Tag Archives: nativism

The year that class apparently stopped mattering

TW: classism, racism, nativism

2012 was a fascinating year, especially from a perspective within the United States. There’s a long history of residents of this country telling ourselves that we’re a classless society, or failing that a country where opportunity is ubiquitous and untainted by social and political biases. Last year, and particularly the presidential election over the course of it, seemed like something of an abrupt end to that, with Romney’s 47 percent video solidifying class as inevitably one of the salient identities and the post-election analysis often becoming fixed on how rapidly support for the Democrat Obama transformed into support for the Republican Romney at around $50,000 per year per household in most states.

romney in a pile of money

(It was also a golden age of photoshopped images of Mitt Romney, for obvious reasons, from here.)

This past year something else happened, however, particularly in how the media analyzed issues. In short, class completely disappeared from the conversation. In some cases, the absence of class in how representative sets of groups were selected was appalling obvious, with Ron Fournier’s perceived look into the heads of current students he expects to lead the country in the future being a particularly vivid example. That the class of those he talked to (never even directly about the issue, it seems important to add) was a force that could bias them to a certain view on government was something Fournier never broached in his article. While he could obliquely reference their class status as easing their launch into “public service”, he couldn’t imagine it as something that shaped their opinions, their experiences, and ultimately their politics. It’s not that the economic system is invisible, just people’s status (that is, class) that apparently was to his eyes and ears. Likewise, the result was that the differing positions held by poorer young people weren’t considered.

Fournier was just an undeniable example of this phenomenon. Earlier in the year, in fact, Obama’s State of the Union address reflected a similar disrecognition of how his language divided immigrants into those that worked desired jobs and hence were imagined to be “highly-skilled” and even “entrepreneurs” and those that, ostensibly, are neither of those things as a result of them being unwanted. The reality that many undocumented immigrants are badly wanted as laborers by US-based businesses, but precisely because they can be exploited economically and socially, wasn’t acknowledged in the slightest. Much like the high school students with less affluent backgrounds, their reality (and hence, their political interests and needs) were outside of the discussion.

This failure to consider how class intersects with nearly all political issues didn’t merely erase poor people from the discussion, but actively distorted a number of historical figures records while they were remembered this year. From Nelson Mandela to Martin Luther King Jr, the class politics of a number of Black political figures were totally removed from public political memory, often as a part of otherwise remaking them into figures useful to White commentators. The former was done an additional disservice before his death, by BBC reporting that disregarded the economic reality of historical and modern South Africa, largely again by means of erasing the poorest residents of that country (who remain the indigenous Black communities) in order to make a political point that seemed stolen from White nationalists.

In a lot of formal and official discussions, 2013 was a year of class needlessly receding from the discussion, which often took any type of look at the beliefs, ideas, and even existence of the poorest people with it.

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The year that queer politics imploded

TW: heterosexism, sexism, racism, nativism, deportation, sodomy laws, colonialism

As far as I know, no one else has said this yet, but we need to entirely rethink the way we talk and think about struggling against the social, political, and even economic power that straight people have (or more concisely, heterosexism). The past year has been a startling series of signs of that. Yes, there’s been the longstanding bigotries and attitudes that are unfortunately familiar. The lack of same-gender marriages being recognized in parts of the US making queer/LGBT families uniquely vulnerable to forced separations as a result of either immigration policy and civil suits. Likewise, a person’s sexuality is apparently still proof of their inferiority, and hence the invalidity of their writings and views. More globally, there’s been a dramatic rolling back of queer political rights in first Russia, and now India. There’s some political conversations where heterosexism is talked about as being “over” in some sense, when the reality is that anti-heterosexism politics are still all too necessary.

Just not the kind that we have right now.

Over the past year, the supposedly queer response to the reality that queer couples lack legal protections was often to trivialize what marital recognition means while as previously mentioned the direct link between penalizing cohabitation or actually separating such families with deportation continued to exist. A certain willingness to question whether that or other policies are the best ways of protecting ourselves is of course, important. But that line of thinking about and hopefully for queer people has become a common tool of straight and cisgender commentators – and not just those that seem to be intending to be genuinely mindful, but also those that are more dubious, or those that are outright trying to define what our politics can and should be. This sort of thinking that were originally designed by and for queer people to use to keep our politics healthy have, in short, been hijacked. They’ve been turned into mechanisms that straight and cisgender people now regularly use to police our politics.

The problem is much larger than the increasingly controlling role that straight and cisgender people have sought to have in queer politics over 2013. In short, there’s also the problems that accompany the Dan Savages of the queer communities. Or rather, a very specific queer community that’s near exclusively White and male (among other demographic specifics). The legal reality that marriage for queer White men very seldom means being liberated from the threat of civil suits by controlling former husbands or sperm donors seems to be the reason why that perspective on marriage is rarely offered. The rare references to how marriage eases immigration and can mean the difference between being allowed to stay with your family or deportation and separation are rare because of how unusual it is for that to affect that specific subset of queer people. The “frivolous” focus on marriage is a product of it being talked about as purely a sign of social inclusion and acceptability, which is frankly what it is for the group of queer people who are most visible within the US.

Looking back at 2013, queer politics were on a national (if not international) scale dominated by the concerns of that specific group. There were far more conversations this year about Dan Savage’s misguided (and honestly bizarre) boycott of a vodka company with a Russian name than Masha Alexanderovna Gessen’s experiences at the hands of Russian police. The limited look at what heterosexism is to queer White men (and generally speaking ones that live in the US or Western Europe and so on) is part of what’s given it the appearance of being a hazy mix of nonsensical consumer choices and other issues that seem fundamentally reducible to a specter of heterosexism that could be applied to them (while it is actually being applied to other queer people).

(Taking a momentarily broader look at the recent history of queer politics – it was largely White cis men like Dan Savage that made queer politics something straight and cisgender “allies” could feel comfortable engaging it, while at the same time it seems, they created the impression of it as superficial and “frivolous” which said “allies” can now use to control discussions about more “pertinent” politics. 2013 is merely a hopeful breaking point in this feedback loop that has a longer history.)

Ideally, queer politics don’t have to be that way. We can have conversations about marriage that notice that it’s not merely been a straights-only matter of whose relationships have been recognized, but such a club that was imposed as a part of European colonialism. In some cases, changing those laws can be a part of dismantling the still lingering sexual and gendered aspects of colonial domination. With the recent news of India’s effective reinstitution of sodomy laws, it seems important to note how reporting packaged for Western audiences failed to recall that the law was originally undemocratically instituted by British colonial rulers, while more globally-minded media has put that history front and center.

377 ipc 2
(Meanwhile, protesters in India simply referenced the penal code in question (377) and the decolonization Quit India movement to make their point, from here.)

But that very same dynamic of decolonization played out much earlier in 2013 in New Zealand, where again allies talking about the insubstantial or irrelevant nature of the marriage reforms also reared its head. While a White, cis, straight, male member of their parliament explained his support for the new law in terms of how little he saw it as impacting “the fabric of society”, Louisa Wall, the Maori and lesbian MP who had introduced the law, was honored with flowers from her colleagues and serenaded with a Maori love song by the parliament’s gallery. There’s many ways of understanding what happened in those moments, but it’s hard to deny something important happened there, with an indigenous and queer woman being celebrated in her ancestral language at the heart of the government that colonized her people and previously insisted that it would not recognize any relationship that she had wanted to be in. In short, it was a reclamation of space, and perhaps even power.

It seems like that sort of issue, as New Mexico and Hawaii – both states with large indigenous populations which like the Maori have differently conceptualized relationships and sexuality from their White colonizers – joined the portions of the US that recognize same-gender marriages. That, like many of the other more complicated aspects of marriage and other issues at the forefront of queer political thought at this moment, wasn’t acknowledged much over the course of this year.

A part of breaking the consensus between more enfranchised queer populations and the broader world of straight and cisgender politics that those sorts of reforms are largely window-dressing lies in recognizing those lived experiences and how important those supposedly small changes can be in terms of their personal meaning but also in many cases the political protections they afford people and their families. Many of the little political details that surround queer people in the US began rapidly changing over the course of 2013, but a significant amount of that has been invisible to people who are certain that queer issues are in and of themselves frivolous. We need politics that can, and can respond to those realities.

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Bloody Kansas

TW: racism, nativism, heterosexism

In the past few months, the southern Great Plains have become something of a flashpoint in US politics, although not with the level of violence seen prior to the US Civil War. Recently, the issue hasn’t been whether Kansas should enter the union as a free or slave state, but rather over whether the validity of indigenous governments and populations in Kansas and Oklahoma supersedes or is subject to the (White-dominated) Kansas and Oklahoma state governments.

In Oklahoma, the issue has come to light as a result of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes’ joint government choosing to recognize same-gender marriages, leading to three widely reported marriage. Through the sovereign tribal government, the members of those marriages are entitled to federal marital benefits. At least, they should be, but Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern has insisted otherwise, arguing that it is “sad” that the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes’ laws don’t “recognize what 75 percent of the voters of Oklahoma declared” which conveniently missing the point that as a sovereign tribe, Oklahoman law is moot. Technically speaking those tribes are “domestic dependent nations” which are only subject to regulation by the federal government – as a sort of quasi-vassal to the United States, not Oklahoma or any other US state.

(The most recent couple to marry under the auspices of the tribe, Jason Pickel [L] and Darren Black Bear [R], from the above link.)

In an odd way, the quarrel isn’t actually about marriage law, since Oklahoma is not (and neither is Kansas) a state that is among those refusing to recognize the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That granted same-gender couples federally-guaranteed marriage rights and at least within US military contexts full-faith-and-credit, meaning that their marriage under (say) Massachusetts law will be recognized in federal offices across the country. Oklahoma is not behaving in the manner seemingly reserved for states that previously attempted to secede (and, Indiana, the odd one out). The matter that Kern is working with to further her heterosexist opinion is her (inaccurate) belief that Oklahoman law should at least to some degree determine the laws of sovereign indigenous governments within the territory of Oklahoma.

This past Spring, something similar rocked Kansas, where Kansas State Representative Ponka-We Victors, an indigenous woman, responded to anti-immigrant rhetoric by stating that she saw the Whites who dominate Kansas state politics as “illegal immigrants” who had jeopardized the way of life for indigenous people across the continent. In short, she flipped the script and challenged the White, Kansan Secretary of State to prove his validity as a state official within the context of him using devaluing language, like “illegal”.

In the southern Great Plains, it seems that over the course of the past year many prominent political figures have begun challenging the unusual legal status of indigenous governments – both from the perspective that they may be more valid governments than the states set up by (primarily White) settlers as part of American expansionism and from those who view those state governments as more valid than tribal ones. Things may be changing in that corner of the United States in a way that might force all residents of the US to rethink the odd legal status of indigenous peoples and their political rights within our borders.

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Their motives

TW: racism, nativism, heterosexism

Alex Pareene over at Salon has an interesting piece up about why precisely the Republicans in the US Senate are egging on Democrats to choose between getting immigration reform done without provisions for queer families or making no progress on the issue at all. His take seems to be that the Republicans are opposed on the basis of three major, distinct issues: their contempt for their Democratic colleagues, their contempt for queer and genderqueer people, and their racism towards the undocumented specifically and immigrants generally.

While, I’ll grant Pareene that all of those forces can and often do operate individually, the last two seem uniquely capable of interacting in harmful ways that the Republicans would be particularly interested in exploiting. Yes, exploiting – as I mentioned above, this is very effectively dividing progressive organizers as an issue, with MoveOn putting out videos about why this and other issues need to be ironed out of the bill before its passage while America’s Voice is calling for people to thank Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) for guiding the bill through the editorial process as he did (while allowing the inclusive language he added himself to be stripped from it).

This has actually been an explicit goal of many overtly heterosexist groups for years now: to divide the modern progressive coalition into groups motivated by opposing the patriarchy (in this case, queer people) and those motivated by opposing White supremacy (in this case, predominantly Latin@s and other people of color). An inevitable outcome of that, of course, is that queer people of color and women of color are made uniquely vulnerable, as the political process is forced to choose between protecting them from racism or shielding them from patriarchal oppression. In this case, that’s the space many queer Latin@s find themselves in – as “burdens” for the at times gender normative reform movement to consider and tokens for the heavily White-dominated queer and genderqueer advocates to potentially extend a hand (maybe).

(A declaration of existence, from here.)

Beyond that gross game of divide-and-conquer that the Republicans seem to be playing, there’s also the simple question of why they’re permitting immigration reform to go through in the first place. As often mentioned here, immigrants are repeatedly asked to prove their usefulness or be worth the cost, which seems to tie into the current exploitative conditions many undocumented immigrants currently work within. Reform needs to have a proven benefit to non-immigrants to justify the loss of a “below the law” labor pool. But that labor pool has certain defining features – frequently they provide hard physical labor, which doesn’t mix very easily with frankly flamboyant stereotypes of queer and genderqueer people.

It could be a simple as Republicans thinking that there are no queer and genderqueer people within the labor pools they’re negotiating with.

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How wrong is the Heritage Foundation? Let us count the ways…

The Washington Post is usually not the best newspaper, but it’s not above some surprises. Last Monday, they printed an excellent rebuttal to the report co-authored by the obviously racist Jason Richwine, which really digs deep into three major intellectual failings in their report on the “cost” to granting undocumented immigrants amnesty and full citizenship. I don’t have the time today to do a proper post, so I’ll let this be a let-me-link-you that’s hopefully enlightening about exactly how wrong the Heritage Foundation’s report was.

To begin with, it’s not exactly a measurement of the cost of changing the millions of undocumented people’s statuses, so much as the larger macroeconomic effect. As a result, it has to at least roughly model the current economic circumstances in order to compare them with a hypothetical future where amnesty and citizenship have been granted to the vast majority of currently undocumented people. Except they make some questionable decisions about how to approximate both the current and that potential economy.

Starting with our world – they effectively pretend that the most regressive aspects of our tax system don’t exist. According to the Washington Post the study omits the “mortgage interest tax deduction, the charitable deduction, the employer health-care tax exclusion, the preferential treatment of capital and dividend income” among other “massive benefits” to primarily wealthy individuals. In short, they’re biasing their comparison by making it seem as though a disproportionate portion of public benefits in the US are paid for by the most wealthy in the United States.

That might seem irrelevant, but given how they presume much lower use of public resources by people who are currently undocumented, meaning that the wealthy who typically have legal residency statuses are presented as effectively covering the poor, but only those that also aren’t undocumented. In short, they’re creating the impression that our current fiscal conditions are much healthier than they actually are – with fewer people deprived of basic services or needs (by arbitrarily deciding that undocumented people don’t currently count) and more people contributed their personal reserves of wealth to public benefit (through a more progressive taxation system than we actually have).

(Unfortunately this is what’s actually happened over the past few decades, from here.)

Those deceptions alone would have probably undermined any meaningful conclusion from the comparison Heritage set up in this study. That said, they don’t leave it there – they also presume that extending legal residency status (and ideally citizenship) to currently undocumented people won’t result in them being able to access hiring paying work or more effectively lobby for better pay (among other economic benefits). The degree of ignorance that shows about how a lack of legal residency status is used to exploit people within the current economy is astounding.

The Washington Post actually points directly to one study, which points to a conservative 15 percent increase in average income and a less cautious estimate of a 25 percent increase, as a counterpoint to this categorical belief that the lots of the currently undocumented won’t be improved by amnesty or at least significant reforms. Between more immigrants reporting their incomes and those immigrants having more income in the first place, there’s a clear reasoning behind why changing their statuses would translate into some growth in the tax pool, which would potentially cover any increase in service use by currently undocumented people.

In essence, this comparison between the current economy and this hypothetical one “wrecked” by immigrants rests on three major misconceptions of how the world actually works. It’s working towards the conclusion that granting immigrants rights and privileges would be ruinous, which it can only support by presenting the status quo as healthier than it actually is and imagining amnesty as simultaneously resulting in a run on public services but no other major economic impact. My hats off to the Washington Post for actually getting into the details to how Heritage lied.

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This is not just in theory

TW: ethnic cleansing, islamophobia, genocide

On Monday, I discussed just how much violent rhetoric the Muslims of the world, particularly anglophone ones, are subject to, on an increasingly frequent scale. It’s become commonplace to discuss mass murder, for instance. It’s important to remember that this isn’t just a matter of thoughts and statements, as in some places, Muslims are being killed or otherwise systemically endangered because of their religious faith. Al Jazeera has been doing some excellent reporting for the past couple of months on the situation in Burma or Myanmar, specifically approaching the “democratization” of the country from that angle.

In the past couple of days, especially, they’ve covered the dangerous potency of islamophobia in the country, starting with a renewed look at the nativist and islamophobic violence against the Rohingya people, who tend to live in the westernmost province of Myanmar. Much of their recent history is quite depressing – from first colonialist exploitation by the British (who “imported” their labor into British Burma) to modern xenophobic otherness by their compatriots of some half century (if not longer). It’s one of the cases where the separate socio-economic classes laid out by Harm de Blij in The Power of Place seems particularly salient. Unfortunately, following the departure of an imperialist “global” class, the “mobile” Rohingya laborers and “local” Burmese peoples have targeted each other, instead of cooperating to repair the colonial era damage to the country.

(From Human Rights Watch’s online report on the killings, an image of civilian forces that drove out or killed Rohingya in western Myanmar in the summer of 2012.)

Today, however, Al Jazeera provided some excellent analysis of the broader regional implications of this conflict, both for Buddhist-majority countries like Sri Lanka and Muslim-majority ones like Indonesia. In a nutshell, while there are ethnic dimensions to this and nearly every ethnic conflict in neighboring countries, many of those tensions between groups are increasingly talked about as religious. The Rohingya might not be exclusively targeted for being Muslims, but like many people in the area and ultimately around the world, their religious identity makes them only even more acceptable as targets. While the Rohingya have born the brunt of anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar, it is not unique to regions where they live and has led to recent killings of Muslims with other ethnic backgrounds.

Of course, there’s a question of acceptable to whom – and the potential answers to that are distressingly broad. With prior reports showing deliberate government inaction and subsequent efforts to restrict Muslims facing communal violence in Myanmar, it seems wrong to excuse the actions of various official and unofficial political leaders. But beyond them, Al Jazeera seems to be asking whether the international community is culpable as well. Today, their official twitter account explained, “We ask if the EU is [sic] liftting sanctions on Myanmar prematurely“. Sanctions are difficult to justify in any situation, but the fact that a wave of violence against Muslims hasn’t phased narratives in the “Western” media that Myanmar has democratized seems to indicate something about the perception of Muslims in not only that country but ours as well.

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The need to address Black Immigrants

TW: racist criminalization, nativism

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has decided to include on the short list of issues it will push for this year the overhauling of the existing deportation-focused immigration justice system, focusing particularly on the plight of Caribbean immigrants, who are often Black. There’s much that can and has been said much better than I could at the description of this decision and the motivations behind it over at Color Lines, but I think I’d just like to add one quick extra applause to the CBC for this one.

(Nicolas Stewart, 11, at his naturalization ceremony in Queens, in 2009. He was born in Jamaica. From here.)

In a very real sense, immigrants who are Black must struggle with the complex interaction of two distinct forms of racist criminalization. As immigrants, their very legal status can easily be declared “illegal” and deemed unfit to exist. As Black individuals, there’s a remarkable resilience to any claim that they’re criminal even when all indications point to other conclusions. It’s hard not to see these two distinct forms of racist belief in a criminal other fusing together and ruining lives with descriptions like:

David Pierre, a 47-year-old in immigration detention, says he doesn’t have that much time. Pierre was born in Antigua, moved with his mother to the US Virgin Islands when he was 2, and then came north to Jersey to attend trade school in the ’80s. He’s married and has six kids, two who are serving in the armed services. But for the last three years, Pierre been locked in immigration detention centers. 

In the ’90s Pierre was convicted of theft and a set of drug offenses including sale or possession in a school zone. He served two years in prison and was deported to Antigua. But Pierre came back—his family was here and he didn’t have anything in his birthplace. Although Pierre says he got his life together and court records confirm his lawful course, federal immigration authorities flagged him in 2009. As a result, Pierre has been in immigration detention since 2010.

‘I’m here for something like 20 years,’ says Pierre, who is fighting his case. ‘I paid my debt to society and I turned my life around and now I have this issue. I have a family here, my wife is here, everything I own is here.’

The CBC is equally focusing on fighting poverty and guaranteeing voting rights this year, both issues that are distressingly necessary to address at the present, but it’s refreshing that they included alongside those two the needs of Black immigrants as well.

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The advantage of waiting until Friday

TW: nativism, indefinite detention

Yes, the sequester is stupid nonsense that Congress not only accidentally inflicted on itself but the entirety of the United States, but that’s not the whole story. Over the past week, fear of the automatic cuts to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) budget have prompted that agency to release several hundred immigrants who would otherwise be detained indefinitely.

(Above is a photo taken during a raid of a home in Santa Ana, California. ICE is an organization that quite literally raids homes, which you can read about in more depth here.)

Likewise, if the sequester were to take place, Israel would receive less aid for security and military uses from the United States, which has contributed to the various human rights abuses that I mentioned yesterday. Of course, the sequester is mind-boggling in its capacity to devastate the US economy, in large part because it treats those cuts – to our nativist security forces and an undemocratic regime – as equivalent to the same proportions of the federal funding for education, transportation, and health services. There’s a bit of dark humor in that the party claiming to speak for morality provided a proposal for debt reduction that is willfully morally blind.

That being said, several hundred families are sleeping sounder tonight because of it. There’s a human benefit to waiting to the last minute to resolve it, and the results are momentarily enriching the lives of some of the most marginalized people in this country. The trick will be in preventing the other shoe from falling, which among other things will require the US Congress and President Obama to find the will to prevent the sequester from doing more harm than good.

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The consensus on immigration still sucks

TW: dehumanizing nativism, class inequality

The build-up to the State of the Union address last night is pretty easy to define by a single feature – conflict. There mere fact that the president is a multiracial man has already led to nearly five years of racist screeds like this one, and his speech on Tuesday was a very explicit reminder to Republicans that they hadn’t been able to remove him, even with every dog whistle in their arsenal. What’s more, Obama’s speech was responded to not by a unified Republican party, but officially by Senator Marco Rubio and unofficially by Senator Rand Paul. The situation isn’t just filled racially-tinged partisan tensions, but also infused with a battle between different stylistic branches of the Republican party.

Something remarkable happened last night though – all three speeches talked about immigration in much the same way. The  national discussion, regardless of whoever of those three is doing the talking, is still fixed on immigrants being politically sorted based on perceived “usefulness” to the United States. It’s probably not terribly surprising that Senator Paul said that Republicans “must be the party who sees immigrants as assets, not liabilities” but it is rather shocking to realize that seeing immigrants as subhuman investments is something lauded as pro-immigrant. That tells you something about both how accustomed we’ve become as a country to immigrants being commodified and how little it takes to be seen as praising immigrants.

But even from those we’ve been trained to expect policies that protect and empower immigrant communities, that sort of dehumanizing attitude crept into the open last night. Marco Rubio, whose grandparents left Cuba prior to the revolution, only briefly spoke about immigration policies, even if he extensively referenced his family history. He explained his position, saying,

We can also help our economy grow if we have a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world’s best and brightest. We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally. But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws.

While he does say that there should be some resolution of the undocumented status of many millions of people, he’s decided vague on what that should be. Likewise, he’s quite clear that he expects extensive security, but not terribly specific about what inadequacies have presented themselves during Obama’s presidency. Where he finally provides a clear and singular goal of policy is that our legal immigration system should allow us to attract those deemed useful to us on the basis of their skills and intelligence. It’s hard not to read this statement as implying a two-tiered system of easy access and immigration for those we deem worthy and a much more rigorous and arduous process if one at all for everyone else. It’s a bit strange to find such statements in an indictment that Obama is placing too much power in the hands of the government.

In any case, Obama is not much better, even after having made the Dream Act law by executive order, allowing thousands of undocumented immigrant children to naturalize as US citizens, provided they attend college or join the army. Again, on the margins, there’s a clear message that immigrants must be deemed useful to be granted privileges, like a legal right to live in what’s effectively their home country. His speech unfortunately was not much of a departure from that perspective.

In fact, Obama explained that he would continue his policy of all but militarizing the US-Mexico border and that naturalization for undocumented immigrants would only be possible as part of a larger plan that “includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.” His message was primarily about how little he would reform immigration to ease access to citizenship for those who wanted it, excepting that “real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods [and] reduce bureaucracy” in order to “attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.” There’s a bit of stunning classism buried in that statement, in that it ignores the millions of undocumented immigrants to do other work, from agricultural labor to cleaning homes and businesses to even building our infrastructure, that quite literally allows much of the United States function.

(Undocumented workers on a farm in central California, from here.)

Is the purpose of immigration reform really to only help immigrants who are “entrepreneurs and engineers”? Don’t the undocumented deserve dignity independent of their occupation? And doesn’t that entail listening to their needs, even if we think we don’t need them at all?

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Your struggle is not the only struggle

TW: nativism, violence against protesters

Earlier today, the southern Californian chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union posted this on twitter:

(They were publicizing their meeting with Sandra Fluke, which admittedly would be what I would do in that situation too. From here.)

In the contextless post on twitter, it might be hard to realize what they’re talking about is the right to access an abortion. There’s misinformation out there, and not enough efforts in California to counter that, but no actual violations of the right to bodily autonomy, at least as far as that branch of the ACLU apparently sees it.

Twitter’s already started calling them out for the various other problems that such a statement ignores, but I think it’s worth noting here the lengthy history of undocumented immigrants throughout this country having basic protections denied to them. Since we’re talking about the threat to equality in California specifically, why not mention the lengthy history of police brutality against undocumented immigrants who politically organize? Or the campaigns to keep Spanish out of the public eye? Or the fact that some of the victories in extending equal rights to undocumented individuals has involved campaigns and policy solutions that focus on exceptional cases? As UCLA’s understandable push for equal student rights be extended to students without legal resident status worryingly put it, “[m]any undocumented students are honor students, athletes, student leaders, and aspiring professionals”. Will those who aren’t seen as remarkable get grandfathered in?

If anyone should be familiar with this sort of situation, you would think it would be advocates for reproductive freedoms and related feminist struggles. If there’s a short summary of what they’ve worked against in the past few years, it would be normalized inequalities and the struggle against them having to be expressed in terms of how exceptional and therefore worthy some marginalized people are. In other words, precisely the sort of nonsense undocumented immigrants have to wade through at the moment in California and much of the US.

We’ve moved beyond the time of Seneca Falls, where the Declaration of Sentiments, which decried the sexist legal codes of that time, protested that many rights were “given to the most ignorant and degraded men—both natives and foreigners”. We’ve gotten to the point where the core of the feminist movement has shed that past interest in the “right” women having a clear advantage over the “wrong” men, but that’s simply a negative space. To the extent that we can talk about it as a singular thing, feminism has stopped directly colluding with heterosexist, racist, classist, and assorted other hierarchic systems, to advance only the cause of comparatively privileged women. That’s great, but is that really enough? Haven’t we reached a point where feminist advocates would recognize that their struggle, no matter how important and far reaching, is not the only legitimate one? Haven’t we reached a point where feminist organization might not forget about those other modes of oppression?

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The Rohingya World is on fire too

TW: ethnic cleansing, genocide, nativism, class warfare, erasure

Amy Chua’s World on Fire, first published in 2002, quickly captured the imagination of a wide swathe of the media and has continued to be a subtle force in political analysis since then. From the almost establishment liberal press to the moderate and internationalist conservatives, a consensus emerged that for all its faults, the book was quite an insightful examination of the trials many developing countries faced. With economic globalization, the prior decade had seen something of a race to the bottom as markets “reformed” or “opened” around the world. As post-Cold War democratization began to speed up and seemed poised to accelerate given Bush’s lofty language of a plan to democratize the Middle East, ethnic competition within electoral contexts had increased. Her idea that the class war and ethnic electoral competition in many places could collapse into a single, potentially very violent struggle seemed not particularly unreasonable, even if she presumed a certain model of a given less developed country.

The Guardian hailed that conception of the world’s poorer nations, actually, as it noted-

“Her starting point is that in many developing countries a small – often very small – ethnic minority enjoys hugely disproportionate economic power. As she points out, this is not true in the west: on the contrary, we are accustomed to small ethnic minorities occupying exactly the opposite situation, a very disadvantaged economic position.”

If you accustom yourself with those other countries, primarily defined by what they aren’t (in this case, “Western”), you’ll quickly realize the illusion at play here. The assumption is that demographically large ethnic groups are typically impoverished, which is unsurprising given that we’re talking about less wealthy countries. Likewise, small ethnic minorities may install themselves as a type of local elite, which isn’t terribly surprising given many of the examples Chua turns to are either former colonizers (as the Whites of Latin America and much of Southern Africa are) or colonial-era managerial classes who were empowered by colonial rule. Missing from the mental diagram however are those who are both outnumbered and impoverished. That’s apparently a concern exclusive to the “West”.

Al Jazeera for quite some time has been among the few international news outlets to pay much attention to one particular set of events in Myanmar. As others, including this blog, focused on the geopolitical ramifications of Myanmar’s warming relations with the US and complex relationship with China or the possibility of democratization, Al Jazeera has covered the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority, mainly isolated in the coastal western districts of Myanmar, along its border with Bangladesh. They have been effectively stripped of their legal rights and branded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although many were born in Myanmar, and had ancestors living in Myanmar prior to colonization even. Bangladesh similarly denies them citizenship, leaving them essentially a stateless people. Without a political entity to appeal to, they have been recently subject to campaigns of violence, which left many of them homeless, if not injured or killed. A few experts on the issue have started using the word “genocide” as local authorities have started implementing punitive measures for every birth in the community.

(Remains of Rohingya villages burned down during anti-Rohingya riots in October. From here.)

Apparently the struggles of groups like the Rohingya are invisible to Chua’s analysis. They don’t have the demographic numbers to swing a national election in Myanmar, assuming they were even granted suffrage. But that isn’t compensated for the kind of opulence displayed in the mansions that Chua visits through the course of her book. Instead, they have neither political nor economic power, so they apparently don’t even register for her and her many fans. Yet, for the moment at least, they still exist.

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The GOP: we alienate everyone because we almost can

You may have heard some the talk recently in the US about how the blowout re-election of President Obama was due to the Republican Party alienating every voter they could, and there’s a lot to say on that issue. Election night was full of animated analysis of the gender gap, and particularly the marital dimension of it. The past few weeks, discussion of how that occurred for Black and Latin@ voters has been a common theme in political media. In more recent days, analysis of the stark movement of Asian electoral support from the Republican to Democratic Party has been the newest item of the on-going discussion.

(Various Asian voters historically favored Republicans, but the past twenty years of neo-nativist rhetoric have stunningly reversed that, making other shifts, like Bush’s gains with Latin@s look inconsequential in comparison. From here.)

The last bastion of Republicans strength outside of a narrow subculture of straight, cisgendered, White, Christian, wealthy patriarchs seems to be among the middle class, as Romney’s campaign strategist recently wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece. The facts are, however, that Romney only won the range of voters with yearly personal incomes greater than $50,000 when viewed all together. There isn’t data specific the “middle class” segment of that, however we might define it.

But of course, it comes as no great shock to note, as Paul Krugman has, that the Republicans have tried to push through a compromise on the expiration of the Bush tax cuts that would have sacrificed the current rates of many of those making between  the not-really-middle-class-anymore-right? $250,000 and a shocking $400,000 yearly, to keep the current low rates on income greater than that bracket. So, for those with income within that bracket, the message from Republicans is clear: the political demands of even the rich are irrelevant compared to those with those of the astounding wealthy.

(From Krugman’s article.)

How long will those who fit into the Republic pigeonhole in every way other than class keep voting for them? Did we just see the straw that broke the camel’s back?

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Bryan Fischer on eugenics

TW: eugenics, biological views of race, dehumanizing racist rhetoric, policing female sexuality, physical and mental abilism, coerced sterilization

Bryan Fischer has been one of many contributors to the growing presence of cultural racism in the past decade. As noted yesterday, this has particularly come in the form of “Western” Christian-influenced demands for assimilation of Native Americans, Muslims, and other groups to his cultural norms. In spite of this form of racism being very modern and “in vogue”, given the War on Terror, his word choices have revealed at times a passion for a less current variant of racism. Fischer has spoken of Muslims’ “darkened, benighted lands” and Native Americans’ “savagery” – revealing his penchant for an older language of racism, even if used in a more contemporary strategy.

In a few additional statements, however, it becomes clear that Fischer hasn’t just contributed to the recent wave of cultural racism, particularly targeting Muslims, but has been keeping alive earlier biology-heavy racist arguments. This, much like the eugenics of old, comes in the form of pseudo-scientific racism, that focuses (with anecdotes and poorly sourced facts, it should always be remembered) on birth rates, on sexuality, and on intermarriage. From that horrible, unfortunately unforgotten place has come the idea, which Fischer promotes, that Black Americans “rut like rabbits” and consequently have abused and overloaded welfare programs (which he likewise claims “incentivized [sic] fornication rather than marriage”). The sheer gall necessary to refer to Black Americans in such terms, as subhuman animals mainly concerned with sexual gratification, is nauseating. Fischer has since modestly edited his statements in response to public outcry. You can read his now modified article here.

Fischer works with this neo-eugenic view of fertility and race to reach multiple conclusions – not only condemning entire racial groups for failing his purity tests, but also questioning their collective usefulness to his politics. His fretting about the “illegitimacy” rate within the Latin@ community and how that reduces their capacity to fit his narrow definition of “pro-family” is a striking example of the latter. Fischer explains “the illegitimacy rate among Hispanic women is over 50%. I’m not sure pro-family values are as strong in the Hispanic community as Dr. Land [a pro-immigration social conservative] wants to believe“. There’s potent slut-shaming in these statements which fits into this larger paranoia over what ethnic groups are having the most babies, which clearly (in Fischer’s mind) relates to marriage, the role of women, and sexual propriety. In spite of the differences in description, Fischer again defines an entire racial group (of course, never Whites, though) within terms of fertility and sexuality.

Some people are born to be a burden on the rest
(Bryan Fischer is hardly the first to believe that “inferior” humans are out-breeding their “betters” as this poster from Philadelphia in 1926 shows. Originally from page 219 of Transforming Better Babies into Fitter Families.)

In keeping with his contemporary islamophobia, however, Fischer mixes these traditional “farm animal” comparisons of the “stock” of people of color with a new racist concern about individuals of Middle Eastern ancestry. Based on Nicolai Sennels’ crackpot “research” (more accurately described as irrational, baseless claims about Muslims, more on that here), Fischer parrots that “massive inbreeding in Muslim culture[s] may well have done virtually irreversible damage to the Muslim gene pool, including extensive damage to its intelligence, sanity, and health“.

This nonsense is the perfect “intellectual” framework within which to raise the historic concerns that people of color had racially-determined lower intelligence quotients (IQ), and Fischer doesn’t fail to argue as well that uncited “research shows that children of consanguinous [intra-family] marriages lose 10-16 points off their IQ and that social abilities develop much slower in inbred babies”. He likewise implies that children of (ancestral) Muslims are more likely to suffer from cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, and other genetic disorders. He ties this to not only physical disabilities but also mental ones, obliquely arguing “[t]he closer the blood relative [presumably in marriage], the higher the risk of schizophrenic illness [presumably in children]”. Fischer clearly believes (as he’s recently restated these opinions about everyone of Middle Eastern or Central Asian descent, available here) that Muslims aren’t merely ideologically dangerous but are also genetically contaminating.

From these momentary slips in his longer racist screeds it becomes clear that the modern feel of Fischer’s racism is more than cosmetic, but has been grafted onto arguments so clearly lifted from eugenic theories. His arguments may have a primarily cultural orientation and show a fixation on conversion and assimilation, but they hold the same concern for controlling (primarily female) sexuality so that it creates outcomes based on an individual’s race and class. He holds the same paranoia of those who are physically or mentally different – treating them as contaminating elements to the population that should be geographically segregated. His solutions are ostensibly different from historical eugenicists’ – mostly in that he concludes these screeds with the same inevitable call for conversion to Christianity rather than coerced sterilization or wholesale genocide. His solutions are, nonetheless, terrifyingly vague and I think there’s valid room for worry about where he runs with these ideas. Even if he doesn’t come to the same conclusions as his historical precedents, until he changes those underlying ideas about people of color, disabled people, and women, he will lend credence to policies that are openly hostile to them.


This is the second of four posts as part of Bryan Fischer Week, in which I hope to lay out that Bryan Fischer is among the worst human beings on the planet, a terrifying influence on the United States’ body politic, and a threat to the security of a sizable chunk of the country’s population

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This year’s presidential campaigns are stuck between a rock and a hard place

TW: misogynistic policies and rhetoric, institutional racism, deportation, gun violence

Last week, I quoted Brian Williams lamenting that there’s currently little in the way of grand appeals to moderate, centrist, and undecided voters from either the Obama or Romney campaign. Williams faulted the campaigns themselves, implying that they are unconcerned with the quality of political discourse in the country, but I think there’s other factors explaining why both major parties’ tickets are playing cautiously. Looking back over Nate Silver’s record of the presidential polls so far this year, there have been two really interesting political shifts over the summer. As his methodology behind the his poll numbers is rather well thought out and has a good track record of predicting results, I think there may be something important to the appearance a subtle shift in favor of Obama in late June and a sudden erosion of that support at the tail end of July.

(This is a capture of Nate Silver’s “Now-Cast” for the popular vote in the presidential election.)

As shown above, for the most part Obama has hovered approximately 1 to 1.5 percentage points above Romney, excepting the brief period mostly in July when the gap reached as much as 2 points. Interestingly, both the background lead of Obama as well as his July boost seem linked to a wide variety of shifting factors. Unlike the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, which were to a large extent referendums on George Bush’s prior term or terms, there’s a great deal of muddling about what issues this election will focus on.

I’d argue that two major forces were creating Obama’s smaller but sustained lead prior to the last week of June, through his July surge, and even now – the blowback from the War on Women and increasing restrictions on voting. Especially in the past few weeks, misogyny that simultaneously denies women their reproductive freedoms, denies basic scientific knowledge of female reproductive biology, and denies that women are valid witnesses to their bodily experiences, has been exposed as a component to the Republican presidential ticket and the Republican Party’s platform.

Likewise, while new voter restrictions have disenfranchised millions of Americans, their effect on the polls is probably quite negative for the Republican Party, as they can easily be interpreted as fixing elections. Whether criticism of the party for attempts to purge voters in Florida and Colorado as well as instituting new restrictions in numerous other states will actually counterbalance the mass disenfranchisement in the coming elections remains to be seen, but currently both presidential campaigns seem to anticipate even the most stringent barriers to voting to have minimal impact.

Against the electoral background created by those two issues, late June saw a bit of a perfect storm, if a smaller one, for the Obama campaign. The President’s executive order to halt deportations of undocumented individuals who would have been able to apply for citizenship under the DREAM Act on June 15, was an action the Romney campaign couldn’t respond to without either alienating vital Latino support or nativist segments of the Republican base. He spent the following weeks in June seeming weak and indecisive if not two-faced on the issue, which allowed Obama to regain levels of Latino support reminiscent of his 2008 landslide.

Meanwhile, in proceeding weeks the Obama campaign had been producing some hard-hitting ads about Romney’s record of disaster capitalism at Bain, but I remember an ad originally aired on June 23 affecting people more than earlier ones. Something about the poetic cruelty of being forced to build the stage on which an executive announced your downsizing convinced people more effectively than earlier ads, which many pundits had declared to be a tactical mistake by the Obama campaign. In any case, this and later ads seemed to shore up Obama’s support in Democrat-leaning areas of the rustbelt and give him a small but clear lead in more conservative states in the same formerly union-rich region.

Of course, not all of the major events at the end of June were ones that necessarily favored Obama. The most impacting of them – the Roberts ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – was contained in its damage, however, as it mainly rallied the conservative base to push for a full repeal and the liberal base for a reinstatement or similar fix. The only demographic that it seems to have caused to shift were independents who agreed with Obama’s progressive social policies and comparatively moderate international approach but differed with him on economic issues. Concentrated in rural New England, the worst damage was in New Hampshire, where Obama’s lead shrank significantly but didn’t disappear.

While there are obviously other issues that have reared their heads at various points in this election, these seem to be among the major players, which the Republican National Convention is in part trying to respond to, both to prevent another rush like the July surge and to address the fact that their party is systemically behind. That’s why we’ve seen so many prominently featured female speakers of color – Mia Love, Nikki Haley, Lucé Vela, Condoleezza Rice, and Susana Martinez. That’s partly an attempt to inoculate their party from criticism for supporting nativist, racist, and misogynistic policies. This is also why they’ve worked to reframe the “You didn’t build that”/“We built it” debate around immigrants who started family-run businesses (like the Tangs referenced by Rand Paul), pulling the quote out of its context as a criticism of the supposed captains of industry. That’s an effort to reframe the previous discussion of class and inequality in a way more favorable to their party. That’s also why Attorneys General Pam Bondi and Sam Olens (of Florida and Georgia, respectively) framed voter restrictions as a reasonable precaution and a national health care mandate as tyranny – to defend the Republican stance on those issues. It seems likely that at least a few of those themes will be touched on throughout the remaining speeches tonight.

Intriguingly enough though, the issue of violence in American culture and potential policies of gun control, which seem linked to Obama’s falling numbers in later July, is a topic that can only be faintly implied, as in New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez’s speech. It’s worth noting that in the later weeks of July, originally after the Aurora shooting but as similar incidents continued to rock the nation, calls for gun control seriously perturbed firearm advocates, and tapped into a long-standing anti-Obama message. With a wide range of firearm-related deaths in recent memory, it’s understandable that this point is too politically risky for Republicans to directly address. It’s likewise the case that Obama, as described by Ta-Nehisi Coates, has to remain absolutely non-threatening as a Black man and can’t even obliquely reference these issues without eliciting blowback.

So the political campaigns have taken a huge twist in the past few months. Obama is capable of making key choices to heighten his lead but vulnerable to events outside of his control limiting his ability to discuss pressing issues in any capacity. Romney likewise can’t directly reference the issues most toxic to Obama because they’re potentially dangerous for him to be seen as politicizing, and he can’t counter Obama’s current strengths without some duplicity (namely, implying one thing to White supporters and implying another to Latinos and other people of color). This race is practically guaranteed from here on out to be an interesting series of rhetorical gymnastics. Obama can speak plainly but only as long as certain issues are out of the picture and Romney has to speak around issues to lead different groups to mutually exclusive conclusions about what his policies would be. To the extent that Brian Williams is right that neither campaign is directly addressing many of the important political issues, he’s ignoring the complex reasons behind their strategic choices.

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Why would you work with a system that hates you?

TW: suicide, hazing, racism, segregation, heterosexism, cissexism, dysphoria, body image issues, trans erasure

In the past several weeks’ controversies over a frankly massive number of issues, it’s understandable to have missed the minimal coverage of the hazing trials as a result of the suicide of private Danny Chen while on tour in Afghanistan. The prosecution has had an unexpected degree of success, actually, with four of the eight defendants so far having been demoted and with as much as a two thirds reduction in pay for a single month. For some perspective, however, it’s worth noting that stealing $100,000 from the military results in twenty years of prison time and immediate dismissal – while the much lighter sentences are for the trivialities of racial harassment, forced physical discipline beyond those sanctioned in training, and an episode where Private Chen was dragged across the military compound for mistakenly leaving a water pump running.

I can’t help feeling that this incident bares some worrisome similarities to the suicide of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, following invasive and heterosexist spying from fellow students, who were eventually charged with a violation of privacy. Just as Chen was harassed during a difficult transition to life on a military base in Afghanistan, Clementi was harassed by his fellow students while he was transitioning from living at home. Both Chen, as a Chinese-American, and Clementi, as a young gay man, were members of social groups that are negatively compared to White and straight individuals. Still, they both belonged to groups that have in the past few decades seen victories at being seen as equally deserving of respect as their White and straight counterparts. But how effective have those advances actually been if Private Chen’s suicide is only eliciting brief reductions in pay and Tyler Clementi’s suicide was incidental to actionable offenses under New Jersey’s laws on privacy?

Chinese-Americans have a lengthy history of struggling against the same segregationist systems and accompanying racism as many other people of color in the United States. In protest of their children being sorted into Black schools, however, many Chinese-Americans emphasized their lack of African ancestry, touted their children as being “less Chinese” than earlier immigrant generations, and broke many ties to the Black community to avoid being seen as on par with their allegedly lower status. To the extent that there was a community-wide response to anti-Chinese racism, it was one of negotiation rather than categorical rejection of the racial hierarchy. Arguably this continues to this day, with the Chinese-American mayor of San Francisco considering the implementation of “stop and frisk” policing, in spite of its clear history of rationalizing racial profiling against Black and Latino New Yorkers (where the policy is already in place). Still, it’s hard not to see Chinese-Americans as among the most successful people of color in the United States, as the nineteenth and twentieth century immigration ban on Chinese individuals has been widely replaced with criminalization of Latino immigration.

Likewise, cisgender gay men have seen a great amount of success in struggling for social inclusion in spite of the heterosexist elements of the culture in the United States. But even a cursory look at gay pride historical accounts will show an erasure of certain people from the official history – of lesbians and gay women, of bisexuals or other sexualities that face discrimination, and arguably most consistently of transgender men and women and other genderqueer individuals. Look no further than the celebrations over the repeal of the United States’ military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – which has allowed current and future service members to be open about their sexuality even if it’s something other than straight. Of course, the military has still banned transgendered women and men from serving on the grounds that they interpret being transgendered as a mental illness. Virtually no one wants to discuss the sheer abandonment of one segment of the LGBT population, so serious discussion of this remaining flaw in military policy has primarily been contained to college newspapers.

Since that specific victory for gay rights (and notably not trans rights), one of the growing discussions within the gay community has been about body issues and a difficult if not unreachable masculine ideal, which is pretty obnoxiously insensitive to any transgender men (gay, straight, or with any other sexual orientation) who may have problems with dysphoria, or feelings of very extreme unhappiness with their body’s sex and externally assigned gender. (Please note: not all transgendered men or women have dysphoria, although many do.) Yet, with most people perceiving an inevitability of same-sex marriage becoming legally recognized on an increasingly wide scale, it seems that the inclusion of cisgendered gay men and women in traditional institutions like marriage or the military is underway. Similarly to the Chinese community in the United States, to the extent that the gay community has had a strategy, it’s been one of negotiation to permit social inclusion, rather than rejection of institutions hostile to anyone who is not heterosexual and cisgendered.

So, what have these groups actually gained for historically cooperating with the racial and gendered hierarchies? For private Danny Chen and Tyler Clementi it wasn’t a freedom from harassment, it wasn’t a right to support within their respective communities, and it ultimately wasn’t even much in the way of culpability for creating those circumstances that made them suicidal. These aren’t isolated incidents, as the recent waves of anti-Chinese and anti-gay hate crimes suggest. Perhaps incremental, community-specific advances against racism and nativism or heterosexism and cissexism are not the solution they seem to be.

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