When we open our doors and invite people by the thousands to live with us, they’ll naturally represent the span of the human condition. Especially when drawing from a war zone, where people have endured all manner of atrocities, we can expect damaged souls among them. It follows that a few of the most deeply impacted will be dangerous. A population doesn’t move through these kinds of experiences without generating representations of the extremes of our nature, good and bad.
So when Trump Jr asks whether we’d eat from a bowl of Skittles, knowing that a few are poisonous, he’s asking an excellent question. Dropping the guise of candy, the query he’s posing is this: “Do the benefits of bringing in thousands of refugees outweigh the harm that a few of them will likely inflict?”
For the Trumps of our world, the answer is clear. The welcoming of refugees represents a risk that we need not take.
Again, he’s technically correct. A risk does exist and because we determine our intake of refugees from overseas, it’s a risk that can be avoided.
But do we want to avoid it?
What Trump Jr likely finds perplexing is the reality that there are hundreds of millions of people in his country and ours who willingly choose to eat from the bowl he describes.
Some of us happily take a handful because we did a little research and know that the likelihood of bad Skittles killing us ranges anywhere from one in several million to one in a few billion, depending on the method of calculation. For a sense of scale, there’s roughly a 1 in 11,000 chance that we’ll be killed in a car accident in a given year. In other words, if we’re willing to get into an automobile, worrying about dying at the hands of a refugee is illogical at best.
Then there are those among us who would choose to welcome refugees, even if the bowl were as small and the risk as large as suggested by Trump Jr. These people cast their eyes on a different set of numbers: a five year long war, some 400,000 people dead, and five million others uprooted from their homes. If the bowl we face is daunting, theirs is nothing short of horrific. If we choose to exercise our capacity in North America, we can make a profound difference to a great number of suffering individuals.
That being said, I’m not happy with the social media backlash. Trump Jr offered an analogy, not an academic paper. I can assure you that he is fully aware of the difference between Skittles and people. Making such an obvious point does nothing to shift the opinions of those who follow him. Likewise, it’s not helpful to mock grammatical errors within his tweet. Though a bit of ridicule makes us feel superior, it further exacerbates the divide and places his more moderate supporters further from our reach. After all, the best way to entrench a group of followers is to lampoon their leader.
Instead, perhaps we can take the analogy seriously and speak in ways that are more likely to be heard by the people we want and need to convince. Let’s recognize that a risk exists and then pull out statistics from think-tanks like CATO to show that even right-leaning experts judge that risk as minuscule. Equally importantly, let’s talk about how this kind of risk-taking has always been part of our collective identity, central to the lives of our common heroes, historical and fictional. Let’s go further and make it personal, sharing those times when someone’s risk made a significant difference in our own lives – simply because they saw our need and responded.
The question at the heart of the Skittles analogy is an old one. In reality, our countries have been eating tainted Skittles for generations, both imported and home grown. Our willingness to do so lies at the heart of our proudest moments. Thanks to Trump Jr’s prodding, we’ve been reminded of that fact. Perhaps we’ll even develop an appetite for more.