Home » Blog » 6 Degrees: Changing the Way We Think About Newcomers

6 Degrees: Changing the Way We Think About Newcomers

Joshua DePerry, Classic Roots, indigenous dancer. Photo by Susanne Ollmann.

By Molly Moylan Brown

The Institute for Canadian Citizenship, a national non-profit charity, held a thought-provoking conference, 6 Degrees Berlin, on November 12, 2018. The conference, attended by a number of AWC members*, took place at the Barenboim-Said Academy in the landmark Frank Gehry-designed concert hall.

6 Degrees Berlin brought together thinkers, doers, executives, artists, politicians, and civil society leaders for a conversation about the current state of affairs in the world of migration, to plot a more humane and effective way forward. 6 Degrees examined the political, social, moral, and infrastructure challenges created by the displacement of more than 68 million people annually, to identify new approaches, to challenge our assumptions, and to create space for transformative ideas of belonging and inclusion. Berlin is now the third city outside of Canada to host this conference, part of 6 Degrees’ growing mission to extend its conversation on citizenship and inclusion to an international stage.

The Role of Government Structure in Inclusion

John Ralston Saul, Co-chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. Photo by Susanne Ollmann.

John Ralston Saul, a leading Canadian writer, political philosopher, and public intellectual, expressed the urgent need to develop a new discourse that helps us learn how to live actively as citizens and develop “comfort with complexity.” He maintains this will promote the creative re-imagining of programs and mechanisms that provide a clear and holistic way to integrate newcomers into the polity. For example, the mission of Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship is to formulate and implement policies built on respect for the ideas, traditions, and qualities that are unique to Canada’s indigenous peoples as well as its immigrant populations. The power and independence this ministerial structure confers elevates such policy formulation and implementation well above the simple policing function that is the Western norm.

Canada, which describes itself as a nation of immigration with the motto “Unity in Diversity,” accepts approximately 250,000 immigrants and refugees per year and views citizenship as key to integration—85% of its newcomers become citizens within the first five years. Canada gives this commitment to integration practical expression with mandatory ethnic and gender quotas in businesses and schools to ensure the ideal of diversity is achieved in the most vital spheres of social activity.

What arose very powerfully during the day’s conversation is that refugees are routinely cast as scapegoats responsible for the failure of integration when, in fact, such failure is borne of pre-existing political and social structural faults, as well as failures of popular imagination and humanity that work against the integrative cause.

The Role of Language in Inclusion

In a segment on the importance and power of language, the panelists encouraged attendees to explore the 6 Degrees dictionary in break-out groups, to look at defining terms using balanced language, as much as possible devoid of unconscious bias—e.g. “inclusion of newcomers” vs the more problematic “integrating refugees”—to counter prejudice and xenophobia, to steer, instead, toward new possibilities that promote inclusion.

The Role of Fear in Exclusion

The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, 26th Governor General of Canada, said she believes that debating immigration issues with hard-line xenophobes is ineffective. She urged activists, instead, to focus their efforts on reaching the much larger group of people in the middle of the political spectrum who are open to rational discourse and have the capacity, with guidance, to imagine a different and better way forward. The panelists acknowledged that, though diversity is a verifiable fact in most or all western societies, people are reluctant to engage their better selves in this creative re-imagining due to their generalized fear of diversity.

Diversity is a fact, but it is complex. Fear of diversity is rooted in fear of competition by “outsiders”; fear of cultural clashes, or the fear “locals” have that their culture will be usurped; and insecurity, or fears of greater delinquency and terrorism.  While all of these fears are related to the anticipation of loss, the tipping point comes when there is a perception of invasion.” The latter triggers people’s susceptibility to the insidious clarion of xenophobia, which has a direct, negative effect on civic engagement and efforts toward building inclusion.

The Art, Social Cost, and Social Science of Inclusion

Adrienne Clarkson, 26th Governor General of Canada and Co-chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship interviews artist and activist, Ai Weiwei. Photo by Susanne Ollmann.

During the “Art and Protest” segment, artist and activist Ai Weiwei spoke about using his art to break down barriers to imagination, barriers that perpetuate the separation of peoples. His remarkable documentary, “Human Flow,” filmed in 20 countries around the world, sheds light on migration as a global issue.

Highlighting the great lengths to which countries will go to prevent the entry of refugees, Regina Catrambone, Co-founder and Director of Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), shared how she has faced charges for “human-trafficking,” though the only activity she engages in is providing aid, including emergency medical relief, to refugees.

Giorgos Kaminis, Mayor of Athens, described his city’s struggle to accommodate 30,000 refugees who can neither work nor speak the language. As Kaminis was exiting the conference, Bendetta Roux, Director of Public Affairs and Development at Bard College Berlin, made an unexpected and impassioned last-minute plea. She asked for his assistance in freeing BCB student Sara Mardini and fellow aid volunteers currently imprisoned in Greece on charges that they engaged in human trafficking while providing humanitarian help to refugees. When the mayor promised to help, the room burst into applause.

In the program’s “Where We Go” segment, Dr. Naika Foroutan, a professor and social scientist on matters of integration research and social policy at Berlin’s Humboldt University, shared some of her findings. Though Germany has officially described itself as a country of immigrants since 2001—where citizenship can also be achieved and not just inherited—popular attitudes about immigration and integration are not necessarily aligned with this state-proclaimed image.

Dr. Foroutan’s studies show that, while most people cognitively accept migration and immigration as part of the postmodern world order—even an empirical given—their emotions are distanced from this acceptance, causing great ambivalence. In her study of what is required to be a “real German,” she found that 100% of respondents said “speaking German” and 80% said “having citizenship.” But her studies revealed further subtleties and conflicts in the popular mind that mitigate against the integrative social ideal. For instance, 40% of respondents said that to be a “real German” you must speak without a foreign accent. In addition, it is possible to fail the “real German” test if you appear to be “opting out” of full participation in society. For example, 40% of respondents said that they do not consider a woman wearing a headscarf to be a “real German,” even if she is a passport-carrying citizen who speaks perfect German, because her headscarf signals that she is “opting out.” Dr. Foroutan devised the term the “exclusive We” to describe the cognitive and emotional dissonance her studies revealed.

Pursuing Inclusion

Key questions were raised throughout the day’s program to motivate participants to think about shifting to ideas of inclusion, rather than integration, to inspire new forms of social and civic engagement. How can confidence be developed in the immigration system? How can we develop, embrace, and make manifest the idea of inclusion, to see it as a choice? How do we call out politicians’ pernicious instrumentalization of immigration—the “politics of fear”—for their own political gains? We have underestimated the benefits of immigrants to society. How can it be better publicized that the integration indicators are positive when public perception is not consistent with this?

While there are many resources for a deeper, more critical examination of the issues of migration and inclusion, the following are recommended: “Migration Matters” videos on YouTube (Sophia Burton, one of Migration Matters’ founders, presented at the AWC Women’s Salon in March 2018), an easy and expert primer on immigration; “Human Flow,” Ai WeiWei’s moving documentary of migration filmed in 20 countries; “Exit West” an excellent novel by Mohsin Hamid reframing ideas of migration and borders in a compelling work of fiction (a 2018 spring AWC Book Club selection). #6degreesbrln

*AWC members in attendance: Lynne Margaret Brown, Molly Moylan Brown, Karen Castellon, Arina Franke, Diane Groehn-Zaniewski, My-Linh Kunst, Susanne Ollmann, Victoria Serrano Ruiz, and Janel Schermerhorn.

AWC members Arina Franke, My-Linh Kunst, Janel Schermerhorn and Karen Castellon. Photo by Arina Franke.
AWC members Susanne Ollmann and Molly Brown. Photo by My-Linh Kunst.
Please share!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *