Arizona’s SB 1070 and the Legalization of Racial Profiling

In 2010, the Arizona state legislature passed a blatantly racist law, SB 1070.

One of its most notorious provisions (Section B) is particularly loathsome. It requires officers of the law who have “lawful contact” with an individual to make a “reasonable attempt” to ascertain the individual’s immigrant status “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.” Two questions arise. First, what motivates the officer to initiate the “lawful contact”? Second, how does the officer arrive at a “reasonable suspicion”? The tool used in both cases is racial profiling.

Alto Arizona
Creative Commons License photo credit: Daquella manera

The Obama administration challenged SB 1070 in court. Judge Susan Bolton of the Federal District Court issued a preliminary injunction against sections of the law, including Section B. The State of Arizona appealed Judge Bolton’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which upheld Bolton’s decision. Subsequently the State of Arizona appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard the case on April 25. There was some discussion of Section B during the hearing. Astonishingly, some Justices made comments that suggested support for this provision.

If the Supreme Court rules in Arizona’s favor, racial profiling will be legalized in Arizona for years. What’s next?

Resurrection of Deep Racial Icons: The “Dangerous Other” – Part I



Race and racism are more contested in contemporary society than ever in the five hundred years of racist constructions leading to and coming from the modern world system. While some see an election of the United States’ first African American president as the last nail in the coffin of its racist policies, others see it only as the covering over of racist systems that are no longer profitable or desirable in a globalized world driven by neoliberal values that deny racism and distort its centralized past. Observing this in relation to Joe Feagin’s racial “framing” (The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing), and seeing the weight they might have in finding our way forward during times of hegemonic decline, we need to identify the racial icons that arose in rationalizing systems of racism, and observe their contemporary usage in our society.

Two recent events demonstrate the ongoing power of these racial icons ranging from the individual to the institutional levels. These are the highly racialized claims of “self-defense” or “stand your ground” by George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the systemic claims of defending “ethnic rights” of Europeans against “multiculturalism” as incursions against civilization by Anders Breivik in the mass murders of Norwegians at a “liberal” summer youth camp.

Although in both cases the killer clearly perpetrated the actions leading to the targeted death of those they killed, one as an individual and the other as a representative group, both claim they were (or are) actually defending themselves or their societies. In both cases, on the individual and institutional levels, their “defense” requires seeing those they killed as a threat, even before there is any interaction on any level between the perpetrator and the victims.In Zimmerman’s case as a self-appointed neighborhood “watch” man, he saw Martin as “on drugs” and as “up to no good” precisely because Trayvon was young and Black and wearing a hoodie, with no other evidence of any wrong-doing (which Zimmerman had no legal right to address anyway).

In Breivik’s case as a self-appointed social regulator against “Islamic colonization”, he saw the youth camp as a group representative of “multi-culturalism” values that would threaten Norwegian society, with no evidence that there was any threat or that these individuals were connected to that hypothetical situation (which Breivik had no right to counter anyway).

Both of these cases, while apparently different in scope and victimization, require a “dangerous other” to make the “defense” claim. Although many see that the number (77) and age (mostly youth) of victims with the Norwegian case see it as a despicable case of an “individual psychopath” but definitively wrong, they also deny the claimed linkage to ethno-racial domination with remarkable similarity to recent laws passed by the state of Arizona. Apologists and deniers will not make the claimed inference that there are ideologies in Norwegian and American societies that support and engender such claims of threats. And, of course, these are firmly landed in histories of legalized racial and ethnic domination.

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!



The UCLA Chicano Network has a nice summary of the holiday Cinco de Mayo, which is celebrated in Mexican American communities (one such celebration in California a couple of years ago, pictured right, photo credit) and not yet much outside those communities:

Cinco de Mayo is a date of great importance for the Mexican and Chicano communities. It marks the victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla. Although the Mexican army was eventually defeated, the “Batalla de Puebla” came to represent a symbol of Mexican unity and patriotism. . . . Cinco de Mayo’s history has its roots in the French Occupation of Mexico. The French occupation took shape in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. With this war, Mexico entered a period of national crisis during the 1850’s. Years of not only fighting the Americans but also a Civil War, had left Mexico devastated and bankrupt. On July 17, 1861, President Benito Juarez issued a moratorium in which all foreign debt payments would be suspended for a brief period of two years, with the promise that after this period, payments would resume.


The English, Spanish and French refused to allow president Juarez to do this, and instead decided to invade Mexico and get payments by whatever means necessary. The Spanish and English eventually withdrew, but the French refused to leave. Their intention was to create an Empire in Mexico under Napoleon III. Some have argued that the true French occupation was a response to growing American power and to the Monroe Doctrine (America for the Americans). Napoleon III believed that if the United States was allowed to prosper indiscriminately, it would eventually become a power in and of itself.


In 1862, the French army began its advance. Under General Ignacio Zaragoza, 5,000 ill-equipped Mestizo and Zapotec Indians defeated the French army in what came to be known as the “Batalla de Puebla” on the fifth of May.

Clearly, it was a substantially indigenous army that defeated the mighty Europeans, an early and clear counter-colonialism event. This is an event that all who support self-determination for indigenous peoples and full human rights for all peoples should remember and honor.


The UCLA network account also makes some interesting observations about how this day is differentially celebrated in Mexico and the United States:

In the United States, the “Batalla de Puebla” came to be known as simply “5 de Mayo” and unfortunately, many people wrongly equate it with Mexican Independence which was on September 16, 1810, nearly a fifty year difference. Over, the years Cinco de Mayo has become very commercialized and many people see this holiday as a time for fun and dance. Oddly enough, Cinco de Mayo has become more of Chicano holiday than a Mexican one. Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on a much larger scale here in the United States than it is in Mexico. People of Mexican descent in the United States celebrate this significant day by having parades, mariachi music, folklorico dancing and other types of festive activities.

And here is a more detailed discussion of how it came to celebrated by Chicanos (Mexican Americans) over the years in the US. In my view, this is a good holiday for all those Americans who are opposed to colonialism and imperial invasions to celebrate.

Racist Eugenics: Alive and Well in NC

Scholars have long drawn parallels between laws banning interracial and same-sex marriage. The conversation came full circle Monday morning when Jodie Brunstetter, wife of North Carolina Senator Peter Brunstetter (R), explained that her husband co-authored a recent piece of anti-same-sex marriage legislation to “protect the Caucasian race.” Brunstetter continued, “The reason my husband wrote Amendment 1 was because the Caucasian race is diminishing and we need to uh, reproduce.” Placing “race reproduction” at the center of her argument, Brunstetter advocates for a positive eugenics program, a central element of traditional anti-miscegenation statues.

 

Jodie and Peter Brunstetter

Faced with increasing interracial contact in the late 19th century, whites turned to the pseudo-science of eugenics to justify racial segregation. Eugenicists argued that both the physical and character traits of individuals are biologically determined, and thus the genetic quality of society can be made better or worse through artificial selection. Whites were attracted to eugenics because they assumed the superiority of the white race and the importance of racial separation, but they feared, and eugenics proved “proof,” that interracial sex would result in future generations dominated by “inferior” racial characteristics. Thus, a positive eugenics program was required to guarantee the longevity of the white race. Central to this program, was legislating the prohibition of interracial intimacy. One of the most notable pieces of anti-miscegenation legislation is Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924.

Desiring to maintain the “racial integrity” of the nation as well as their dominant position, white Virginians once passed the Racial Integrity Act, a law forbidding whites from marrying anyone of another race. Limiting marriage to persons of the same race, the Virginia law sough to ensure the reproduction of the white race and prevent the “deplorable evil” of interracial sex.

Specifically, “racial integrity” laws were concerned with preventing biracial children. As Justice Brown argued in Scott v. State (1869):

The amalgamation of the races is not only unnatural, but is always productive of deplorable results. Our daily observation shows us, that the offspring of these unnatural connections are generally sickly and effeminate, and that they are inferior in physical development and strength to the full-blood of either race. It is sometimes urged that such marriages should be encouraged, for the purpose of elevating the inferior races. The reply is, that such connections never elevate the inferior race to the position of the superior, but they bring down the superior to that of the inferior. They are productive of evil, and evil only.

This except from Justice Brown’s opinion is indicative of the eugenicist ideology dominating the courts of this time. Primarily concerned with “reproducing the race” and maintaining the “racial integrity of the nation,” anti-miscegenation laws presented a positive eugenics program much like that advocated by Brunstetter. However, such laws also had a damning impact on white women… confining them to the one role of mother.

Fueled by eugenicist rhetoric, whites argued against education and careers outside the home for white women, charged them to reproducing the race. According to eugenicists, changes in traditional gender roles equates to racial suicide and thus women were should be confined to their “birthing duties.” As historian Lisa Linquist Dorr [[]] explains, “social stability depended on the controlling of women’s sexuality as a means of assuring they were virtuous enough to raise virtuous children.” Dorr continues:

Eugenic supporters of the Racial Integrity Act articulated a central concern: women, intoxicated by the exciting adventures of youth, might ignore the opinions of their elders, their traditions, and, ultimately, their racial pride, which, because of women’s reproductive capacity, was especially important.

Framing white motherhood as a matter of racial pride, eugenicists sought limited white women to the role of mother. Women desiring interracial sexual contact were often met with forced sterilization by white doctors seeking to “protect the white race.”

Reflecting on the eugenicists rhetoric motivating anti-miscegenation law, there are parallels between anti-interracial and anti-same-sex marriage advocates such as Brunstetter. Arguing America was “founded by whites,” Brunstetter is establishing America’s racial genealogy which must be “preserved” through guaranteeing white procreating. Because gay and lesbian couples lack this ability, Brunstetter deems their relationships null and void. Situating reproduction at the center of her argument, Brunstetter also confines white women to their “birthing duties” advocated by eugenicists

Since making the original comments, Brunstetter has insisted her comment “wasn’t anything race related” and “they [democrats] have made it a racial issue when it is not.” However, Brunstetter has not been able to explain her use of explicitly racial rhetoric in an allegedly non-racial conversation. Placing Brunstetter’s comments within a larger sociohistorical context, her arguments against same sex marriage heavily coincide with those used against interracial marriage.

US Workers Invented “May Day”

Happy May Day, the workers of the world day!

In the past (for example, 2010) we have had major marches on this day in support of undocumented workers, and today we have had numerous marches in support of the “Occupy” causes by an array of workers, students, and others, as well as many other marches in support of unions and workers’ rights and causes.

The Industrial Workers of the World’s website points out that the country that founded May Day (May 1) seems to have forgotten it:

Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers’ Day of May Day. For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union.

Most Americans don’t realize that May Day has its origins here in this country and is as “American” as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.

In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jack London’s The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860′s, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn’t until the late 1880′s that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.

Unions and other worker organizations have brought much in the way of better lives for many Americans and others across the globe. And most of the world’s workers are workers of color–-often working ultimately for white-controlled western corporations. They still need much new organization to end various types of class and racial oppression that they face. Many of these workers of color turned out today to protest for better working conditions.

Coming decades will doubtless see important and organized worker challenges to the domination of the mostly white-run corporations (executives) that increasingly control larger workplaces in a great many countries, if only because their most workers (of color) do not share their high-profit interests and often western racialized interests. The US intellectual and critical thinker Noam Chomsky has an interesting recent commentary on the relationship of democratic reforms to more extensive democratic revolutions–which sometimes come from sustained workers movements.