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A Nation of ‘Furners’

Dialect jokes are a thing of the past. I miss them because I never took them as being rude or disrespectful, but just a part the great variety of life that is all around us.

Americans, except for the native aborigine, were all foreigners at one time. The nation was built by “furners,” as some pronounce the word. The Pilgrims were from England; Columbus, an Italian from Spain; the Dutch, who founded New Amsterdam (now New York City); the Chinese, who helped build the transcontinental railways; and the Europeans and Africans–foreigners all.

Each in their own way and in their own time were looked down upon and treated badly. The word “foreign” means being outside the scope or circle of that which is essential and native: an alien.

The word also means something that is not germane, extraneous or irrelevant. Foreigners in any land get that kind of treatment–as if they were irrelevant and unwanted.

All foreigners in all countries and times have been the butt of jokes and ridicule, thought harmless by some but not funny to the one being laughed at.

Steve Blow, columnist for the Dallas Morning News, wrote about an event at last week’s Dallas Cowboys pre-season game. It seems during a break in the game, the Texas Stadium cameras showed various fans and the stadium announcer urged the crowd to select a “fan of the game” by cheers and applause.

The camera showed three men in military uniform. The crowd cheered. That is a normal reaction. Then a woman holding a sign was shown and received scattered applause.

Then Steve writes: “Incredibly, the stadium cameras were trained on a man and a woman in Middle Eastern attire of some sort–turban and head scarf, along with Cowboys garb, too. And the crowd began to boo and hiss.”

As if that were not enough, the shots were shown again and got the same reactions. Steve wrote in his column “Please tell me that didn’t happen.”

But it did happen, and it revealed the unspoken fear too many Americans have of foreigners–especially those from Middle East countries.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Arab appearance and dress have been at the top of the ridicule list.

The reason for the weird reaction at the Cowboys game is an underlying fear of foreigners: especially those people our government has made the enemy since the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

This mindless attack on Iraq and the profiling of foreign-looking people has not made America safer, but it has caused a lot of Americans to express their hatred for foreigners. I have found the cheap shots taken at foreigners far too common in many informal settings.

“Tell ’em to go back home” remarks are not funny. Such an attitude of misguided and ill-informed people not only degrades the speaker but emboldens enemies in other lands.

Had the Irish, the Poles, the Jews and the slaves taken that advice and left our land, this country would not be the strong nation it is today. Those early foreigners withstood the slander and bad treatment and proved their mettle. Now the new “whipping boys” are the Arabs and any that fit our stereotype of Middle Eastern peoples.

Let’s be bigger than the enemy. You don’t have to love them, but you sure don’t have to hate them and make fun of them. The Dallas Cowboys and their fans are certainly not America’s Team.

Britt Towery is former Southern Baptist liaison to the China Christian Council. He now directs the Tao Foundation, an organization promoting integrity in missions, and lives in San Angelo, Texas. This column appears weekly in the Brownwood Bulletin.