Saturday, May 07, 2005

Michael: The New Racism

In today's America, if you want to send the message to your right-wing constituency that you share their racist predelections, it is no longer fashionable to rail against affirmative action. Blacks, who are less than 10% of the population and largely urban, just aren't as threatening to exurbanites who never see them except on TV. If you want to make whitey feel threatened these days, the candidate better be brown, present in the suburbs and exurbs where whites live, have a fast growing population base, and speak another language they don't understand.

Today, if you want to proclaim to other racists publically that you too are a racist who shares their values and world view, you rail against 'illegals'. 'Illegals' allows you to proclaim your racism and still hide behind concern for the rule of law or national security.

Used to be one could reliably spot racist attitudes. They came with convenient buzzwords like segregation, Jim Crow, separate but equal, state’s rights, and epithets like nigger, spic, hebe and slant. Things aren’t quite so easy now. Racism isn’t for polite company anymore. Nobody gets a pass to be racist based on the their ‘heritage’ or ‘upbringing’ any more. No, being a racist in today’s America is a lot like being gay in yesteryear’s America. That’s right, today’s racists are like yesteryear’s gays; they hide in plain sight behind a blind of hypocrisy.

The most important analogy between racist/gay life is/was that the prejudice/preferences of the group dares not speak their name. Instead, there were code words and elaborate ritual displays and habitual haunts that allowed you to determine who was like you - with whom it was safe to let down your hair, and when you could let your inner bigot/queen out to frolic.

The false marriage was the ultimate refuge of the queer then. It had the advantage of being so hypocritical that it seemed impossible that it could all be just a lie. From the safe base of operations that was the happy hetero marriage, covert homosexuality could be more easily indulged, and more convincingly denied if people began to get wise.

Patriotic concern over immigration is likewise the ultimate refuge of the racist today. If a whiff of racism should wrinkle the nose of the public it can be more easily dismissed as solely the requirement of conscientious citizenship from within the unassailable refuge of national security. The same unthinkable level of hypocrisy that protected the married queer now protects the bigoted cowards who seek to hide inside the last refuge - patriotism.

The racist anti-immigrant agenda, characterized by advocacy of more punitive and authoritarian immigration measures, more law enforcement resources focused on immigration, and more militarization as the preferred means to prevent and deter undocumented immigration and to punish foreign nationals here without approval, is rooted in racist attitudes. Here’s why: these views universally characterize immigrants as ‘the other’ with malign motives, low morals, a propensity for criminal behavior (after all they broke the law to get here…) and other undesirable traits. Immigration racists never see undocumented immigration as the consequence of conditions we create and control, but only as the ethically questionable choice of the individual immigrant who can be deterred by high enough penalties, thorough enough enforcement, and draconian enough legal impediments (see Prop 200 for example).

The more the immigration racist/queer protests that their issue/marriage is purely economic/legitimate, or crime related/for reproduction, or national security based/for companionship, the more the issue/marriage is shown to be nothing but a front for racism/homosexuality. The real difference is that in the case of the homosexual hiding in a hetero marriage, the shame was on society for making him hide who he loves, whereas in the case of the immigration racist it is the bigot who should be ashamed and his hatred should be exposed for all to see.

I’m glad that homosexuals no longer have to hide hypocritically behind an institution that I genuinely esteem. Hopefully one day, all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, can openly share their lives with the person they love. Perhaps one day, too, people without ulterior racist motivations will control the agenda of undocumented immigration. Then we will see proposals that address the human needs represented by the flow of undocumented workers across our southern border. Such proposals won’t cater to our human need to choose villains and heroes, a pig-headed desire to simply outlaw what we don’t like or understand without considering the consequences, and they won’t be as media-friendly as a bunch of racist vigilantes patrolling in the desert. But unlike the proposals of the immigration racists, they will actually work.


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