Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Immigration and the Seige Mentality of Whiteness

An interesting post on AlterNet by the folks from the Southern Poverty Law Center on Patrick Buchanan's most recent book "State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America" raises the question: if this work is blatantly racist, what explains its steady hold on the New York Times Bestseller List?

Buchanan seems to dismiss the idea (that is central to other more nativist works that have treated the subject of Latino/a immigration to the United States, such as that of Samuel Huntington) that the United States is a society built around certain ideals of democracy, freedom, rights--what is called by sociologist Gunnar Myrdal as "the American Creed". Buchanan writes: "This idea of America as a creedal nation bound together not by 'blood or birth or soil' but by 'ideals' that must be taught and learned ... is demonstrably false." He locates the threat to the U.S. not in people who may not uphold the Creed, but in people who are simply not of European descent. Its worth repeating the claims he makes in the book as posted by AlterNet:

Excerpts from "State of Emergency, The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America":

"Our ancestors were not paralyzed by guilt. Confident in their culture and civilization, they believed in their superiority over what Kipling had called the 'lesser breeds without the law.'"

"Was not Western civilization vastly superior to the indigenous civilizations it encountered and crushed, from the Aztecs and Incas in the Americas to the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist civilizations from Africa to the Far East?"

"Against the will of the vast majority of Americans, America is being transformed ... we are witness to one of the greatest tragedies in human history."

"Though the South remained segregated [before the Civil Rights movement], culturally, we were one."

"California is becoming -- indeed, has become -- a Third World state."

"Thus the world's finest five-star hotel, the United States of America, becomes the flophouse for the planet."

"Since Americans of European descent -- unlike Germans -- are not into sackcloth-and-ashes, but take immense pride in their ancestor's achievements and bridle at reverse discrimination, it is hard to see a happy future of peace and reconciliation [if white guilt continues]."

"This idea of America as a creedal nation bound together not by 'blood or birth or soil' but by 'ideals' that must be taught and learned ... is demonstrably false."

"America faces an existential crisis. If we do not get control of our borders, by 2050 Americans of European descent will be a minority in the nation their ancestors created and built."

"A new border war has begun with the first signs of an 'intifada' to retake control of the Southwest."

I certainly don't recommend evaluating a book by looking at quotes taken out of context, but Buchanan does have a history of seeing complex political and economic issues in terms of a grand culture war between European societies and the "rest of the world." On the one hand, this is problematic because he does not explain very well what the "West" is; nor does he recognize the enormous diversity of cultures and ideals within Europe that make it difficult to think of it speaking in one voice.

On the other hand, I want to ask: what is it about this discussion that taps into the imaginations and feelings of vulnerability of so many Americans, making this book popular? The thread of comments on the AlterNet post is very interesting--many people wrote in to say "Ignore Buchanan's obvious racism, but don't dismiss the idea that immigration IS harming the American middle class in serious ways."

A very important work that came out recently is "The New Rural Poverty" and it does a very good job of laying out the policy proposals around immigration and the extent of the poverty surrounding immigrant communities in the United States. I found some claims made at the end of the book very eye opening. Many people argue that immigrant labor allows middle class Americans to have cheap food and that without it a lot of fruit and vegetables would become luxury items.

The authors point out that the percentage of the average family's income spent on fresh produce is actually very small (a sad commentary on our diets) and that raising wages for farm workers would not substantially increase food costs for American families. Raising wages would raise costs for growers, however, who would stand to see their portion of profit and the worth of their land decrease. At the same time, many growers resist mechanizing farm work because of cost. The result is the reliance on a relatively cheap labor force that is at the same time deepening poverty in rural areas--and that does come back as a problem for the middle class in terms of burdens on the social safety net. But its unlikely that a conversation can get started on this level with the kind of ahistorical, apolitical vocabulary injected into the public sphere by people such Buchanan.

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At 3:21 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

--Somewhat related to this post, but mostly related to the immigrants' rallies that occurred this past year--

Recall the outrage reported re the high school student walk-outs in support of immigrants' rights.

Now, fast forward to this past week. I heard on NPR this a.m. GWB lauding a high school band of students for skipping school to come and see him.



"I want to thank the Elko High School Band. (Applause.) Let me ask you something, you're not skipping school, are you? (Laughter and applause.) You are? Well, I'm glad to provide a convenient excuse. (Laughter.) If you're 18, just remember who got you out of school today -- (laughter) -- and vote for who I ask you to vote for. If not, get a substitute for you in the polls -- (laughter) -- like mom or dad, brother or neighbor. Because see, we're here talking about an election that is five days away."

At 3:31 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is your take on

At 3:33 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

errr. sans 'you'; it should be:

ps. is lou dobbs a philosopher? ;)

At 6:04 PM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

lou dobbs certainly is not a philosopher, but he does shape opinion through argumentation. he is fair game for philosophers therefore.

this group is not surprising. if you look at the history of mexican americans throughout the 20th century, there has been a strong movement to assimilate and claim white status. groups such as LULAC are part of that heritage. but incidents such as the zoot suit riots of 1943 and the treatment of mexican american veterans returning from World War II should be proof that Latinos/as are not always welcome, despite their claims to citizenship. Rudy Acuna's work, especially "Anything But Mexican" is good on this history.

At 12:37 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Living in the outskirts of Houston, I can attest to the chasm between those Latinos (mostly Mexicans) who celebrate their rich culture and those who turn their backs on it. From my perspective, I would say it lies in the generational distance or socio-econ status. That being said, however, the higher the education the more one senses Latino academes re-embracing a once-neglected background. I believe I fall into that category.

The shape of Dobbs' opinion is akin to a Darth Vader shadow; that may just be my own interpretation though. ;)

At 1:10 PM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

I think you're right about the generational status and income, too. If you look at the example of LULAC (started in Texas), it was a group of well-educated, second or third generation Mexicans. But I think that regional identity may also play a role in whether there is a strong push to assimilate; Mexicans have very different senses of their own identity in Texas, than they do in California, New Mexico, or even here in Oregon.

At 3:21 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Indeed, I agree that a regional character/identity of Mexican-Americans can have such diverse granularity that one would be remiss in defining a generic 'identity,' per se.

LULAC is interesting. It was omnipresent in my high school when I was a teen. Personally, I tend to shy away from joining a group outside of, say, a professional organization. I fear that off the radar ideological shifts occurring in 'my name' make me cautious in doing so.

I think, though, that's more of the generation of 30somethings of which I'm a member and not so much my cultural/ethnic background.

At 6:03 PM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

I can't say anything bad about LULAC either since I received a college scholarship from them! They are a mainstream civil rights organization, nothing too confrontational. At the beginning of their history, though, they were at the forefront of organizations trying to get the federal government to classify Mexicans as "white" people on the U.S. census.

At 6:09 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

did you catch this? (interview w/Huntington re _Clash.._):


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