Change is Hard: Managing Fear and Anxiety about Demographic Change and Immigration in Polarized Times

Suzette Brooks Masters
Date of Publication: 
January, 2020
Source Organization: 
Welcoming America

The current great wave of immigration to the United States and the rapid demographic change the country is experiencing have transformed the immigration issue from one where, just a few decades ago, policy changes were left to a handful of experts and legislators to the hotly contested culture war battleground it is today. The author reviews research on important work being done to lower cultural tension and promote a sense of common purpose between immigrants and established residents. The paper cautions against the “immigrant exceptionalism” approach often taken by immigrant supporters, i.e. the tendency to emphasize the superior work ethic and entrepreneurial drive of immigrants and refugees compared to native residents. This approach can actually alienate members of a receiving community, who may feel their own needs and contributions are not sufficiently recognized. Instead, showing how immigrants are an integral part of the community may be a more effective approach. Research indicates that promoting empathy to combat resentment towards immigrants and racial minorities is most effectively done in one-on-one conversations, allowing people to feel they are being heard and respected. Such conversations are taking place in a number of promising “deep canvasing” projects across the U.S. The author makes a series of recommendations for building inclusion across our cultural divides, and suggests that organized philanthropy will have to shift its focus to scale up this enormously resource-intensive work. Government and employers can and should play a role as well. Our future, the author notes, will be determined by how well our communities and our nation manage the destabilizing reactions to demographic and other disruptive changes we are currently experiencing. (Maurice Belanger, Maurice Belanger Consulting)

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Brooks Masters, S. (2019, January). Change is hard: Managing fear and anxiety about demographic change and immigration in polarized times [Research brief]. Retrieved from