Anti-Latino Racism: SPLC Report on Discrimination

Immigrant Rights March
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kevin Coles (NYC Immigrants’ rights march)

Do white discrimination and the white racist frame still target Latinos, both immigrants and the US-born? You bet they do, according to a large-scale research project by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South. Researchers recently interviewed 500 low-income Latinos, especially immigrants, in Nashville, Charlotte, New Orleans, rural Georgia and several towns in Alabama.

The poignant report begins with personal stories:

In Tennessee, a young mother is arrested and jailed when she asks to be paid for her work in a cheese factory. In Alabama, a migrant bean picker sees his life savings confiscated by police during a traffic stop. In Georgia, a rapist goes unpunished because his 13-year old victim is undocumented.

The southwest has traditionally been the home for most Latinos, but the Latino population in southern states is now the fastest growing, with many seeking low-wage jobs in manufacturing and construction. Since the 1990s the states of Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee have been privileged to add 1.6 million Latinos, mostly workers and their families. As with other Americans of color, these hardworking Latinos often face intense and

widespread hostility, discrimination and exploitation. They are routinely cheated out of their earnings and denied basic health and safety protections. They are regularly subjected to racial profiling and harassment by law enforcement. They are victimized by criminals who know they are reluctant to report attacks. And they are frequently forced to prove themselves innocent of immigration violations, regardless of their legal status. This treatment – which many Latinos liken to the oppressive climate of racial subordination that blacks endured during the Jim Crow era – is encouraged by politicians and media figures who scapegoat immigrants and spread false propaganda.

So much for a post-racial America. We might note that the principal discriminators are not named as white in any sentence in the 64-page report. Indeed, the world “whites” never appears in the report, and the only place “white” appears is in a few references to “white supremacist” groups. Even in critical research reports like this there seems to be an etiquette of not offending white dsciminators explicitly, but leaving the elite and ordinary white actors as “implicit” in the commentaries, unless they are part of supremacist groups. We see this in this next comment from the executive summary:

And as a result of relentless vilification in the media, Latinos are targeted for harassment by racist extremist groups, some of which are directly descended from the old guardians of white supremacy.

The report does recognize the problem is larger than these supremacist groups. Using general or vague language, local government “agencies” (again not named as white) are called out for discriminatory legislation being passed against immigrants, especially the undocumented:

A number of Southern communities, for example, have enacted ordinances designed to limit services to undocumented immigrants and make their lives as difficult as possible, with the ultimate goal of driving them away. In addition, many law enforcement agencies in the South, armed with so-called 287(g) agreements with the federal government, are enforcing immigration law in a way that has led to accusations of systematic racial profiling and has made Latino crime victims and witnesses more reluctant to cooperate with police. Such policies have the effect of creating a subclass of people who exist in a shadow economy, beyond the protection of the law.

Those who face discrimination have already endured many dangers and barriers in order to build up the South, to do the hard and dirty labor of

building skyscrapers in Charlotte, harvesting onions in Georgia, slaughtering poultry in Alabama and rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina. Many of these new arrivals left their homes in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and other Latin American countries to escape poverty, which some experts believe has been worsened by U.S. trade policies. Many crossed the border illegally, risking their lives and freedom for opportunity in the United States, while others were originally “imported” by employers under the guest worker system. Many others are legal residents or U.S. citizens, caught in the crossfire of America’s war on “illegals.”

Given this metaphorical “war” on them, it is not surprising that the interviewers found many Latinos living in great fear of the police and other government agents, as well as fear of cheating employers and criminals seeking to take advantage of them. In addition, as José Cobas and I have also found (see articles here, for example), it is not just the undocumented Latinos who face discrimination, mostly at the hands of whites. A great many Latinos face that discrimination:

Even legal residents and U.S. citizens of Latino descent say that racial profiling, bigotry and myriad other forms of discrimination and injustice are staples of their daily lives. “The assumption is that every Latino possibly is undocumented,” says one immigrant advocate in North Carolina. “So [discrimination] has spread over into the legal population.”

The racism is systemic, once again. And the relevant white discriminators need to be called out and named as principal actors in this sorry societal-oppression reality.