Oppression and threat against the citizens constitutional rights and democracy are clear messages. Undoubtedly, ACLU will be working tirelessly as they will receive a record influx of monetary donations and volunteered immigration attorneys who will passionately work on pro bono cases to protect and defend these naturalized citizens from being stripped of their citizenship unjustly. This looming new threat to denaturalize US citizens is the administration’s attempt to deter dissent in the said community, in my humble opinion. However, it will have an opposite effect, as it will anger the masses to turn out in record number, and march in the millions that will put the 2018 inauguration crowd to shame.
Optimism Bias and Bystander Apathy only work for so long until misfortune befall all of us, then we will rise en masse. Dear Icarus, please don’t fly too close to the sun as we mortals know what happens when you do.