The Many Costs of Racism

We have all heard the story that America is a nation of active citizens and joiners (Alexis de Tocqueville, 1840) — resulting in a citizenry that joins together for the common good. However, according to Harvard professor Robert Putnam, social capital—which is about connections, reciprocity, and trust—is on the decline and consequently, American civil society is on the decline. Putnam lists many reasons for this decline in our modern lifestyles, but I believe that nothing decreases connections and trust among Americans more than racist public policies such as Arizona’s SB 1070 law.

We need to consider the costs that this policy will have on the overall American story of connectedness. Not surprisingly social capital among blacks and Latinos is already significantly lower than among whites (See link here.) However, it is important to consider that Latino citizens are a huge part of the population in Arizona. Pretending that Latino citizens aren’t a huge part of the population in Arizona and that these Latino citizens won’t incur gigantic costs in terms of civil liberties violations and sense of personal security is ridiculous. Despite Governor Brewer’s assurances that there will be no racial profiling against Latino citizens, anyone who reads the bill, which, “Requires officials and agencies to reasonably attempt to determine the immigration status of a person involved in a lawful contact where reasonable suspicion exists regarding the immigration status of the person…,” knows that it is patently obvious that long-time Latino citizens are indistinguishable from undocumented Latinos. “Reasonable suspicion” amounts to being Latino in Arizona. My father, a Latino living in Tucson, now feels uncomfortable around his white friends because they disagree about SB 1070. This is beyond a political or ideological disagreement.

For a Latino, this is about acceptance, respect, equality, and yes, trust. So, there are more than civil liberties violations and personal security at stake—it is about the ending of relationships between Latinos and whites, it is about separating life-long friends, maybe for good.

The story of Latinos living in Arizona after SB 1070 now is sadness, and at best for those Latinos who are citizens an increased fear–and hiding at worst for those who aren’t documented. It is about decreased community connectedness along racial lines on all counts. I know if I was an undocumented Latina about to give birth I would risk giving birth at home rather than going to the hospital and possibly being deported. Why can’t whites see the social and personal costs of this policy? Perhaps it is because most whites are between four to ten generations removed from their immigrant parents; immigration for them is some distant thing. Maybe this is why they do not realize we are all in the same boat. Maybe that is why they don’t see the costs of this type of racism on America.

De Tocqueville had it wrong. We are not a nation of active citizens and joiners. We are a nation of exclusion by race. If strong social capital is an important component of our nation’s civic health, then America will pay a huge cost for generations to come if we keep targeting Latinos.