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There Goes the Neighborhood: Which Groups Make Americans Nervous?

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For the most part, I've been pretty lucky when it comes to my neighbors. I've gotten along with the vast majority of them, and I've never had cross-yard feuds or open hostility toward the people who live near me.

Yes, there have been a few annoyances. In college, one of the other tenants in the ramshackle student housing where I lived was infamous for getting loaded, arguing with his girlfriend, and getting kicked out of the apartment. From there he would scream her name for hours until she let him back in. Her name was Jody (or more accurately, "Joooo-Deee!"), and I will never forget it because I heard him screech it so often.

When I lived in New York City, our downstairs neighbor was a cranky old woman who banged on our wall if she thought we were getting too rambunctious. And when I lived on Hollywood Boulevard, I arrived home from work one day to see my neighbor being hauled out in a bodybag. He was a junkie and had OD'd... actually, I guess that's less "annoyance" and more "freaky trauma."

But you get the point. I've never agonized over who lives next door to me.

Many Americans, however, most certainly do.

A recent study found that, as of 2006, about a fifth of Americans would be upset if immigrants or foreign workers moved in next to them. This percentage has almost doubled since 1990.


Although the phrase "immigrants or foreign workers" is vague, one can safely assume that most Americans conjure images of Latinos when presented with this wording. It's doubtful that many Americans would become enraged if, say, a British expat moved into the neighborhood. As such, the researchers' terminology may not translate directly into antipathy for Hispanics, but it's close.

For the sake of comparison, the researchers asked about two other despised groups in America - homosexuals and Muslims - to gauge social intolerance. I assume that asking about black people moving in next door was considered trite.

The report found that hostility toward Muslims has also increased and that they are even less popular than immigrants. A possible reason for this is the September 11 attacks, which provoked many Americans to think of Muslims as, you know, a bunch of crazed terrorists.

Interestingly, homosexuals were the group with which people had the biggest problem. More than a quarter of Americans said they would have issues if people "of that lifestyle" moved in next door. However, this was also the only group in for which tolerance has increased. Perhaps all those Will & Grace reruns are having an effect.

In any case, more Americans these days have trouble co-existing with immigrant neighbors, and as the report points out, we're not even talking about "illegal immigrants." That just covers people who happened to have committed the grievous sin of being born someplace other than the United States.

The reasons for this are numerous, but certainly are not complex. For many Americans, all immigrants are Latinos, all Latinos are illegals, and all illegals are murderous thieves hell-bent on destroying the nation. It's basic math.

Add in an economic recession and right-wing paranoia broadcast 24/7, and it's little wonder that so many people will consider slapping a "For Sale" sign on their lawn if the new neighbor speaks with a funny accent.

I have to wonder, of course, about the welcoming committee for a gay Muslim immigrant. Actually, let's not dwell on that one too much... way too disturbing.