The New Legal Form of Racism in the United States
Prior to the twenty-first century, racism was alive and in the open here in our country. White people used an endless array of racial epithets when talking about people who weren’t of “white” decent. There were institutions formed around the idea of “white supremacy” that tried to spread their message of racism. Prejudice was integrated in our government, schools, and businesses. We had laws that segregated “colored” people to their own schools, neighborhoods, swimming pools, water fountains, and even their own units in the U.S. military.
I grew up in a white middle-class suburban neighborhood hearing words like nigger, spic, wetback, beaner, wop, pollak, kike, greaser, jew, dothead, raghead, and the list went on. In those days these words were completely acceptable and often went along with a great many derogatory ethnic jokes told at home and at the workplace. It could have been from a family member, a friend, a coworker, or the average stranger on the street. White people told us that black people were all lazy and shiftless, Puerto Ricans were all knife-wielding gang members, Mexicans were dirty and only good enough to pick fruit, Italians and Polls were plain stupid, and the Jews were cheap money-grubbers.
Times have changed. Wonderful and amazing things happened here in the last half of the twentieth century. Ethnic groups and women stood up for themselves against racial and gender prejudice, and white people slowly started to listen and take action. It took two or three generations but Americans replaced hate with tolerance, prejudice with acceptance, and even new words like “Equal Opportunity Employer” and “Politically Correct” became part of the English language. We have our first popularly elected African-American president. Our schools are ever diligent in promoting the acceptance of our differences in our young people and severely discouraging any form of hate and violence. However, we are still working with many of the same humans within whom racism seems to be hard-wired in their brains.
Racism wasn’t eliminated; it was only suppressed in the psyche of many Americans. Our society has made racial slurs and epithets completely unacceptable, and illegal, creating laws to cover Hate Crimes when those crimes are perpetrated out of racism. There are still many racist people in this country who bite their tongues and choke back their hate daily in order to appear racially tolerant and accepting, but they wear a mask.
Racism is far from dead. This repressed and hidden prejudice has simply found a new outlet, a new group to hate: immigrants, foreigners, and especially the people who entered the country illegally. The long-repressed hate has resurfaced and is now directed at all of the foreign-born grouped together, with a special emphasis on the undocumented immigrants. Since it is a group made up of Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, El Salvadorians, Indians, Pakistanis, and others, it doesn’t appear to be racism on the surface. It is such a broad group we can dehumanize it and de-colorize it. The haters can now say, “I’m not racist; I hate them all the same,” and they use that to justify their ill will and bad intentions. They can say, “Illegal immigrants are all criminals,” and it seems legitimate on the surface because we are all supposed to hate criminals. They make the immigrants the enemy so that Americans are free to hate them.
In the last half of the last century there were groups that openly spouted their racial prejudices in their easily recognizable garb. The only real difference between the now defunct racist organizations and this new group is that the old groups were openly racist while the new group uses (an admittedly broken) set of laws to conceal their racism and make their prejudice appear to be patriotic. They use these laws to give them the appearance of being law-abiding flag-waving citizens when in reality they are only racist bigoted holdovers from a by-gone era. The most frightening part is that the new hate group has extended its influence into our nation’s governments and they are attempting to institutionalize racism again like in the Jim Crow days.
Laws like those in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, and the proposed Pennsylvania laws are designed solely to make the lives of the undocumented immigrant exceedingly difficult, to intimidate them, to make them fearful of police, to make them leave on their own, and to justify taking basic human rights away when the undocumented are caught in this neo-apartheid law. The lawmakers claim these laws, “are for the good of the citizens,” when the reality is the laws are based on deep racist feelings. They ignore the benefits that the immigrants bring because they simply do not want the immigrants in their state. It was up to the 1960’s that Georgia and Alabama had laws to ensure that whites and blacks were segregated.
Ripples of panic have started through white America in the wake of the 2010 Census when it was learned that whites will be the minority by 2050. This is only going to make the anti-immigration sentiment grow worse.
The new group uses the same old propaganda tactics – telling lies and half-truths. We are told that they crowd our schools and go to school for free when the truth is that schools are financed through property taxes, not wage tax. Even if they are renting the landlord still pays property tax. We are told that they are only looking for a free hand-out when the truth is they work very hard to make a living, and not being citizens, are not entitled to public assistance. We are told that they crowd our emergency rooms when the truth is they only go to the ER if they are close to death since they can’t pay for the care and they risk deportation. We are told they don’t pay taxes when they typically do, at the highest IRS rate. We are told they send all of their money home when in fact they need to spend much of it here to live, putting it back into our economy. We are told that immigrants come here to have “anchor babies” who will be citizens but the truth is that last year only 0.2% of births here in the U.S. were to non-resident mothers. We are told that the immigrants steal jobs from citizens when the truth is the immigrants do the worst jobs that Americans do not want to do. When was the last time a young white male complained he couldn’t get a job working in the fields because and immigrant took the job?
The anti-immigration people will throw crime statistics around to try to say, “See what these criminals are doing?” State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-PA) produced a brochure for his Arizona style anti-immigration legislation called “National Security Starts at Home”. In this clearly racist document he talks about the “Immigrant Invasion in Pennsylvania” and he lists 84 crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. The same brochure states that he estimates between 100,000 and 200,000 undocumented immigrants live in the state. That means that between 0.08% and 0.04% of the undocumented community committed crimes. What that really says is that 99.92% to 99.96% did not commit crimes. The truth is many hundreds, thousands, or more crimes are committed by U.S. citizens and the crime rate is much higher among citizens. Representative Metcalfe is simply using the time-honored scare tactics to convey his message of hate.
Americans have been told that there is “spillover” crime and violence along our border with Mexico. It is an attempt to justify spending more tax-payer dollars to militarize the border and to construct more border fence. USA Today studied the border area by looking at the police records of over 1,500 law enforcement agencies along the border from Texas to California as well as federal FBI records. They found that the crime rates are lower in the border areas than in much of the rest of the country. Again, more lies told by the hate-filled racists.
In June of this year Senator John McCain (R-AZ) stood up in front of his state and said that he had evidence that the worst wildfires in Arizona history were started by “illegal aliens” crossing the border. In late August of this year two American citizens were charged with starting the fires with an improper fire in their campsite. At best Senator McCain owes the Latino community an apology. At worst he used his political position and an Arizona tragedy to further his racist political agenda.
Never once do the anti-immigration people mention the benefit to our economy that comes from these immigrants. They will not tell you that they typically work in the most difficult jobs or that these people put millions of dollars back into the economy, much more than they take away.
If you spend time talking to the anti-immigration people you will find it very easy to dispel all of the myths and lies that they believe by using solid facts. You will find that they are left with only one single argument: These people entered the country illegally; therefore, they are criminals. They hang there collective hats on that one single argument and hold onto it for dear life.
The argument then becomes a matter of the severity of the crime to which the anti-immigration people will say it is a serious offense, even if the immigrants have broken no laws since they entered the country. The pro-immigration people will say that it is a victimless crime akin to Jay-Walking while the anti-immigration people cry that they are somehow the victims of the illegal border crossings.
A local contractor complained that, “The ‘illegals’ are putting me out of business because my competitors are hiring cheap illegal labor and can underbid me. I refuse to hire ‘illegals’, so I have to pay higher salaries and can’t compete.” When it was suggested that we could make the “illegals” legal, which would then bring the undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and eliminate that salary inequality, he replied, “No way! These people are criminals and we shouldn’t reward criminal behavior! Send them all home!” He, like many other in the anti-immigrant camp, would rather the U.S. government spend upwards of $10,000 for each of the 11 million undocumented immigrants to arrest, detain (for sometimes months), and transport them back to their countries (somewhere between $800 billion and $100 trillion dollars) rather than reap the economic benefits of allowing them to work here, especially at a time when our economy needs it most.
This is how the true colors of racism show through the thin veil. I have learned in life that when someone tells you something but it still doesn’t make sense, they are not telling you everything or they are not telling you the truth. When it can be demonstrated through verifiable facts and figures that immigrants produce more than they take, and are good for the economy, but yet the anti-immigration people still argue until they are blue in the face that the immigrants are all, “criminals that should be put in jail or sent home,” there is something else going on in their minds. That something is racism, pure and simple and it is still alive in the United States.
The anti-immigration people will become extremely agitated and immediately feign offense at being called a racist. They become terrified of that truth, that someone will learn their true motivations, because when that comes to light they know they will have no argument left. They climb into their ivory tower and they will yell, “You liberals have no argument so you start calling me a racist!” They summarily dismiss all of the pro-immigration arguments, facts, and figures, and resort to their one and only argument that, “These people crossed the border illegally so they are criminals.” They will continue by saying, “I ‘don’t mind’ immigration as long as it is done legally,” when they know full well that the U.S. immigration system is so broken that it is exceedingly difficult to receive a visa, and legal immigration is highly unlikely. Most prospective immigrants must wait ten to twenty years to get permission to enter this country as a temporary resident. “I don’t mind” really means, “I hate immigration. I like the current system because it keeps immigrants out of my country.”
They never ask the question, “Why?” Why do the immigrant people choose to leave everything behind and to risk their lives to get here? They come here for the same reason our ancestors came here, to make a better life for themselves. The difference today is that our exclusionist immigration laws force these people to risk death to reach our land of opportunity.
The anti-immigration side tells only part of the story as smoke and mirrors to conceal their true motivations and to give legitimacy to their hate. They only point out the negative exceptions to the rule while they refuse to acknowledge all of the benefits these immigrants bring. They use broken immigration laws as a club against those who bear the brunt of their prejudice, while making themselves appear to be model citizens. The anti-immigration argument is based on lies, twisted half-truths, prejudice and negative emotion. The pro-immigration argument is based on facts, reason, logic, fiscal sense, and common sense.
We have managed to change the hearts and minds of many Americans, but we have only managed to suppress the racism in others. We still have work to do and changes to make. Our current immigration system must be overhauled to allow for temporary workers and provide a means for the undocumented to become temporary residents.
Above all we must remain ever vigilant for racism and hate, especially when it disguises itself behind our American flag.