Us here, them there

Hi, this is Mirko. I am a co-founder/co-CEO of Datawrapper. Around 2010, I scribbled the name “Datawrapper” on an empty piece of paper. Today, the strong and growing usage of our tool around the world is an entrepreneur’s dream come true. I am very grateful to be part of an awesome team and a larger, international community of data people. This experience influences my views: I believe that nationality is less important than teaming up and collaborating across borders to solve problems.

In recent weeks a number of our “Weekly charts” showed how humans are treating the planet. This week we take a look at how humans are treating other humans.

It is deeply worrying that our many societies tend to show their ugliest sides at the moments when others need our help. A root problem of that is the complex psychology of “us here and them there”.

“Us here” is the known community – our family, friends, colleagues, the people in our city or village – loosely connected by language, economics and culture.

“Them there” are strangers, people with a different language, different habits and culture, maybe with a different skin tone. Our brains tend to simplify the perception towards “them” by applying stereotypes, which get exploited by populists. Just one negative example can be used to stir up anger and hate about “the others”.

But: Who is “us” and who is “them”, really? Just four, three generations ago Europeans were the migrants. From 1820 to 1920, millions of Germans, Irish, Italians, and Russians left their home countries. The chart below shows the main waves of immigration to the US, by world region:

During the 19th century, an estimated 5 million Germans left the country just for the United States at a time when the entire population was around 40 million. Germany, Ireland, Italy, and – to a lesser degree – Sweden were among the countries with the most people leaving. In other countries, such as France or the Netherlands this never happened.

Population movements are a difficult statistical topic. What is really happening is only partially traced by immigration statistics. The topic of integrating newly arrived people is not about some benchmarks, but rather millions of individual stories of failure or success. Stories of new beginnings, success and important contributions.

We are them, they are us

There are a number of reasons that let people leave their homes and try their luck somewhere else. In the 19th century, regions in southern Germany, which are today brimming with economic activity, were utterly poor at the time. Hence, emigration increased. But around 1880, the trend turned: Germany became and remains a country of immigration. After the 2nd World War, when the economy grew strongly, Germany actively sought workers, primarily from southern Europe.

The waves of population movements of the past can help us to prepare for the present and future. In many countries, the views on migration are split or negative, as surveys show. But future migration waves are inevitable. In times of crisis, people will flee from their homes because of no other alternative. Better policies are needed, specifically for integration of newly arrived people into a society.

How we deal with migration is a test of our humanitarian commitment. I believe that this is why there should be more data-driven stories reporting about aspects of migration and specifically integration. There are so many facets worth exploring. This weekly chart is merely a thought-starter, not a thorough answer. One takeaway though is quite obvious: We are them, they are us – depending only on circumstance.

There are many indicators that immigration leads to job creation and higher levels of entrepreneurial activity. What’s not proven, however, is that immigration leads to more crime. Please check out “The Myth of the Criminal Immigrant” by Anna Flagg, published by The Marshall Project in collaboration with The Upshot/New York Times. She analysis explores on a regional level whether higher migration rates lead to more crime.