Kind of Red

May 1, 2009

Pearls Before Swine

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Painted One @ 12:36 am
    You Can Put Lipstick on a Pig . . .       

    Today the World Health Organization (“WHO”) reported the number of confirmed H1N1 influenza A (“swine flu”) cases rose to 257 worldwide, and consequently it raised its current level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to 5 after assessing all available information and consulting several experts.  While the WHO has not confirmed how the rare strain of influenza has reached and infected humans, nor has it determined how severe the pandemic may become, several less credentialed commentators have begun speculating on the matter.  More specifically, Bonnie Fuller of the Huffingtonpost reported earlier this afternoon that talk show hosts Michael Savage and Neal Boortz, radio and Fox TV personality Glenn Beck and columnist Michelle Malkin are spreading their unfounded, xenophobic conjecture more rapidly than the spread of the actual contagion.  Brian Alexander of MSNBC has declared amid the outbreak, racism has gone viral.

    swine-fluIn her article, Ms. Fuller quotes their wildly fanciful speculation from various reports the journalists have made recently.  Mr. Savage is quoted as saying, “Illegal aliens are bringing in a deadly new flue (sic) strain.  Make no mistake about it.”  Ms. Malkin wrote, “I’ve blogged for years about the spread of contagious disease from around the world into the US as a result of uncontrolled immigration.” Mr. Beck said, “What happens if there’s a rash of deaths in Mexico . . . and if you’re a family in Mexico and people are dying and Americans are not, why wouldn’t you flood this border?”  Not to be outdone by the three, Mr. Boortz said, “What better way to sneak a virus into this country than to give it to Mexicans . . . then spread a rumor there are construction jobs here, and there they come.”  Mr. Savage said, “Make no mistake about it . . . [Mexican immigrants make] the perfect mules for bringing the strain into America.”  These xenophobic assaults on or nation’s immigrant community are unfortunate, but offer a vivid reminder of the familiar tune of racism and bigotry that some of our nation’s citizens have a difficult time silencing.

    "This Land is Your Land"

    "This Land is Your Land"

    With the use of a borrowed melody, famed folk singer Woody Guthrie wrote the now familiar refrain, “This land is your land; this land is my land, from California to the New York Island, from the Redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters; this land was made for you and me.” Scribbled on loose-leaf paper sixty-eight years ago, the lyrics of this now quintessential American song encapsulates the spirit of the Fourteenth Amendment and its guarantee of citizenship for “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” In sum, the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens from the assault of any state law that may abridge their privileges or immunities, shields them from any deprivation of “life, liberty and property” absent due process, and promises equal protection of the laws.

    The allure of the Fourteenth Amendment revolves around its inherent promise that all American citizens may lay claim to the rights and privileges enumerated in the other ones.  It is such a promise that entices scores of immigrants to brave turbulent waters or hostile border patrols in search of American shores or American soil in pursuit of life anew in a “more perfect union.” The promise that this land was made for them as well as those already within its borders beckons them.  Each immigrant cleaves firmly to the hope that this land was made for you and me—for them and us.

    Migrant Workers

    Mexican laborers began entering the United States in large numbers during the California Gold Rush, shortly after Mexico ceded California to the United States.  This began a nearly 150-year history of exploitation of Mexican workers, whereby Mexicans were conferred the basic right of travel and at times citizenship, when there was a need for their labor, only to be dismissed when that need is met.  Mexico’s close proximity to the United States, and the ease at which one might traverse the border, helped create the opportunity for Mexican migrant workers to fill labor demands more easily than other immigrants. Consequently, the United States “enthusiastically welcomed” Mexican immigrants into the labor pool during labor shortages, only to subject them to cruelty and resentment during times of labor surpluses or economic stress.  Mexican laborers have since become a disposable labor force for the United States, encouraged to enter when needed only to be “unceremoniously discarded” once the need is fulfilled.  Now our “unwanted” Mexican immigrants are to blame for the 96 reported cases of H1N1 influenza A.  It seems like yet another perfect excuse to exclude them from our borders.

    The Border

    In their article, Centering the Immigrant in the Inter/National Imagination, Professors Chang and Aoki offer a glimpse of how the United States’ borders are colored by markers other than geographical lines of division. The two contend the present mechanisms of defining the national community create the presumption that to be American is to be White and consequently “Asian Americans and Latina/os are discursively produced as foreign.” They further contend that foreign-ness breeds heightened scrutiny, as it becomes a proxy for questionable immigration status in large part because “foreign-ness is inscribed on our bodies.” This foreign-ness, they argue, creates a figurative border Asian Americans and Latina/os carry with them.

    The contentions of Professors Chang and Aoki bear their roots in the fertile soil of Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois’ musings in his acclaimed work, The Souls of Black Folk, where he wrote, “[t]he problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line . . .”  As Dr. Du Bois prophetically opined more than a century ago, America, as well as a host of other nations, still grapples with the problem of “the relation of the darker to the lighter races.” This problem surfaces most clearly when one examines the immigration debate in America. 

    News ReportWhat other than color, and its implied notions of race, could taint the status of certain immigrant populations while others who pose a similar threat of “foreign-ness” do not excite the same level of fear?  For example, Professors Chang and Aoki noted how during a time when our nation cried for limited immigration, Congress’ response via the Immigration Act of 1990 encouraged immigration from northwestern European nations such as Ireland. The professors further observed that the faces of Mexican immigrants crossing the border or Chinese immigrants arriving on boats typically make the evening news during discussions of illegal immigration, despite the fact that Italians constitute the largest group of undocumented immigrants in New York.

    These examples illustrate how race colors the “national imagination” when it fabricates its fear of immigration; the fear does not revolve around foreign-ness exclusively, but around foreign-ness and color. Professors Chang and Aoki term this mode of racism “nativistic racism,” and point to the example of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe to demonstrate the power of the racial dimensions engrained in American fear of immigration. The two professors mention how immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe became targets of discrimination until they adopted “White” identities. By claiming a White identity, Southern and Eastern European immigrants escaped the “animus of nativistic racism.” It is as Toni Morrison once said:

    But in becoming an American, from Europe, what one has in common with that other immigrant is contempt for me—it’s nothing else but color.  Wherever they were from, they would stand together.  The could all say, “ I am not that.”  So in that sense, becoming an American is based on an attitude: an exclusion of me.

    eastern_southern_immigration

    These attitudes and their reflection of unity in the exclusion of the colored others demonstrates the type of societal racism noted by Professor Lawrence Blum. He contends racism ascends and descends to each level of society, and accordingly individual racist beliefs can form societal beliefs that in turn influence institutional values.  The institutional values then have the potential to shape and reaffirm individual racist beliefs because the institutional values typically wield the power of the law as evidenced by our varying degrees of immigration reform throughout our history.

    One may find evidence of such phenomenon in laws aimed at correcting our “immigrant problem.” For example, Proposition 187 seeks to prevent illegal immigrants from taking away jobs of those who “belong here” and using precious public services for everyone else. Additionally, the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 permits states to terminate aid not only to illegal immigrants, but also to legal immigrants. These provisions exclude both legal and illegal immigrants from privileges that other American citizens may readily access.   Here lies an example of how quickly the color line can create boundaries within the United States that fail to afford the same liberties to all citizens, because upon enforcement of this discriminatory provisions the color line quickly illuminates the borders many immigrants carry with them.   In essence, the with the use of the law we  declare this is not “their” land, and our social mores seem stubbornly intent of reminding certain immigrants that Americans are not prepared to share it with everyone.   Consequently, with the force of law leaning towards these social mores, it would appear that the promise of this land offering the full benefits of its citizenship still sings a familiar tune of racial prejudice and discriminatory animus.

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