A couple weeks ago I had lunch with a local VR leader of Indian heritage. We ate burgers and fries and talked about his future plans, which from my vantage point look full of promise. He’s a brilliant and personable guy, one of those people who you brighten’s my mood just by his presence. At one point this friend said that he was considering leaving Seattle and finding a VR community somewhere abroad, like Helsinki. Then he said that he worried that if he left the United States, he might not be able to get back in.
The remark took me off guard. It was one of those comments that reminds me, a white man, that there are certain things I just never have to worry about. And at the time it seemed like a vague and slightly preposterous concern. Of course he’d be able to get back in, right? He was a talented technology worker, who, like many tech workers in Puget Sound, just happens to be from India.
What a difference a couple weeks make.
This weekend, Donald Trump’s un-American, strategically misguided, and morally repugnant executive decree on immigration galvanized the technology industry, forcing CEOs and others off the sidelines. These policies are offensive for what they do to families and communities, and are just plain stupid for what they do to an industry that requires a diverse array of bright minds in order to innovate and succeed.
Immigrants teach us what it means to be American. My exposure to families of Mexican farm laborers in Skagit Valley as a kid help me appreciate the challenges my own Irish immigrant ancestors overcame. My huguenot ancestors, who fled religious persecution in France, ended up living next door to Benjamin Franklin and played an instrumental role in the American Revolution. The spirit of this nation’s founding is contiguous with the ache in the hearts of refugees fleeing Syria today.
It occurred to me recently that this new medium, virtual reality, is emerging as an empathy tool precisely when we need it. As our callous reality-show-host-in-chief seeks to divide and vilify, we’ll resist these offenses against America by affirming our common humanity. Be strong. Resist. Look out for one another.