Kinship and prejudice: Are migrants kin?

Our primate hardwiring militates against welcoming migrants. It’s that simple. And that complicated.

Individual human beings always act out of self-interest. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a simple animal survival drive. Beyond this, we are driven by a natural need to help our personal “species” survive. If we act for others, it is for our children, our families, our clan—our kin.

However, part of what makes human beings so successful among primates is our mental ability to extend our sense of kinship conceptually, beyond the bounds of biological relationship. My neighbors, my town, my nationality, my ethnicity,1 my religious affiliations.

"Asylum seekers" (DSC_1278) by Daniel Dunn is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

We know from prehuman racial memory that migrants are more competitive than we are—if only because we are settled and they are on the move, willing to risk all, including their own lives and the lives of their children, to find something better than whatever they are fleeing.

It does not matter to us, despite our false and selfish distinction between asylum seeking and economic migration, why they are coming, what they are fleeing from or toward. We have convinced ourselves that “there is not enough.”

Worse, we have what we have already, without needing to strive for it except in mundane ways. And we know viscerally that striving is far stronger and more persistent than having.

Having calls for defending, a movement that pushes us farther and farther back behind our boundaries, into smaller and smaller psychic spaces.

Striving knows that there are no boundaries, that there is only what is calling from beyond the horizon.

If we were always striving rather than having, we would want as many other skillful strivers from as many other kinship groups as possible to be striving in communion with us.

"Migrants Mass 2019" by Catholic Church (England and Wales) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0And so it is.

Blessèd Be,
Michael Bright Crow

Image Sources & Notes

Image: “Asylum seekers” (DSC_1278) by Daniel Dunn on flickr (9/25/2017) [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) ].

Image: “Migrants Mass 2019” by Catholic Church (England and Wales) on flickr (5/6/2019) [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) ].

  1. Contrary to popular understanding, ethnicity is defined more by cultural commonalities than by genetic heritage. See, for example, “Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews: The history of Ashkenazim and Sephardim,” by Menachem Posner on

    For the last 1,000 years the Jewish people have, for the most part, been grouped into two categories: Ashkenaz and Sepharad. Contemporary Ashkenazim are Yiddish-speaking Jews and descendants of Yiddish-speaking Jews. Sephardim originate in the Iberian Peninsula and the Arabic lands.

    While there are differences in culture, language, genetics, and nuances of ritual observance, the commonalities between the two groups are much stronger than what divides them. Thus, a Sephardi from Morocco and an Ashkenazi from Moscow would immediately find common ground in a prayer service that is 95% identical, in mitzvah observance, and of course, the Hebrew language.

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