The symbolic interaction perspective is one of the theories of social science that seeks to understand further the various relationships between human beings and their society.
The main question that the social interaction perspectives seek to answer is, “Which symbols and meanings can be derived from the different interactions between people?” The principal rationale of the symbolic interaction perspective is that human beings’ actions in any given society and their interactions can only be understood by exchanging meaningful communication or symbols. (Denzin et al., 2010). In the context of the symbolic interaction, human beings are presented as the actors and hence creators of the various symbols instead of being the recipients of the actions. Therefore, social-scientists who embrace symbolic interactionism are mostly concerned about the unique patterns of interaction that characterize the different relationships between people.
The symbolic interaction perspective is further founded on three major principles. The initial principle of this perspective is that at any given time, the behavior of human beings towards other things within their environment or society is based on the meanings that such things have for them. For instance, if a human being considers something less important or useless, his or her subsequent behavior towards such a thing will be in a manner that exhibits the meaningless thing. The second principle of the symbolic interaction perspective is that the various meanings attached to different things by human beings come from social interactions between human beings and the thing in question. The third and last principle of the social interaction perspective is that social actions and interactions arise from unique unions of different lines of action (Rohall, 2010).
How do symbols through words contribute to the perceptions of immigrants in a negative way?
Over the recent past, there has been an increase in anti-immigrant attitudes in the United States of America. Such attitudes are advanced through various methods such as institutional prejudice, social segregation, and even political isolation, where immigrants are barred from taking part in the country’s political decisions. While most of the above forms of prejudice are indirectly advanced towards immigrants, using symbols through words is a direct form of expression of anti-immigrant attitudes that profile and defame immigrants. A common symbol through words that contribute to immigrants’ growing negative perception is the association of immigrants with terror groups and insecurity.
According to Fussell (2014), immigrants from the Middle East have, for a long time, been profiled as radical Islamic extremists and hence potential terrorists. They are described as dangerous people who disguise themselves as immigrants only to causes security problems once they are allowed into the country. As a result, immigrants from the Middle East and other Islamic dominated states are often subjected to extreme screening and frisking regardless of their innocence. Even though they are eventually allowed into the country, such immigrants often suffer emotional and psychological effects of verbal profiling and consistently live in fear.
Sensitive verbal anti-immigrant utterances also cause psychological and emotional distress among immigrants. In some parts of the United States of America, immigrants are openly referred to as federal parasites. The term federal parasite is a creation of the native born-Americans to imply that immigrants increase the federal budget deficit and government debt, yet they generate very little revenue in the form of taxes (Schlueter & Scheepers, 2010). Immigrants, just like any other person, are susceptible to negative and defamatory talk. Hence, the public association with federal parasitism causes them psychological suffering, given the fact that all working immigrants remit their taxes to the federal government.
Such labeling and accusations also come when immigrants are exempted from some federal government services. For example, in the United States of America, immigrants are not entitled to mental health programs, supplementary security income (SSI), and food stamps. Therefore, such negative utterances have limited interactions and social associations between immigrants and native-born Americans, with most immigrants confining themselves to social circles that consist purely of fellow immigrants.
Words have also been consistently used to create immigrants’ perceptions as being poor nationals of other countries in the United States to turn their lives around. Despite legal protection and possession of all documents to justify their presence in the country, immigrants are often publicly ridiculed by native-born-Americans and often segregated in social realms, especially where such immigrants are people of color (Hainmueller, 2014). Apart from spouses and children to registered Americans, most immigrants in the United States of America are victims of civil turmoil in their countries and hence searching for safety.
While some immigrants may live in poverty, others often find themselves in such situations due to the endless civil upheavals that lead to mass destruction of property, thereby making almost everyone poor. In some instances, one has to decide between seeking refuge and sitting back to die alongside his or her wealth. Hence, the continued reference and verbal portrayal of immigrants as poverty-stricken nationals seeking economic prosperity not only demoralizes and socially segregates against immigrants but also creates hostility between immigrants and the host citizens.
What do some Americans fear when it comes to immigration or immigrants?
The initial fear of most Americans regarding immigration is the risk of insecurity. The September 2011 terrorist attack on the United States of America led to a significant increase in anti-immigrant sentiments and anti-foreigner policies. President George Bush had initially taken a moderate stance towards immigrants, seemed to change tune when he sanctioned increased spending on immigrant policies, including mass deportations and increased incarceration of immigrants. Since then, most Americans live in fear of similar attacks, likely to be orchestrated by a high number of immigrants in the country. For instance, Mutz (2018) explains that Arizona state laws allow police officers to arrest and interrogate any immigrant they suspect is living in the country illegally despite the friendly immigrant policies.
Similarly, immigrants are also not entitled to most federal services. For example, to acquire a driving license, all immigrants must produce a social security number. All the above measures have been put in place to thwart any security risks from immigrants. However, most Americans are skeptical about immigrants and always associate them with insecurity.
Americans are also afraid of losing their jobs to immigrants. The fear of immigrants as the cause of job losses dated to the 1970s when the United States of America operated the Bracero Program. The Bracero Program was an arrangement that begun after the Second World War to help alleviate labor shortages in the United States of America by allowing guest workers to enter the country to substitute the country’s labor seasonally.
The program was necessitated by the fact that most American men had been recruited into the military, leaving behind very few men working in the agriculture sector, which remained the backbone of the country’s economy. Guest workers were mainly undocumented immigrants. Most Americans still fear that immigrants are the poor and desperate individuals who, once in the country, are willing to take up any jobs at any rate to earn a living. Most Americans also fear that besides taking up the jobs initially meant for Americans; immigrants are also the major cause of poor salary and remuneration rates on the country’s labor market (Nowrasteh, 2018). Some Americans had openly accused immigrants, especially educated and qualified ones, of faking their status to be allowed into the country when, in a real sense, they were after the jobs in the United States of America.
A large number of Americans fear overcrowding as a result of immigration. The Immigration and National Act allows the United States of America to grant permanent immigrant visas up to 675,000 every year. The above limit excludes American citizens’ spouses, their parents as well as children under the age of 21 years. Further still, the 675,000 visas do not cater to thousands of undocumented immigrants who illegally find their way into the United States of America. Flynn (2015) states that there is clear evidence that unchecked immigration exuberate the problems of traffic congestion, increased the overall consumption of energy and fuel in the country, and led to a sharp rise in the rent and housing prices.
The annually growing immigrants’ population further strains the already dying transportation infrastructure in the United States of America. Immigrants constitute many American workers living in overcrowded houses and the number of people held up in the country’s holding cells. There are growing concerns and fears among most Americans that overcrowding is likely to lead to other social problems such as insecurity, an outbreak of diseases, pressure on social amenities, and in some cases, a growing population of homeless persons.
Denzin, N. K., Schneider, C. J., Gardner, R. O., Merrill, J. B., & Han, D. (2010). Studies in symbolic interaction. Bingley, U.K: Emerald Group Pub.
Flynn, T. (2015). Overpopulation, Immigration, and the Human Future | Free Inquiry. Secularhumanism.org. Retrieved 20 November 2020, from https://secularhumanism.org/2015/05/cont-overpopulation-immigration-and-the-human-future/.
Fussell, E. (2014). The warmth of the Welcome: Attitudes toward Immigrants and Immigration Policy. Annual review of sociology, 40, 479–498. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-071913-043325
Hainmueller, J. (2014). Public Attitudes Toward Immigration. Annual Reviews. Retrieved 20 November 2020, from https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev-polisci-102512-194818.
Mutz, D. (2018). Mass Media and American Attitudes Toward Immigration. Global.upenn.edu. Retrieved 20 November 2020, from https://global.upenn.edu/sites/default/files/Mutz.pdf.
Nowrasteh, A. (2018). The 14 Most Common Arguments against Immigration and Why They’re Wrong. Cato Institute. Retrieved 20 November 2020, from https://www.cato.org/blog/14-most-common-arguments-against-immigration-why-theyre-wrong.
Rohall, D. E. (2020). Symbolic interaction in society.
Schlueter, E., & Scheepers, P. (2010). The relationship between outgroup size and anti-outgroup attitudes. Rug.nl. Retrieved 20 November 2020, from https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/files/2591242/2010-SchlueterE-Relationship.pdf.