Hamdi Ulukaya emigrated from Turkey in 1994 to study English and business in Long Island, New York. After starting a feta cheese business, called Euphrates in 2002, Ulukaya went on to found Turkish-style strained yogurt company, Chobani (called “Greek” yogurt in the US). By all accounts, Ulukaya is the epitome of the glossy ‘American Dream–’ he worked hard and was able to build a profitable business. However, Ulukaya has recently spoken publicly to encourage other companies to hire refugees, as he himself has done. While Ulukaya has been praised for his humanitarianism and activism on behalf of displaced persons, according to nativist bloggers and other right-wing adherents, this behavior is anti-American and should be boycotted.
Ulukaya has donated significant portions of his income to refugees in Iraq and Syria and founded the Tent Foundation, which serves to aid refugees by offering support to individuals, governments and organizations. His yogurt company, Chobani, has roughly 2,000 employees, 30 percent of whom are refugees. Conservative blog, 100% Fed Up, doesn’t see this as the problem, however. They write, “BTW, if he wants to spend his millions helping mostly Muslim refugees where they are, that is wonderful and commendable, but lobbying for more to be admitted to the US should be opposed at every turn.” In other words, they think Ulukaya can send money to refugees if he wants to, but encouraging the resettlement of refugees is the bigger problem. So why is Ulukaya being targeted specifically? Washington Post reported that, although other companies have followed his lead, Ulukaya in particular has faced more backlash than anyone else. They trace this back to the vitriolic rhetoric of the current Republican presidential candidate: “It is no mere coincidence that Mr. Ulukaya, an immigrant, was targeted while other executives who have aided refugees were not.”
The root of the hatred seems to be this: Ulukaya is an immigrant, hiring refugees and immigrants and getting big businesses to do the same thing. If enough people follow his lead, in boycotter’s eyes, there will be no more jobs left for Americans. Obviously, these nativist sentiments are rooted in fear and ignorance and inflamed by right-wing politicians and conservative media outlets such as Breitbart. In their eyes, jobs at Chobani factories are rightfully those of natural born citizens. Phrased a more demagogic way (here’s looking at you, Trump), immigrants are taking OUR jobs. Not only are these statements incorrect (as has been shown in studies such as “The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration”), but they perpetuate growing xenophobic politics in our country.
As the election comes to a close (or, when this is published, finally ends) we need to recognize hatred for what it is and understand from where it stems. Some have responded to the proposed ‘boycott’ by tweeting pictures of themselves buying shopping carts full of Chobani yogurt, and supporting businesses that take initiatives to hire refugees is a great start, but as a nation we also need to focus on the understanding of these issues. Tweeting a picture isn’t going to change anyone’s mind, but starting real conversations about the refugee crisis can. Fear of difference and the unknown is born from ignorance and can only be combatted with education.