Constitution Day and the “Freedom” to Express Hate

On Sept. 17th, universities across the nation will be celebrating Constitution Day, which commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787, 230 years ago. In How Democratic is the American Constitution Political Scientist Robert Dahl argues that we should demythologize the Constitution suggesting that we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss its shortcomings in order to find ways to improve it.

In the spirit of Robert Dahl, a discussion on the First Amendment centered on the events that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia this summer is in order. While driving home from Saskatchewan, Canada I was stunned to learn that hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members had marched to “take America back” clashing violently with counter-protesters as seen in this HBO Vice News video. These white supremacists marched through the streets armed with guns, torches, Klan shields, and the idea that they were, as one white nationalist stated in a Washington Post article, there to “stand up for the white race.”

The use of torches and Klan shields have a long, deeply disturbing, and well understood meaning in this country. In How Race is Made in America, Natalia Molina refers to images such as the ones employed by these white supremacists marchers as racial scripts. Racial scripts are racial messages used time and again throughout American history in ways that can be reused and understood for

new rounds of dehumanization and demonization in the next generation or even the next debate” or in this case, the next march (Molina 2014, p. 7).

The only thing missing from the marchers were the white robes and hoods.

Yet, the event was initially given the green light because of the sweeping protection of freedom of expression in the First Amendment. Few, if any other, countries allow for the exercise of hate speech by a minority such as the kind displayed in Charlottesville.

The racial scripts conjured up in this march were clear; but in this case, the First Amendment right to free speech went beyond the expression of ideas—repulsive as they were—and resulted in dozens of injuries, the death of two police officers from a helicopter crash, and the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant with a law firm in Virginia after being intentionally struck by a white nationalist with his vehicle.

The First Amendment idea of free speech is obviously a good one. Indeed, the argument for it is sound. Expression is protected, even when stupid, hateful, and meant to be disturbing. Otherwise, the powers in charge start choosing who can speak and who cannot.

However, one must ask if some speech, indeed hate speech of this violence-threatening kind, goes too far, particularly during a time of the rise of hate groups and hate crimes. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center both have been on the rise since 2000 and are directly linked to: (1) demographic predictions that whites will be a minority by 2040, (2) the election of Barack Obama, and (3) the election of Donald Trump in reaction to our first African American President. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups operating in the country in 2016 remained at near-historic highs, rising from 892 in 2015 to 917 last year, close to the all time high of 1,018 in 2011. In this context, clearly a conversation about the parameters of free speech is needed.

In light of the recent events in Charlottesville, one must ask the important question:

How can we combat growing white supremacy, within the context of our broad freedom of speech expression rights found in the First Amendment?

Each of us must think long and hard about this question, and in the spirit of Dahl, find ways to make the constitution more democratic for all. Because the kind of hate and violence that took place in Charlottesville should not be protected by the Constitution.

Trump Encourages Police to Go After Latinos

President Donald Trump spoke to a group of law enforcement officials in New York on Friday, July 28th, encouraging them to go after people of color. His message, in part, was telling them “Don’t be too nice,” to suspects taken into custody for questioning. Law enforcement officials in the background had smiles on their faces and cheered as he said:

They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful, quiet neighborhoods into blood stained killing fields. They’re animals. We cannot tolerate…as a society, the spilling of innocent, young, wonderful, vibrant people….But I have a simple message today for every gang member and criminal alien that are threatening so violently our people. We will find you. We will arrest you. We will jail you. And we will deport you.

It is easy to imagine whom Trump is referring to as “animals” who should be deported here. (He has famously done something similar before in referencing later-found-innocent black teenagers in a New York City Central Park rape case.) As Natalia Molina shows in How Race is Made in America, these are old racial scripts Trump is calling upon. Racial scripts are racial messages used over and over again throughout history in ways that can be reused and understood for “new rounds of dehumanization and demonization in the next generation or even the next debate” (Molina p. 7).

The racialization of Latinos as heavily or disproportionately gang members, as criminal aliens, and as animals has been circulating in this country for a very long time now as has been documented by Feagin and Cobas in Latinos Facing Racism. So, it is easy to imagine who Trump plans to “find,” “arrest,” “jail,” and “deport” in his “simple message” to “every gang member and criminal alien.”

President Trump then went on to say:

And when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them being thrown in. Rough. I said, Please. Don’t. Be. Too. Nice. [Laughter] Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head….I said, you can take the hand away okay.” [Police Cheers and clapping].

This message by the president contributes to systemic racism in US society, defined by Feagin and Cobas as:

[T]he persisting racial hierarchy, the discriminatory practices, and the racist institutions integral to the long-term white domination of Americans of color. This group domination involves not only racialized institutions, the macro level of oppression, but also the micro-level reality of a great many whites repeatedly discriminating in blatant, subtle, and covert ways against people of color in everyday settings (p. 14).

Yet another generation of Latinos continues to be “othered” and to experience systemic racism in American society because the president is openly encouraging law enforcement officials to vilify them. Viewing Latinos with this racialized framing underscores Leo R. Chavez’s argument that Latinos have been socially constructed as a threat in the U.S., and Trump’s remarks to law enforcement are only the latest example from the bully pulpit. In a time of increasing presidential pronouncements and tweets as a way to make public policy, it is easy to see how Trump is dehumanizing brown and black males in his statement to police.

My heart aches for adolescent Latino, Native American, Black, and other youth of color who are coming of age in a country that continues to find ways to dehumanize them. I think of my cousins, my brothers, and my oldest son who is darker than my youngest son and I fear for them all. As Native American author Sherman Alexie states in his memoir:

I never directly feared for my life and career during a Republican presidency until Trump won office” (p. 228).

This normalizing of the calls for violence against people of color by the state in President Trump’s speech to the police should cause us all to fear for our lives, families, and friends. It should cause us to fear for our very country.

While Trump’s remarks drew condemnation from law enforcement leadership across the country, the cheering of the rank-and-file in the moment to his racist and repugnant comments remains deeply disturbing. Similarly, during the election his supporters also cheered and encouraged this type of racialized hate. For Latinos and other people of color who have lived with this kind of vilification for generations, it is likely we should expect more of this to come from the president and from those who have been emboldened by what Leslie H. Picca and Joe Feagin call frontstage racism. These are very scary times we are living in for people of color when hate is being openly promoted and supported by our government leaders from the most powerful man in the U.S. down to our street-level (police) bureaucrats.

Our Post-Truth Culture: Institutional and Individual Consequences

This presidential election has become the perfect storm of “post-truth” politics and racism. It is reflected by the fact that an unqualified “know-nothing” like Trump could be nominated as the Republican presidential candidate. Trump’s disregard for ethics, extreme egoism, and racist solutions to complex policy problems, which include banning all Muslims, building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and bombing our enemies into the stone age, will have institutional and individual consequences if he is elected as the next president.

In an article entitled “Why We’re Post-Fact,” Pomerantsev states:

[W]hen Donald Trump makes up facts on a whim, claims he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the Twin Towers coming down, or that the Mexican government purposefully send ‘bad’ immigrants to the US, when fact-checking agencies rate 78% of his statements untrue but he still becomes a US Presidential candidate—then it appears that facts no longer matter much in the land of the free.

Indeed, facts must not matter with the American electorate as the latest polls show Clinton and Trump very close, with 44% of the public supporting Clinton and 41% supporting Trump. What are the consequences of voters’ preference for “truthiness” over facts and feelings over reason?

Institutionally, the normal “self-correcting” checks and balances and separate institutions we cherish aren’t working. Pomeranstsev argues that while politicians have always lied at least they used to care about constructing a coherent and logical narrative, but not anymore.

At the individual level, the consequence is allowing a new level of racism that was unacceptable. Now we see an increase in aggressive frontstage racism as opposed to what Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin have documented as backstage racism, the sort that used to take place among whites at a fraternity party. In our new era one doesn’t have to feel embarrassed for being openly anti-Muslim or anti-foreigners.

Institutionally: Trump is a presidential candidate who makes his employees sign non-disclosure statements and says he’d consider doing the same in the White House if elected president. Does Trump believe that forcing people who work for him to refrain from later criticizing him or his actions publically would be legal in his role as president? So much for the federal Freedom of Information Act, not to mention the First Amendment right to criticize public figures without being sued for both libel or slander established by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. In Sullivan the Supreme Court established the

principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.

Not so for Donald Trump. If Trump is elected we will see more than just constitutional First Amendment protections or public policies disregarded.

Some may question how much damage electing Trump for president can do. After all, the U.S. has survived bad presidents before. Some may even argue we have a constitutional framework of checks and balances and separation of powers that will serve as self-correctors in our system. Some may even contend that electing Trump will produce a counter-leftward political movement. As a good friend once said, “If we’re living through the 1950s again it must mean we’re going to have another 1960s.” Perhaps. However, because of the lack of importance on truth in our political climate this presidential election may show us that the normal “self-correcting” checks and balances and separate institutions we cherish aren’t enough to protect us against some real damage to our ideals and institutions.

Individually: This presidential election has also resulted in increases in open racism. It seems many Trump supporters feel liberated to openly and freely harm and insult people of color using Trump as a justification. For example, Isaac Chotiner made the point in Slate that anti-Muslim attacks are on the rise. Chotiner provides one example of a woman calling another woman “Muslim trash,” and a “terrorist,” before spilling a drink on her and stating she was going to vote for Trump because he would send Muslims away at a Starbucks in Washington D.C.

Another example where perpetrators of hate crimes have specifically mentioned Trump is the brutal attack in Boston on a homeless 58 year-old Latino that left him with a broken nose, battered body, and face drenched in urine. The two brothers who committed the hate crime claimed they targeted him because he was Latino and because they were “inspired” by Trump. These examples, while anecdotal, underscore the rise in hate groups since George W. Bush left office. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center hate groups, especially “Patriotic” white hate groups have been on the rise since the start of the Obama administration, and have been ticking upward since 2015. Trump’s white-framed racist and nativist presidential campaign will have negative consequences beyond this presidential election cycle for ethnic and racial communities.

This presidential election is operating in a political climate where substance and truth matter little. If we don’t start caring about facts and how we treat our fellow human beings regardless of their religion or race it will prove to cause long-term damage to our institutions and to race relations.

Post-Truth Culture and the White Racial Frame: Presidential Politics

To understand the 2016 presidential election and its potential consequences it helps to look at it through the lens of what Jeremy Gordon referred to in a recent NYT’s article as our “post-truth culture.” Gordon made the point that the popularity and addiction of professional wrestling, “reality tv,” and other forms of inauthentic entertainment—where “the blurry line between truth and untruth” only increases the appeal to audiences—have seeped into presidential politics as well. Gordon states,

For a while, it became trendy to insist that the 2016 presidential election, with all its puffed chests and talk of penis size, seemed more like a wrestling pay-per-view event than a dignified clash of political minds. In politics, as in wrestling, the ultimate goal is simply to get the crowd on your side.

Getting the crowd on “your side” leads to electoral victory. And Trump is a master at getting the crowd on his side. Despite switching political parties at least five times and being married three times, voters on the far right are most definitely on Trump’s side viewing him as a family man of conservative values. For example, in a National Public Radio report by Kirk Siegler, conservative Mormon Janalee Tobias said of Trump,

Donald Trump wants to make America great again. Think about what made America great in the beginning: There were laws and people came here legally and didn’t have their hand out.

Siegler wraps up the story by stating that Tobias believes Trump is a good family man who abstains from alcohol, two important pillars in the Mormon religion. Never mind that Trump marketed a brand of Vodka in 2006 under the slogan “Success Distilled.”

“Post-truth” may be the modus operandī of the Trump campaign, but it is nothing new when it comes to US politics and policy as one of Stephen Colbert’s best skits on Comedy Central on “truthiness” demonstrated a decade ago when he told us he would dismiss the facts and instead go with his guts when delivering the “news” for the nation. Colbert included the war in Iraq and how it just felt right that Saddam Hussein was gone as example of truthiness. However, scholars of Latin America have known that the “blurry line between truth and untruth” and truthiness have been a dominant part of U.S. foreign policy since the Cold War. The CIA’s overthrowing of the democratically elected President Árbenz in Guatemala is just one example.

Post-truth politics have domestic policy consequences as well, especially when it comes to lies about our racial past and current racial inequality. As Joe Feagin argues in his book White Party, White Government,

In these myth-filled narratives, the Protestant “settlers” came to North American with modest resources and dreams of liberty, and drew on religious faith, virtuousness, and hard work to create prosperity in a land allegedly populated by some thinly scattered “savage” Indians.

Most of us have also heard the narrative that the U.S. is a land of opportunity where can achieve the American Dream if they just work hard enough; however, empirical measures of racial inequality including a racial wealth gap, disparate levels of educational attainment, segregation, and the most prominent example, law enforcement abuses should dispel this belief. Yet it doesn’t. Why? Because we also live with what Feagin calls the white racial frame, which consists of a broad racial framing of society that includes racial stereotypes, narratives, images, emotions, and discriminatory actions. Feagin states,

The dominant frame has persisted now over centuries only because it is constantly validating, and thus validated by, the inegalitarian accumulation of social, economic, and political resources.

This theory helps to explains why there are still vast differences today among whites and people of color while at the same time a strong-held belief that the U.S. is a land of opportunity, freedom, and equality for all. Therefore, this presidential election is showing us the product of the intersection of a culture steeped in “truthiness” and the white racial frame. We should not be surprised to simultaneously have the most diverse electorate in the history of this nation—with people of color comprising 31% of the electorate—and also to have the Republican presidential campaign entrenched in white supremacy narratives and traditions.

This explains how Mormons such as Tobias can believe Trump doesn’t drink, or why the middle class voters believe that Trump understands them. A white respondent in the Atlantic who was asked why he supports Trump thus stated:

Speaking from the right, I believe that Trump embodies the frustration and rage of the white middle class. This is his main support base and is an evershrinking group that no longer feels they have a voice. Politicians pay lip service to the middle class but spend no time helping them. Black lives matter more and illegal immigrants who break the law get a free pass. Evangelical Christians in this country no longer feel that they have the right to religious freedom and have watched what they perceive as a sacred institution in marriage gutted. All the while, politicians they voted for to represent them just plain don’t. Now enter Trump.

People of color have a different view of things. Our reality is that America is a society where, as a mother of an eleven year-old bi-racial son, I will not allow him to wear a hoodie out in public. He is too tall and strong looking, his hair is too long, and his features are too dark to be safe if he does. And when he turns sixteen I will not only teach him the rules of the road, but also the rules of engagement with the police before I let him drive.

The truth is the U.S.’s racial demographics are changing, and this scares the “evershrinking group” of whites because self-serving political candidates like Trump are telling them they should be scared with nativist policy proposals such as banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. As Jacobson points out, these types of fear tactics led to the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II, and are now being recalled as the correct thing to do by many. The consequence of our post-truth politics and the white racial frame may be a disruption to normal political cycles the likes of which we have not seen before. And this should scare us all.

Latino Voters Have Had Enough

 

Woman Holds Latino Eligible Voter Sign

 

Politicians have conveniently vilified Latinos for political gain for far too long. Coming of political age in California where Republican Governor Pete Wilson, who was described as too “wonkish” and “underwhelming” successfully won a second term as governor largely because of his anti-immigrant campaign tactics, I have heard racist commentary to prop up politicians for as long as I can remember. According to law professor Ian Haney López, politicians have been using coded language to disguise racist messages to win electoral support among whites in what he refers to as “dog whistle politics.”

Haney López demonstrates how this tactic has successfully been used by both political parties since at least George Wallace and the Republicans regained control of the South; however, it is about to implode this presidential election. The dog whistle fell into the wrong hands with Trump this time. Consequently, it will have disastrous results on the Republican Party during this presidential election cycle—some of which we are seeing already as Republican donors are not giving their money and long-time Republicans, such as George Will, are leaving the party.

Why aren’t dog whistle politics going to work during this presidential election? Two simple reasons: changing racial and ethnic demographics and immigration politics.

Demographics. According to a PEW Research Center finding, eligible voters from ethnic and racial groups will comprise 31% of the electorate making this the most racially diverse electorate in U.S. history. Furthermore, the largest number of Latinos will be eligible to vote in U.S. history at 27.3 million – up from 23.3 million in the 2012 presidential election. Of these Latino voters, PEW researchers point out: Hispanic millennials will account for nearly half (44%) of the record 27.3 million Hispanic eligible voters projected for 2016—a share greater than any other racial or ethnic group of voters.”  This brings me to my next point.

Woman Holds Latino Voters: Making History Sign Aloft

 

Immigration politics. The recent Supreme Courts 4-4 ruling that halts President Obama’s executive actions protecting undocumented immigrants will matter even before the issue is addressed by the Court again. This is because an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants have children who are U.S. citizens. As my co-authors and I detail in our study of undocumented Latino youth, Living the Dream, the racializing effects generated by our broken immigration system have had a permanent impact on their lives. These young Latinos have missed out on countless opportunities growing up—from participation in extracurricular activities and attendance at elite colleges where they have been accepted to being separated from their parents who have been deported. For most of these Latino youth, the U.S. is the only country they have ever known and it has attacked them and their families yet again with this Supreme Court decision. Most of these Latinos have grown up in mixed-status families and a majority of all Latinos voters have personal connections with someone who is undocumented.

Clearly, immigration matters to Latino voters. This presidential election will remind Republicans—who are supposedly all about family values and personal responsibility—that the personal is political for Latino voters and their families, as I’ve noted at NBC Latino News.

While the Republican Party falls apart before our eyes—in large part because of the racist messages by Trump—one can assume this will impact the other branches of government as well. With a Democratically controlled Senate and a new Democratic president that is sympathetic to immigration reform a new liberal Supreme Court majority will soon follow. All this will prove to be a window of opportunity to finally pass comprehensive immigration reform and may eventually threaten the race-based gerrymandering that has contributed to building today’s Republican advantage in the House.

Of course, all this will only happen if Latinos and other people of color turnout out in record numbers. I am hopeful that the results of this election show us all that the days of dog whistle politics are numbered.

~ Maria Chavez is Associate Professor of Political Science at Pacific Lutheran University and a regular contributor to Racism Review.

Anti-Latino Racism: The Case of Housing

Anyone who has ever purchased or sold property knows it can be a time-consuming and stressful event. There are credit checks, endless forms to fill out, and fees and points to pay. However, imagine being subject to what looks like extortion (See Cal. Pen. Sec. 518-519). by using a threat to report immigration status just for trying to conduct the normal business of life that families engage in, like the sale of a home. This is exactly what happened to my parents – lifelong residents and citizens – when they recently sold their condominium in California. A buyer tried to use what he believed to be their vulnerability because of immigration status (or perhaps some other assumption about their status as criminals because they are Latino) to take advantage of them.

Just before the inspection took place, the white buyer sent my relative (who was assisting them in the transaction) an email demanding my parent’s social security numbers in an affidavit. The following is the buyer’s email:

Your parents needed to state their Social Security numbers and affidavit for the final disclosure. You must get that information TODAY, or it could be inferred that your father may be classified as an illegal immigrant or implicated in some other issue, and that will complicate everything. If…I do not receive this information today, I will cancel both inspections set for tomorrow 1PM. Time is of the essence now on the calendar. You know that I will back out of the purchase if proper papers are not in order on time.

This request by represents just one example of the many racist experiences Latinos face when engaging in perfectly normal events in this country such as buying or selling property. It is part of the consequence of what Joe Feagin calls the white racial frame, where many white Americans act on stereotypes, racist narratives, images, and emotions that lead to discriminatory action towards people of color, which are rationalized in a world view that justifies white racial superiority.

It is also an example of what law professor Bill Hong Hing terms a process of de-Americanization, which includes racially profiling groups out of the notion or conception of an American. It has resulted in defining Latinos as “not real Americans, not part of us.” Professor Hing argues that this process has the insidious ability to perpetuate itself in multiple generations. Indeed, my research on Latino lawyers and Feagin and Cobas’s research on middle class Latino professionals underscore Hing’s argument. What my parents experienced in their real estate transaction is sadly the kind of racism they have experienced their entire lives in America.

The current racialization of Latinos, including Latino immigrants, includes being defined out of the “American” community, and therefore, undeserving of aspects of the American Dream. This type of prejudice and de-Americanization is something Feagin argues we are all taught over the decades of our lives. Latinos are racialized to be laborers, not professionals; to be “illegal,” “criminal,” not deserving of the privilege of participating in the real estate market. Examples of this sort of reinforcement of the white racial frame, are a constant in American society, one encouraged and enhanced by the dehumanizing and “othering” of Latinos including citizens and long-time residents such as my parents. The white racial frame is also reinforced as a part of the larger political debate around immigration where all Latinos are seen as undocumented, undeserving, un-American. Until national political entities—particularly the GOP—realize that for policy purposes their anti-Latino rhetoric results in the racialization of all Latinos as “illegal” then they will never gain significant traction among the growing Latino constituency.

However, this type of discrimination and prejudice must be challenged at multiple levels—legally, socially, politically, culturally, so that acts such as what appear to be intimidation and prejudice on the part of the white buyer above no longer remain part of acceptable societal behavior in a nation that considers itself to be democratic and equitable. Some may believe that the comment: “or it could be inferred that your father may be classified as an illegal immigrant or implicated in some other issue” is a lack of civility. However, I believe it is another perfect example of the white racial frame at work.

Currently 17 percent of Americans identify as Latino and this figure will go up to 30 percent in the next two decades. If middle-class lifetime citizens and residents are treated this way without a significant moral outrage against this kind of racism what does it portend for the future of our ethno-racial society?

In the meantime, until this type of discrimination and prejudice is challenged widely we will not create the change we need in how whites see themselves, and how they see people of color. Making an ethno-racial democracy work will take many voices raised and even more minds changed to understand the demands of social equity in American society.

Democracy & American DREAMers: DACA & Undocumented Latino Youth

Immigration—particularly undocumented immigration—continues to be an unresolved issue in America; however, it is part of the larger unresolved issue of the political and social inclusion of Latinos (as well as other visible racial and ethnic groups) in the U.S. It is an issue that will increasingly affect us all because of our changing demographics with Latinos at 16.9 percent of the population projected to be 30 percent of the population by 2050 at the latest.

This lack of inclusion is underscored in a new book my coauthors, Jessica L. Lavariega Monforti and Melissa R. Michelson and I recently published which looks at the experiences of undocumented Latino youth who have been raised in the U.S., but because of the inability of our political leaders to pass immigration reform dealing with even the seemingly straightforward aspects of the issue—namely, how to incorporate and legalize Latino youth who have grown up in the U.S—their lives have been severely limited at every turn. In our book we systematically examine the experiences faced by undocumented Latino youth based on in-depth interviews conducted immediately after President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in the summer of 2012. Through 101 interviews conducted in California, Texas, Washington, and Oregon we learn the effects of living in the U.S without the “nine-digit number” (Social Security number). We learn how living as undocumented youth has impacted their decisions after completing high school, their political socialization and self-identity, and their feelings of trust and confidence in our government, and even their personal and intimate relationships.

Regardless of their geographic location, the sample of DREAMers in our book all experienced life with a greater sense of fear, vulnerability, lack of freedom, and obstacles. It was felt while they were shopping, traveling, driving, or in one case, serving as a university student body president who was “outed” and had his life turned upside down. In some cases, their unauthorized status even affected their willingness to call the police if someone had been in a car accident. Living as an undocumented Latino youth in the United States is, even post-DACA (which provides some measure of protection from deportation) as one of our respondents stated, “not full freedom.” Similar to the experiences of immigrants in the past, our sample of DREAMers is affected by the white racial frame in that they are racialized targets at every turn. This racialization places greater limitations on all aspects of their lives. As one of our respondents states,

[B]eing an illegal immigrant shapes who you are, . . . when you’re growing up, like what you become and . . . how you act and whatnot.

Listening to the stories of our sample of DREAMers, we learn about the lives of hardworking, good kids who have grown up in America seeking to achieve the American dream like everyone else. Some always knew they were undocumented, but not quite what it meant; others first learned as teenagers. Just as they were trying, like other teenagers around them, to assert their independence – to go away to college, to get a first job, to learn to drive – they find themselves stopped in their tracks by a system that relegates them to the margins because they are undocumented.

Based on this research, if we truly hope to have a democracy, then we must have the wisdom and the tenacity to continually seek ways to improve our society by extending the promise of America’s most cherished principles to the DREAMers. Latino youth are our future and there will be no real democracy for any future Americans without the political and social incorporation of Latinos. Similarly to the pre-Civil War South and through the 1960’s where nearly half of the population was legally oppressed by the other, an America where one third of the youth entering their voting age, their legal working age, or college age either are excluded from the body politics or are suspected of not belonging to the body politic, democracy is crippled or false. As Douglas S. Massey states,

[T]he most serious task remaining for immigration reformers is the legalization of the 11 million persons who are currently unauthorized, especially the 3 million or more persons who entered as minors and grew up in the United States. The lack of legal status constitutes an insurmountable barrier to social and economic mobility, not only for the undocumented immigrants themselves, but for their citizen family members. Not since the days of slavery have so many residents in the United States lacked the most basic social, economic, and human rights.

The U.S.’s founding values of “establishing justice” or the “blessing of liberty” currently does not apply to 5 million Latino youth who are just kids trying to be kids in the only country they’ve ever known.

If we make a commitment to DREAMers through humane immigration policy such as passage of the DREAM Act, our entire society will be enriched by not only the economic and cultural benefits that they will bestow upon American society, but because we will stop undermining our democratic values through the continual exclusion of undocumented Latino youth who have so much to contribute to society, if only they are allowed to. As one undocumented young woman
we interviewed states:

We are members of this society whether people acknowledge it or not, but we continue to be discriminated against, marginalized and “othered.” We experience rejection on a daily basis, and although we continue to overcome barrier after barrier, it is not a way of life that any person should have to experience. We are talented individuals who want to be able to give back to our communities. Why does legislation continue to prevent us from doing so? Why let our skills go to waste? Why not use them to improve this nation? This problem is much bigger than people want to acknowledge. . . . [W]e are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

As we document in our book, all of the DREAMers we spoke to recognized that their immigration status had had powerful impacts on their lives.

And yet, as we found time and again in our research, they keep on dreaming as underscored by one of our respondents:

Well, whatever is within my reach I’m going to do it. After I finish my bachelor’s and continue my master’s, and if possible go into the PhD program; if not, I’ll set up a business as I have a business already, so keep going and make it bigger. I won’t stop. If there’s something in my way I’ll just go another way.

Latino Disunity: On Obama’s Delaying Executive Order for Immigrants

In her insightful book, The Trouble With Unity, Cristina Beltrán highlights the intolerance to dissent found in the 1960’s and 70’s Chicano and Puerto Rican Movements, especially with regards to gender issues. This intolerance to debate within the movements weakened the democratic nature of the groups where as Beltrán states, “Disagreement is treated as a pathology” (p. 46). She goes on to say, “In the politics of unity, someone or something must be found and blamed for divisions and disagreements” (p. 46). Are we seeing some of this again in the recent attacks on prominent Latino leaders and activists such as Dolores Huerta who have chosen not to come down hard on President Obama for his Democratic-party-pressured decision to wait until after the November elections to issue any more executive orders on immigration in order to keep the Senate under Democratic control?

In a recent article on the National Institute for Latino Policy a number of authors state:

On the whole, Obama’s Latino defenders all have a financial stake in his regime. They are all recipients of largesse either from the administration directly or through his party or allied private foundations. They belong to the corrupt patronage system and have gladly accepted their proverbial role as house peons who run to save the master’s burning house faster than the master himself. The most immoral observation about their behavior is the lack of transparency about their personal moneyed interests and positions as they implicitly defend massive deportations of historic dimension.

This intolerance to dissent is reminiscent of calls of “traitor” or “sell-out” found in the 1960s and 1970s Latino movements as highlighted by Beltrán.

It is one thing to differ on strategy, approach, and timing of politics. However, not to recognize that there could be differences in approach is short-sighted at best and an excellent strategy for the Republican party at worst.

The Latino community is bigger than ever in U.S. history and our numbers have reached a tipping point whereby Latino issues are prominent issues in the national debate. Latinos have always been from diverse national origins tracing back to many different Latin American countries with different historical experiences in the U.S. as John A. Garcia notes in his book on Latino Politics.

While we also share important common denominators such as the experience of discrimination and lack of inclusion in the U.S. as Feagin and Cobas describe, these subgroup differences are large enough to generate diverse policy interests or at the least differences in strategy. So, it should come as no surprise that there are issues where there is dissent between Latino groups and that is only going to become more frequent.

Intolerance to dissenting views by leaders of Latino organizations seems very out-of-touch, and ultimately very unproductive. Notions of unity in a group (that will soon comprise 20 percent of the electorate) that are intolerant to political dissent will condemn us to a fringe of insignificance. When Latinos are finally having an influence on national elections and therefore eventually on public policy, do we really want to start calling each other “peons” if we disagree with each other? Instead, what we need is to take an adaptable, big-tent approach to building an enduring, influential political coalition in the United States. This is one way to make Latino politics matter in the future.

Racist, Immoral Dehumanization of Immigrant Children

There are two main challenges in addressing the border issue of increased numbers of undocumented children traveling alone from Central America to the US.
The first is that the dehumanization of Latinos in the US has been so tremendously successful that a basic call for decency and humanity is absent from the conversations surrounding this situation. For example, I recently highlighted the issue in an op-ed to a local newspaper and the comments reveal people hiding their racism behind arguments of “legal” and “illegal.”

An absence of decency and humanity can also be seen in the protesters who turned away buses of children or who are protesting detention centers across the country where children are housed because we’re a “nation of laws” or because the children “carry diseases,” “bring crime,” will grow up to “rape women.” This is all to familiar language that uses the same fear tactics, dehumanization, and racism once used towards African Americans during slavery and Jim Crow and towards the Chinese during the late 1800s—language used to justify atrocious acts of oppression of these groups then and language used to justify monstrous cruelty to these children today. One has to wonder if these protesters would have the same response to refugee children coming from Eastern Europe. Perhaps there would still be a backlash against thousands of Eastern European refugee children arriving alone to the US; however, I doubt it would rise to the shameless levels we’ve seen recently, or that it would use the kinds of language being used–language that has roots in removing people of color outside of our human and national family throughout American history. This underscores how effective the racialization of Latinos in the U.S. currently is.

The second hindrance with addressing this issue is the problem of politicians who either do not care or if they do care are acting first and foremost in their self-interests by being in lock step with xenophobic Americans’ preferences. This response by our nations leaders underscores Schneider and Ingram’s research revealing that politicians make laws that benefit certain groups and burden others. This explains why Congress refuses to act in a bipartisan fashion and pass laws addressing this situation. This explains why traumatized children are being put on planes and sent back as a deterrence to others. This is not just, rational, or wise public policy but this is what our political leaders are engaged in.

Instead, there must be another way. There must be collaboration and civility between the nations involved to come up with short-term and long-term policy solutions. For example, Héctor Perla Jr. recently provided examples of both short term and long term solutions in a recent article. Perla gives the example of granting the children refugee status rather than seeing them as undocumented immigrants in the short term, and in the long term he argues we must address economic policies in Central America that are creating the conditions pushing children and their parents to migrate.

Other short term ideas with the goal of preventing further harm to the children immediately by keeping more children from dying or being injured on the train include finding them earlier in the process of migration. This would require creating a coalition between the US and the countries from where the children depart to check the trains and help the kids at that point. Long term of course must address the roots of the problem. This requires taking into consideration why children are fleeing their countries and finding ways to address these issues as Perla suggests. This too, must be done in collaboration with leaders from Mexico and Central America. Of course, civility, compromise, and collaboration across national leaders seems impossible to accomplish when it doesn’t happen across political leaders in this country who follow the desires of many Americans who cannot see Latinos as human beings, not even the children.

Mocking Mexican Americans: Young White Women

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.