Not long after states started announcing that they didn’t want to take in Syrian refugees, the Web in general and social media in particular blew up with memes about “helping our own” ahead of helping those from other lands.
My own circle of friends and family is divided on the question of what to do about refugees, particularly those from Syria. That’s an argument for another day; we’ve battered each other pretty well on that score. But the reluctance to offer shelter to that particular group of refugees has raised some interesting related questions.
I’d love to have a nickel for every meme I’ve seen suggesting not helping refugees as long as we have homeless veterans who need help. Or not helping the refugees as long as we have people in dire economic straits in our own country who desperately need our aid. Or not helping refugees as long as our foster care system is under-funded and kids in crisis need stability and assistance.
Those are incredibly valid needs that Americans should be addressing and about which we should care passionately. The large population of veterans who served their country honorably and for various reasons have ended up disenfranchised and homeless is heart-wrenching and shameful. The number of children growing up not just in poverty, but in deep poverty, is both alarming and distressing. And the fact that many people fail to recognize that children in foster care end up there primarily because the adults who should have provided for them and protected them somehow failed in those roles is no less than tragic. They need all types of help, and providing it should be a moral imperative not subject to debate.
I don’t know anyone who would argue with the contention that we should be caring for Americans in those categories of distress — and some others, too. But it’s worth noting that addressing their challenges was not some type of national theme until the controversy over whether terrorists might somehow hide among refugees and wreak havoc.
Nor have I seen a groundswell of individuals showing up to help homeless veterans. Those I’ve asked within several programs around the country are not reporting a huge surge in donations, either. There have always been some who dedicated themselves to helping members of the military who have struggled back home after whatever they endured in conflicts. But one would think that this newfound urge to take care of our own would yield something besides a post or two on Facebook.
The same is true for foster care programs and safety net programs designed to help out poor families. But the truth is, budgets are still tight, people still fall through the cracks and the same people who post how great it would be if we took care of our own first also post about the overburdened taxpayer who is expected to take care of everyone’s needs.
So what, exactly, are we doing to help those populations we suddenly believe need our wholehearted support?
I’m willing to bet that some people really have jumped in to alleviate some of the suffering here at home, rejuvenated and enlivened as they looked around and found local needs. If it’s a groundswell, though, it’s a well-hidden one. I am more likely to read complaints from those who are doing pretty well about the needy have-nots, whether the cross they bear is poverty or mental illness or homelessness or a combination.
I’d love to hear from anyone who’s backing their assertions that we have to take care of our own with real action. People doing instead of people bickering is always inspiring. And I think sometimes inertia comes because people do not know where to begin. So write to me and let’s share some ideas on how to help “our own” who struggle.
It’s a worthy endeavor.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: Loisco