In this week’s edition of Inside Higher Education, Scott Jaschik reports on a picture taken of a group of Penn State Chi Omega sorority sisters mocking Mexicans. It is offensive enough that the picture depicts the group dressed in spaghetti western attire, but even more despicable are the signs featured in the picture:
“Will mow lawn for weed and beer” and “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it.”
What does this say about the collective views this group has of Mexicans? We have expectations about where certain groups belong based on generations of ethnic and racial stereotypes and societal stratification that are illustrated in this example. These views not only shape our expectations about one another, but also impact the way we treat each another.
For example, Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez writes about the experience of being mistaken as a criminal defendant in a federal courthouse. He states:
Let me mention for example attorneys of color who are sometimes in criminal cases mistaken for the defendant by the participants. How do we respond to that? Sometimes we are overly formal, by making sure that we’re dressed particularly well and that our speech is particularly professional, just to let people know who we are because we’re not always given the benefit of the doubt. I remember when I was a federal prosecutor I was traveling with my wife to Texas and we went to the federal courthouse in Laredo, Texas. I was curious, I thought I’m part of the federal family, so I’m going to go in and see what a different federal courthouse looks like. When I went into the courthouse I started getting tailed by security; they followed me through the courthouse, and when I walked into a courtroom the clerk said, “Defendants sit to the left.” That was the first thing she said to me as I walked in. And I realized that out of my suit, I looked to them like a suspicious person or a defendant in that context.
(soon available here)
Being out of his suit is only part of the story. The other part is the fact that there are negative stereotypes about Mexicans and Mexican Americans that follow us wherever we go. Latino professionals universally encounter these challenges as I highlighted in my book on Latino lawyers. The notion that we should be mowing lawns, drinking a beer (presumably under a cactus), or working as maids/custodians has certainly impacted my life both personally and professionally. The impact of the views represented by the Chi Omega sorority picture penetrate into all aspects of Latinos’ lives and certainly bring to mind many memories of my own experiences.
Some of mine include being asked for a my social security card during a routine traffic stop for speeding (it took me years to stop carrying my social security card), or being asked for a “green card and an ID” before being allowed to go into a club or being asked rather aggressively by an older woman at a health club I used to belong in, to bring her some water while I was sitting down on a bench waiting for my daughter to finish tennis lessons. (The coach teaching the lessons recognized what was going on before I did and turned to the woman after she’d asked me for water for the third time and tells her he’ll get it for her when he was done giving his lesson). These examples pale in comparison to the examples I’ve experienced as a professor. I am not alone. It has been recently documented in a book on academic women of color, Presumed Incompetent that cover topics from campus climate to tenure and promotion as experienced by female faculty of color.
At the heart of all these examples is the way Latinos continue to be stereotyped by others as so grossly illustrated in the Penn State Chi Omega sorority example.
Through comedy Rosie critiques the insensitivity and outright cluelessness of Romney’s claim that winning this election would be easier if he were a Latino. That Romney could suggest that Latinos in the U.S. would be able to get elected more easily than he, as a white male, could only demonstrates how his life of extreme privilege has clouded his thinking. In this claim, Romney makes an open comment usually reserved for “backstage racism” suggesting that sharing the life of a visible ethnic and racial minority would offer him an advantage. Rosie ends the video by arguing that this statement by Romney might just cost him the presidential election.
Perhaps Latinos will decide the 2012 presidential election outcome ensuring President Obama’s victory over Romney. According to the Pew Hispanic Center 24 million Latinos are eligible to vote in the 2012 election. Another Pew report finds that Latinos favor Obama over Romney by 3 to 1.
If Latino turnouts are so-so and the overall turn out is also so-so then the strength of the Latino voter turnout may only reflect the overall growth in the Latino electorate. However, in American electoral college land it is regional turnout that really makes a difference. For example, regardless of how much Latinos favor Obama over Romney Texas electoral votes will not be going to Obama, regardless of the margin of Latinos who vote for Obama. This is a huge deal because Texas represents a large part of the Latino community in the country. The opposite of Texas is Virginia. According to Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions Obama and Romney are virtually tied.
However, Virginia Latinos still favor Obama by three to one potentially turning Virginia into a blue state come election day.
Perhaps increasing Latino political influence in the electorate will indeed result in Romney’s statement amounting to political suicide as Rosie (and many other Latinas/os) hope that it will.
Latinos are not just another interest group as Silvia Killingsworth insinuates in her essay “Hispandering to Univision”. However, because we now have more of a political voice—not huge, but more than in the past—this is enough to make many who are caught up in the white racial frame uncomfortable. Still, the Latino political voice is not what it should or could be.
Latinos comprise 16 percent of the population. Even more significantly, they comprise a growing segment of the voting population. However, looking at voting trends this is a good news/bad news story. The good news is that Latino voting is on the rise. In 2008, half of the eligible Latinos voted. So, while the numbers are growing they are still not living up to their potential. Latinos are less likely to register and vote at every age group than whites and of those that are registered they are less likely to go vote than whites.
According to an article in the New York Times, “More than 21 million Latinos will be eligible to vote this November, clustered in pockets from Colorado to Florida, as well as in less obvious states like Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina and Virginia. Yet just over 10 million of them are registered, and even fewer turn out to vote.”
Of Latinos that do vote, Latino Decisions finds that they are increasingly stating they will be voting Democratic, with 69 percent saying they will vote for President Obama and only 24 percent claiming they will vote for Romney in the 2012 elections.
According to Professors García Bedolla and Michelson the key to improving Latino voting rates and the voting rates of other people of color requires mobilizing and engaging new Latino voters directly. Their new book, Mobilizing Inclusion: Transforming the Electorate through Get-Out-the-Vote Campaigns argues that voting is not an “individual” act for Latinos and other ethnoracial groups. Rather it is a sociocultural interaction whereby new voters and low propensity voters of color need to be encouraged or invited to vote, even when they are registered. García Bedolla and Michelson empirically test this by working with nine non-profits in California. Their book describes 286 field experiments conducted during elections in 2006, 2007 and 2008. One of their key findings is that extra measures of outreach are essential to getting Latinos and other ethnoracial groups to become voters, which then has a ripple effect on their families and neighbors. García Bedolla and Michelson have discovered something critical about the political incorporation of Latinos and others people of color.
Perhaps when Latinos vote in numbers that are representative of our population then terms such as “Hispandering” will be seen as the ignorant and disrespectful racism that they are.
My 72 year old neighbor helps my husband chop down a tree that had been damaged in a storm last winter, so as a thanks we invite him and his wife over for a BBQ. My neighbor, who is a retired Vietnam veteran asks me about my next book, which is on undocumented Latino youth. He responds with a statement that left me stunned and speechless. He says: “Mexicans are a unique immigrant group. They are the only immigrant group in U.S. history that isn’t interested in upward mobility. They are perfectly fine working in the fields.”
This is a perfect example of the social construction of Mexicans that leads to perverse, perverted policy design vis-a-vis tough on crime, mass incarceration, school tracking etc. It is also an example of what Feagin calls racism in the backstage as I’m not sure my neighbor knows my parents are Mexican. He knows I’m “something” but I believe that because he only knows I’m a college professor he isn’t sure what my race could be—certainly not a Mexican-American professional. So, I have been made privy to two racist comments about Mexicans in our neighborhood in the past week, but this is another blog. Returning to the belief that Mexicans lack the desire for social mobility. The consequences of this stereotype on Latinos are found in many public policies.
According to the well-known scholars and leading figures in the public policy studies area Anne Schneider and Helen Ingram, public policies are strongly implicated in the reinforcement of social stratifications of different target groups. Some groups get constructed (i.e., middle class and/or business) as being worthy of advantage, while other groups (minorities, feminists, or homeless) are often socially constructed as social deviants whose differences from the mainstream should be subject to scrutiny as potential threats to the public order and prevailing norms. A description of Schneider and Ingram’s book states, “Public policy in the United States is marked by a contradiction between the American ideal of equality and the reality of an underclass of marginalized and disadvantaged people who are widely viewed as undeserving and incapable.” That is how Latinos are impacted by public policy in America. This is explains why the Dream Act has not passed or comprehensive immigration reform for that matter, resulting in far greater obstacles through life than necessary for most Latinos.
Did I say anything to correct my neighbor’s perspective? I wish I could report that I responded with something witty such as, “I should have stayed in the fields like my parents working 12 hour days getting sprayed w/pesticides for less than minimum wage instead of going to college and then to grad school to become a professor!” Or something less sarcastic, more wise and kind such as, “Mexican immigrants and other Latinos are stuck in low-wage jobs because of large complex societal impediments that make upward mobility almost impossible.” But I said neither of these statements. Instead I just stared in stunned silence. Did his wife say anything? She “fixed” it by adding, “Well, at least the Mexicans we know are like this.”
In Policy Design for Democracy Schneider and Ingram explain that politics, culture, socialization, history, the media, literature, and religion all contribute to the social construction of societal groups and the individuals associated with those groups.
White Eurocentrism is expressed in candidate Mitt Romney’s comments about how “Culture makes all the difference” when describing the difference in economic development between the U.S. and Mexico. This statement was described as “ahistorical, prejudiced and very biased” according to Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy.
All this contributes to strong messages about the inferiority of Latinos and other ethnic and racial groups that my neighbors have learned quite well.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Arizona (or other states such as Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah which all have some type of tough state immigration laws) have little room to legislate regarding immigration policy. The Supreme Court declared immigration enforcement is a federal issue. However, the Court ruled that law enforcement officials in Arizona could still ask about immigration status if they had reasonable suspicion that the person being stopped was undocumented. I wrote about how this would target Latinos in my first blog on racismreview stating that I would not go visit my parents in Arizona without my passport.
Based on today’s Supreme Court ruling, I will still not travel to Arizona without my passport.
The fact that the arguments of the case turned to issues of federalism rather than arguments about equal protection and/or civil rights violations should come as no surprise. It was set up that way from the start. Solicitor General Donald B. Verilli assured Chief Justice Roberts that this case was not about racism towards Latinos. CNN Supreme Court Producer Bill Mears tellingly states:
Even before the solicitor general began speaking midway through the argument, Chief Justice John Roberts framed the debate away from what has become a major complaint about the law: that it would target mostly Hispanic people for scrutiny and detention. “I’d like to clear up at the outset what it’s not about,” Roberts said. “No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling, does it?” Verrilli readily agreed.
In this context the Court unanimously sustained the law’s section referred to as the “show me your papers” policy.
In doing so, it continued the larger policy that says it is okay to subject an entire ethnic and racial group of people to fundamental questions of belonging and acceptance by allowing law enforcement officials to question whether they belong here in this country legally or not.
This perpetuates and contributes to what Professor Leo Chavez refers to as the “Latino Threat Narrative” which situates all Latinos—whether legal immigrants, undocumented, or U.S. born—as outside of the American national community and sees them in a suspicious light. According to Leo Chavez, even U.S. born Latinos are seen as: “ ‘alien-citizens,’ perpetual foreigners despite their birthright”. Today’s Supreme Court decision reinforces that Latinos are seen and can be treated as “alien-citizens.”
Americans need to be intellectually honest (rather than want to laugh) when empirical and historical evidence concerning immigration realities are provided.
Immigration is intertwined and implicated with our history of excluding citizenship to immigrants of color and with our global economic trade agreements such as NAFTA. Thus, it should surprise no one that The Pew Hispanic Center finds that nearly two-thirds of the over 10 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. have been here for over a decade.
Historical and economic policies are not separate from current immigration realities.
As Americans we must use empirical and historical evidence to form a complicated and nuanced understanding of immigration rather than resort to the disrespectful treatment of prominent scholars, simply because one does not agree with their analysis. If one feels the personal need to be mean-spirited it would be better directed towards Congress, as it is their lack of political will that has created the de facto system of immigration we have today. Congress needs to make immigration policy reforms committed to the political process via deliberation, compromise, political courage and leadership—regardless of whether the outcome pleases everyone. However, for some it is easier to attack academics that have devoted their careers towards critical thinking, developing ideas, and fostering learning and understanding in an effort to make the world a more knowledgeable and with that, better place.
Or one could educate themselves on the historical and empirical realities of immigration in America. For example, In Major Problems in American Immigration History, Professor Mae M. Ngai demonstrates that the study of immigration has evolved from the European model of assimilation to examining where we are today—discussing the major issues surrounding groups who have never had the same opportunity to assimilate because of racist laws and a xenophobic citizenry.
However, for many people it is much easier to fear America’s changing demographics, ignore our white racial frame, and use an ahistorical argument about American exceptionalism by attacking academics with statements such as we would not want “the USA to look just like the third world these people left.” These types of views lacking in substance or empirical evidence are everywhere and do not further efforts at reform or get us closer to a civil dialogue of understanding. One prominent example is evidenced in Patrick Buchanan latest book, Suicide of a Superpower, where he even has a chapter called “The End of White America.” Rather than an honest account of how in every Naturalization Act from 1790 to 1952, Congress included “white person” as a prerequisite for naturalization and that basic laws of citizenship did not apply to racial minorities until 1940 (look it up), Buchanan instead espouses an intellectually dishonest argument intended to instill and deepen distain in whites towards non-whites as they become the minority (oh no!). In short, Buchanan argues that Latinos with greater allegiances to Mexico and their own culture will ruin America’s future. This nativist argument is about economics, xenophobia, and racism. This argument is nothing new and unfortunately, it has many followers.
While European immigrants have also historically confronted hostility, particularly Southern and Eastern Europeans, they never faced the kind of legal racial restrictions on naturalization experienced by people of color. For example, Ngai states,
“…the Immigration Act of 1924 comprised a constellation of reconstructed racial categories….At one level, the new immigration law differentiated Europeans according to nationality and ranked them in a hierarchy of desirability. At another level, the law constructed a white American race, in which persons of European descent shared a common whiteness that made them distinct from those deemed to be not white.”
Ngai goes on to state,
“This distinction gave all Euro-Americans a stake in what Matthew Jacobson has called a ‘consanguine white race” and facilitated their Americanization…[while the] racialization of the latter groups’ [Japanese, Chinese, Mexicans, etc.] national origins rendered them unalterably foreign and unassimilable to the nation.” (p. 387-388).
Unfortunately, the consequences of these laws remain with us today.
The lack of critical analysis around the historic and current racial considerations of immigration and racial exclusion, however, comes at a great cost to us as a nation. Where is our sense of humanity? Who would choose to leave their young children for years to work for next to nothing in a country that does not accept them? Who would chose to watch their children cry of hunger at night because their stomach’s ached from lack of food? Who would chose to leave their elderly parents knowing they may never see them again? Whatever solutions Congress eventually comes up with we ought to be a better nation than to lose the humanity of the situation.
What happens when a profession that doesn’t come close to representing the demographics of diversity in America has a conversation about race? I just found out.
Because of the recent publication of my book, Everyday Injustice based on extensive interview-based research (the first in the history of US social science) about the experiences of many Latino attorneys, the editor of the American Bar Association requested an article drawing from my book for the ABA’s monthly publication. I was (and remain) honored to be invited to contribute to the journal–especially because I had the privilege of interviewing the very first Latino president of the ABA in its history!
However, I did not expect the comment stream that followed. It began with someone saying, “Waahhhhh! Waaaaahhh!” and ended with a couple of individuals spouting off typical resentful racist rants with one commentator finally stating: “Overall, I think the legal profession focuses way too much on gender and minority issues.” I hurled some comments back, so I am not blameless in the whole discussion, and most of the responses where quite supportive. Nonetheless, the two or three individuals who attacked not only my research methods and findings, but also the very importance of the discussion on the experiences of Latinos itself is very revealing.
What kinds of skews develop in perspectives and in practice when some people do not have to see other people as connected to the whole of humanity? What happens when a profession that is 90 percent white (thereby not reflective of the reality of American society) tries to have a discussion on race?
The white-generated racist realities of American society as demonstrated in Joe Feagin’s The White Racial Frame become evidently clear. Emotions surrounding the old white racist framing of Latinos and all people of color demonstrate we have a long way to go before we can see the connections between and among each other more than we focus on the differences which will lead to racial equality, at least in this is what I learned about the legal profession after contributing to the journal.
In an upcoming chapter in Governing Washington: Politics and Government in the Evergreen State Luis R. Fraga and I examine the political incorporation of ethnic and racial communities by asking the question: Do ethnic and racial communities fit within the state’s general understanding of the common good and the public interest? This is important because the choices political leaders make regarding the state’s growing ethnic and racial diversity will have long-term consequences for how inclusive and responsive state government will be to all citizens and residents in the state of Washington. If Washington State serves as a model for the rest of the country, then political incorporation of people of color as the nation continues to get more diverse does not look good.
Like many states across the nation, the 2010 census reveals that during the last decade Washington State has experienced notable growth and profound shifts in its population. In 2000, it had a total population of 5,894,121; in 2010 its population rose to 6,724,540, a growth rate of 14.1 percent. It is estimated that 73% of all population growth in the state over the last decade was due to increases in its nonwhite population. Over the last ten years, Hispanics/Latinos increased by 37.8%, Whites increased by 27%, Asians by 18.8%, people of two or more races by 8.6%, African Americans by 5.4%, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders by 1.9%, and American Indians/Alaska Natives by 0.4%. Whites were 78.9% of the state population in 2000, but by 2010 they had declined to now comprising under three-quarters of the population at 72.5%. How will this growing racial and ethnic diversity affect politics and policy-making? Will Latino, African American, Asian/Asian American, and Native American communities and their interests will be included within the state’s and in the larger country’s general understanding of the common good and the public interest?
In Protest is not Enough, Rufus Browning and his colleagues define political incorporation as “the extent to which group interests are effectively represented in policy making” (1984, 25). Looking at just a couple of measures such as political representation and material well-being through poverty measures and unemployment levels help us to answer the level of political incorporation of people of color in Washington. For example, ethnic and racial minority groups in Washington are not particularly well represented at any level of government. It was only in 2010 that the first Latina was elected to Congress. She is the only minority member of the state’s congressional delegation. There are two Asian Americans and one Latina serving in the state senate, comprising only 6% of the 49-member body. There are also only three Asian Americans, one Latina, one Latino, one African American, and one Native American serving in the 98-member state house of representatives. Together they comprise only 7% of all the members of the House, 27.5% of the population of the state is comprised of ethnic and racial minority communities.
Another way of gauging the political incorporation of communities of color is by examining levels of material well-being that, in part, result from the distribution of national- and state-level policy benefits. Overall, an estimated 15% of all people living in Washington live at or below the federally-established poverty level. Based on cross-group comparisons, Latinos have the highest poverty rates in the state; it is estimated that 30% of all Latinos live below the official poverty level. While 12% of Whites live at or below the poverty level, and over a quarter (27%) of African Americans live at or below the poverty level according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s March 2009 and 2010 Current Population Survey. Rates of unemployment by racial ethnic group statewide, demonstrate that both Latinos and African Americans have unemployment rates that are noticeably higher than that of their White counterparts. It is estimated that 9.2% of Latinos across the state are unemployed, whereas the figure for Whites out of work is 6.4%. African Americans have the highest estimated unemployment rate of any racial/ethnic group, registering 12.3%.
In sum, measures of policy benefits regarding poverty rates, and those who are unemployed reveal that Latinos and African Americans do considerably worse than Whites in the state of Washington. Undoubtedly, this pattern of systematic inequity in condition can be documented in virtually every state in the nation.
We are at a critical juncture to determine whether politics and policy-making processes have the capacity to effectively engage the growing ethnic and racial diversity in America. The choices made by the national and states political leaders will directly affect whether the country will incorporate communities of color. They will affect how well local communities of all classes, races, and backgrounds are empowered by the way they decide to adapt to demographic changes. Whatever path political leaders choose, the results of their decisions over the course of the next decade will be with us for generations and will impact how diverse communities are included in conceptions of the common good in America.
A standard part of most political science introductory textbooks are definitions and examples of different kinds of political systems. Robert A. Heineman’s textbook outlines the three main types of governmental systems: democratic, authoritarian, and totalitarian systems.
Most Americans are familiar with the democratic system. As participants in such a system we have come to believe, and indeed to expect, we have certain rights and freedoms. These are things like rights to select who will represent us, rights of assembly, rights of free speech, and freedom of association. However, people are less familiar with some of the characteristics of authoritarianism, at least not when these characteristics are exhibited by American governmental institutions.
Unfortunately, because of current immigration policies in many states, it is becoming important for Americans to reacquaint themselves with the definition of authoritarianism. According to Heineman, the characteristics of authoritarian governmental systems include greater control of political processes, greater citizen obedience to a strong government, restricted freedoms of expression of ideas or association, and of course governmental punishment of disobedience (p.3).
Many state immigration public policies are regrettably looking more and more authoritarian and less democratic. The most recent example is Alabama’s immigration policy, which has passed by large margins in both houses of the legislature is expected to be signed by Governor Robert Bentley.
Alabama’s new immigration policy requires children to provide documentation before being enrolled in public school, bars landlords from renting to people who are undocumented, allows police officers to ask about one’s immigration status based on “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, denies businesses tax deductions on wages paid to unauthorized immigrants, criminalizes the failure of an immigrant to carry documentation proving their legal status on their person, and criminalizes the transport of an illegal immigrant.
Through the measure, Alabama has gone a very long distance from our ideals of American democracy, so much so that even being in a car with someone who is undocumented becomes a crime. One wonders if public bus drivers will now ask for documentation and a bus token before letting a brown person board their bus. Alabama has a history of denying basic liberties and justice for blacks. Now it has found a new group to target its unjust and arbitrary use of state power and racism.
In a Michele Wucker’s chapter in Lockout: Why America Keeps Getting Immigration Wrong When Our Prosperity Depends on Getting it Right she quotes George W. Bush’s presidential inaugural address:
America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every citizen must uphold them. And every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more not less American (p. 139).
Based on Arizona’s, Utah’s, and now Alabama’s most recent anti-immigration bill, we are becoming less American every day.