SPANISH IN THE US: A “RESPECTABLE” LANGUAGE (Part I)

References to Spanish in the US tend to evoke memories of Latinos’ racist oppression. However, there was a time in the early days of this country when Spanish was regarded by important whites as a “respectable” language.

Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson wrote about the importance of Spanish to the US. In a document he penned outlining his ideas about the education of youth in Pennsylvania, Franklin recommended that young men interested in business should consider the study of Spanish!.

Jefferson’s admiration for Spanish is evident in this passage: “With respect to modern languages . . . Spanish is most important to an American . . .” One scholars notes, “His interest in Spanish was instrumental in its incorporation into the curriculum of William and Mary in 1780″ (Madeline Wallis Nichols)

Franklin’s and Jefferson’s positive view was shared by other members of the elite then. For example, a Puritan divine, Cotton Mather, found in Spanish an important tool to spread the “Christian” message to Spanish-American Catholics. In 1699 Mather wrote a pamphlet in Spanish, La fe del Christiano, hoping to convert them “from Darkness to Light,” that is, from the Catholic faith to Protestantism.

There was an early demand for private instruction in Spanish. In 1747 the New York Gazette announced the establishment of an Academy where Augustus Vaughn taught several languages, including Spanish, “correctly and expeditiously.” In 1773 another New Yorker, Anthony Fiva, advertised instruction in Romance languages, including Spanish, “in their greatest purity.” (Seybolt).

Instruction in Spanish began at the college level in the 18th Century. It was offered at major colleges and universities such as Pennsylvania (1750), Dickinson (1814) , Yale (1826), Princeton (1830) and Amherst (1827). However, the great prestige of Spanish instruction at the university level did not reach its peak until 1816 with the establishment of the Smith Professorship of the French and Spanish Languages and Literature at Harvard (Spell).

As US expansionism grew, however, the esteemed status of Spanish turned into contempt as white settlers moved to Texas and the US seized Mexican territory after the conclusion of the US-Mexican war. Conquering whites made the squelching of Spanish a central component of their takeover. Their strategy was familiar in history: to break a people, you dispossess them of such an important part of their lives as language. Their justification was simple: the language of an inferior race was necessarily an inferior language. Thus began the racialization of Spanish in the US.

Is Marco Rubio Republicans’ Salvation with Latinos?

Anyone who watched television or read newspapers after the Republican’s losses in the November election saw many references to Marco Rubio. Convinced that they needed to gain Latino support if they were going to do better in future elections, Republicans began to develop a “Latino strategy.” A more moderate stance toward “immigration” (read: immigrants without documents from Latin America) was part of this strategy. Another component was improving their image with Latinos by a larger role to Latino Republican office holders. Foremost among the latter is Marco Rubio, Senator from Florida, son of Cuban immigrants. He leads the Republican campaign on immigration reform. Hailed as a rising star, he has been mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in the 2016 election.

Rubio has many features that seem to appeal to Latinos. He is fluent in Spanish and boasts of his hard-working Cuban immigrant parents. Unlike many Cuban origin political leaders in Florida, Rubio is not an Ivy Leaguer. He went to a modest college and law school and borrowed $100,000 in student loans. A regular guy. This might help explain why he won 55 percent of the Latino vote in his successful run in 2010 for the U.S. Senate.

To be a significant magnet for the Latino vote, Rubio would have to appeal not only to Cubans in Florida but also to other Latinos throughout the country, Mexican Americans in particular. They represent the largest number of Latino voters and I don’t see why Rubio would necessarily appeal to them anymore than another candidate.

Rubio’s immigration reform plan does not stand out when compared with the Democrats’. It has much in common with Obama’s except that it falls short on a crucial issue: it does not provide a path to citizenship to the “Dreamers.”

Finally, it is not likely that Republicans would unite behind Rubio should he present a bill that formalizes his immigration plan.

If his immigration plan is not as generous as Obama’s, his stand on entitlements looks miserly vis-à-vis the Democrats’. Latinos, as other individuals, would face the adverse effects of cuts in government programs that Republicans obsess about. These are not good auguries if Rubio has ambitions to gain Latino support for a candidacy for the Presidency. As a long-oppressed population, Latinos will look askance at a candidate that doesn’t address their interests wholeheartedly and is a member of a party long devoted to the interests of white elites. Bottom-line is that being a “Trophy Latino” won’t be enough to get him elected President.

But what about Cubans? This Cuban exile will not vote for Rubio because of the tenor of his political ideas. But I’m a liberal academic. How about average Cubans? I asked my Cuban sample in Miami, that is, my aunt and her children, about their views on Rubio. They said that they would have to see his entire agenda before they could support him. My aunt and my cousins are a tiny, non-probability sample. However, they have provided me for years with reliable information about the Cuban community in Florida. Knowing Rubio’s policies, I doubt that they’ll vote for him. My hunch is that many other Cubans will feel the same way.

What Do You See When You See Me? Students of Color Speak Out

Below is a collection of creative vignettes and poems from a diverse group of Sam Houston State University students who were engaged in projects that involved critical examinations of white racial framing and counter-framing. Their work contests and challenges stereotypes generated by the white racist and gendered framing often deeply engrained in both the minds of dominate group members and subordinate group members who have internalized features of the framing toward their own groups and unacquainted subordinate groups.

The first four vignettes were created by students for their in-class group presentation on “Extending the White Racial Frame” from The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Framing and Counter-Framing. The last two poems were created by two students for their personal projects that focus on racial and ethnic, and gendered marginalization:
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By Austin Campbell
African American

I think this is what you think when you see me, I don’t really have to ask. Sure I’m black so I must be a thug, full of ghetto love and talking like “yeah that’s my homeboy” or n-word what’s up? Yeah I’m black so the crack corner must be my throne, and yeah you think you got it all figured out thinking that I come from a really bad home. Oh and don’t forget to clutch your purse when I come your way because you know I’m black and looking for a pay day. So congrats to you for thinking that you’re all right, but I’m going to show you how that’s all a lie. Yes I am black and that true but let me make you aware of something new. No I don’t come from a bad home at all. In fact I may even be living next door to you. Yes my mom and dad got a divorce but my mom and step-dad raised me up too. Using the n-word, nah, that’s not my thing. Some rappers may say it but really that’s not me. And a crack corner or stealing your purse, phss, get out of here. Next time don’t believe every movie you see. You really want to know me then look around your own group and you’ll realize I’m just like you.

So next time you see me what will you say? All I want to know is after hearing me speak, is this what you will see or think when I come by your way?

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By Erik Jackson
Native American

Is this what comes into your mind when you hear my name Sky? When I tell you that I am a Cherokee and not a Native American, is this what you think? Or is it when you see me and my Native American hair that you think, “boy I bet s/he can put down the alcohol. They are known for drinking, hell they even have alcohol made after them.” Or maybe it’s a different thought, a thought about the history of how my people have come to be treated by “Americans” and the policies that have been “thankfully given” to us. You know about our lands and our casinos that barely make any money and that we must live on welfare because we spend all of our money on gambling and alcohol. In fact none of these are true about me at all. Yeah I do go by my Cherokee-American background because I’m proud of it. Another thing that might surprise you I bet would be in fact that I nor my parents or anyone in my family for that matter drinks, so no we are not able to “put them down” like you might imagine. Also, we aren’t on welfare, as a matter of fact I live in your basic residential neighborhood and once again no one I know of Native American background works at a casino.

I’m just one of many voices speaking out about Native Americans. In all honesty it’s up to you to believe what you want, all I have to question is this—is this what you will think when you see me, is this what I am to you?

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By Benjamin Prochazka
Asian American

Is this what you think when you see me? Yes I wear Sperry’s and I do tend to dress nicely on a regular basis but is this me to you? You think when you see me walk, sure thanks to my genes, I’m a little shorter, with my slanted eyes and jet black hair, and my calm quiet nature, this is me? Or is it my backpack stuffed with things weighing me down that makes you think “wow I bet he has a lot of sushi, and video games, and books in there. He’s probably on his way to study “ right? Well surprise! Most of this isn’t true. I’m an average student, C+ to be honest. You’ll find this hard to believe too that I don’t eat sushi. I’ve never really cared for it. As you can see I don’t have an Asian accent either, shocker right? I dress this way because I’m comfortable in these clothes. You know what I mean because y’all wear the same clothes as I do.

So is this what you think when you see me? Or have you always seen me as one of you?

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By Denise Castillo
Mexican American

Is this what comes to mind when I tell you that I am a Latina? Do you automatically assume that I can dance and move my hips really well? Or that I’m an amazing cook because that’s what we are known for? Or is it that you think all the men in my family are lazy and begging for jobs on a street corner and desperately taking any job they can get just so they can have the money to support their family? You probably think that we all live in a small house on welfare in some horrible neighborhood with gang members on every corner. Do you assume that any Mexican you see on the street is illegal? Or that I have some family in jail for doing some illegal activity? Do you think that I eat tacos and rice and beans all day every day? Or that we all have accents or can’t even speak any English for that matter? Well to be perfectly honest with you, none of that about me is true. I am definitely not the best dancer out there and the only one thing I’m really good at cooking is Ramen! All the Mexicans I know are actually very far from being lazy in any way. We work our asses off and a majority of Mexicans I know are very successful in the businesses they are in. I grew up in your average household with my mom and dad and only 1 other sibling. My family is not big at all and not a single one of them has been to jail or involved in any gang related activities. One thing that will be sure to surprise you is that I’m really not a big fan of Mexican food at all so there is definitely no way that I could eat that every day! I have lived here in the U.S. my entire life and English was my first language that I learned. None of the Mexicans I know have an accent and surprisingly most Mexicans here in the U.S. can speak English pretty well.

So is this what you really think of me when you learn that I am a Mexican? Is this how you’ll always picture me?

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By Lorin Perez

So Which Side of the Border Do I Belong?
I wasn’t brought up in “the barrio”
But I wasn’t raised in a white suburb either
I have never packed my car with relatives
But I would never just leave them to rot in a nursing home either
I’m not an amazing salsa dancer
But I’m not a lousy dander either
So which side of the border do I belong?

I’ve been called “illegal”
I’ve been called “gringa”
I was not born in Mexico but I am not white
So which side of the border do I belong to?

My mom makes turkey for Thanksgiving
But she makes tamales for Christmas
My dad works very hard every day of the week
But he is not a construction worker
My grandparents instilled American traditions in our family
But they didn’t let us forget our roots
So which side of the border do I belong?

I am a light skinned Hispanic
I don’t fit the stereotypical part of a Mexican girl
Yet I don’t fit the stereotypical part of a Caucasian female either
So which side of the border do I belong?

I can speak English
I’m not addicted to drugs
I have a passion for soccer
I love apple pie
I don’t want twenty kids
I like to put “chile” on my food
I enjoy country music
I don’t like PDA
I will graduate from college
I am religious
I am not racist
I would cry if my dog died
I am intelligent
I am not arrogant
I am unique
I am an individual

I am not only Mexican, and I am not only American
So which side of the border do I belong to?

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By Gilisa Walls

I decided to touch on the theory of labeling. In society today it has become the norm to place labels on those by what they wear, how they act, their skin color, and the people they hang around. I wrote a poem based on some of the things I have been labeled and how it makes me feel and how I respond to those labels. I also touched on the topics of discrimination and prejudice because whenever talking about labeling you will always run into those issues as well. Labeling can be anything from calling you or a group of people certain names because of race, gender, beliefs, culture, etc. Most people don’t live up to the labels society places on them because society usually receives their source of information through the media, family values and beliefs, or the people they hang around or admire. Once people label you they feel as if they know exactly what you’re going to do, how you are going to act and react in any given situations. They base this off of past experiences from other people they have labeled the same as you.

If You’re Going to Label Me. . .

Label me as a rare form of a human not lesbian, black, or a female.
There’s only a few of my kind and we are very hard to find.
I’m the one that walks strong with my head high not letting the stereotypes get to me.
The one that knows I’m more than what this society labels me to be.
I’m a rare form of a human that realizes that, labels are only what you wear and put on, but you, you are just pure beauty from the inside out.
Society has labeled me as this stud, this black female, this statistic that all blacks are the same.
They don’t even label me the name that my mom created for me after carrying me for nine months.
They fail to realize that I’m not a part of the African American statistics and that my personality and attitude makes the substance of beauty within, distinguishing me from the rest.
Only a few of us know how to be more than what we are said to be and know how to reflect on the external judgment that comes for us.
From that first breath we breathe, to the time society sets a description of who we are on our lives, to the moments we cherish from overcoming the boundaries and perceptions of what “my kind” should do or how we should act.
There’s going to come a time when we do show weakness, that we like the same sex or that our skin is darker than others; but we, No I, won’t allow myself to let the obvious overtake my greatness.
But if you ever find one like me, that one that is one of a kind, don’t allow your prejudice ways make you assume that I’m just like the rest.
Don’t let your discrimination take over and you attack those of my kind because they are proud to be who they are.
Don’t be about of statistics that acts on prejudice and discrimination and attack or label those that are black.
Be the one that is will to get to know that rare form of a human.
Be the one to make a change towards equality instead of labeling us according to the definitions they give us on TV.

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Whose Accent Counts? All Speak English with an Accent in the US?

San Luis, Arizona is a small border community (2009 population was 25,682) located on the southwest corner of the state. As is true in most Arizona border towns, its population is predominantly Latino (94%) and Spanish is the common language.

In an interview with the New York Times Archibaldo Gurrola, a local UPS deliveryman and former San Luis councilman, stated that

It’s strange to speak English here. Spanish is what you hear everywhere, maybe with some English thrown in.

Language and political hegemony go hand in hand, and thus it is not surprising that a 1910 act granting Arizona statehood includes a provision requiring that officeholders must perform their duties in English without the aid of a translator.

Alejandrina Cabrera was a candidate for a seat on the City Council and her English proficiency is limited. She is a U.S. citizen and a graduate from an Arizona high school. Apparently motivated by political rivalries, Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla filed a legal challenge to Mrs. Cabrera’s inclusion on the ballot on the grounds that her “lack” of full English proficiency disqualifies her from serving on the Council.

The case was brought up to the County Supreme Court. Judge John Nelson ordered a linguist to assess Mrs. Cabrera’s English proficiency. The linguist, William G. Eggington, who originates from Australia, determined that Mrs. Cabrera

does not yet have sufficient English language proficiency to function adequately as an elected City Council member.

Mrs. Cabrera noted that she was thrown off by Professor Eggington’s accent at least once. He asked her about summer, which he pronounced “summa.” That is the sobriquet for the nearby community of Somerton, causing Mrs. Cabrera to be utterly confused.

On January 25 Judge Nelson agreed with Professor Eggington’s recommendation and ruled that Mrs. Cabrera be struck from the ballot. Her lawyers said that they might appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.

Domestic Terrorism: Racial, Gender, and Class Angles (UPDATED)

As you probably know by now, a white software engineer crashed his plane into an office building in Austin and killed himself and at least one other person. David Neiwert has a probing article at Crooks-and-Liars,” with a video from Fox News that moves strongly away from calling this an “act of terrorism.” They describe the act as like someone who wildly attacks with a gun at their workplace. The Obama administration’s press secretary and the Department of Homeland Security are also saying it probably was not an act of terrorism. A newsperson at Fox concluded:

Our Homeland Security contacts telling us, this does not appear to be terrorism in any way that that word is conventionally understood. We understand from officials that this is a sole, isolated act.

Neiwert notes that

Well, this is true only if the conventional understanding of the word “terrorism” has now been narrowed down to mean only international terrorism and to preclude domestic terrorism altogether. Since when, after all, is attempting to blow up a federal office as a protest against federal policies NOT an act of domestic terrorism? You know, Timothy McVeigh used a “dangerous instrument” to kill 168 people in Oklahoma City. He too was angry at the federal government, and was converted to the belief that acts of violence was the only means possible to prevent the government from overwhelming our freedom and replacing it with tyranny.

He was also not brown or black. That seems to have something to do with the way these events are reported and described as “not terrorism” by media and government officials. Indeed, I see no one at the mainstream media outlets analyzing that the likely suicide attacker was white, or even much analysis of his note below.

The very long letter from the apparent suicide attacker was left by him on the web, and reads in part:

If you’re reading this, you’re no doubt asking yourself, “Why did this have to happen?” …. Sadly, starting at early ages we in this country have been brainwashed to believe that, in return for our dedication and service, our government stands for justice for all. ..While very few working people would say they haven’t had their fair share of taxes (as can I), in my lifetime I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind. . . . Yet, it mercilessly “holds accountable” its victims, claiming that they’re responsible for fully complying with laws not even the experts understand.

A major thrust of his suicide note is an attack on taxation, and this is what the media has played up. This is similar to the anti-government motivation for the kind of domestic terrorism engaged in my Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City. Very few in the mainstream media have so far explored his strong critique of the business world:

Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours? Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies.

He continues with a discussion of his efforts as an engineer and rails against people losing their pensions to corrupt management executives, unions, and officials. After much economic difficulty, he moved to Austin, which gets a bad review:

So I moved, only to find out that this is a place with a highly inflated sense of self-importance and where damn little real engineering work is done. I’ve never experienced such a hard time finding work.

He then had more economic troubles, and blames the IRS for this problems:

I remember reading about the stock market crash before the “great” depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual”. Now when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes. . . . I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand. It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants. . . .I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough. . . . Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the /only/ answer. . . . Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well. *The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.* *The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.* Joe Stack (1956-2010)

We get here a close look at the mind of a suicide attacker, and probably should read it closely. His rationale for violence is carefully presented. This event and its reporting have important racial and class angles.

There is also a major gender violence angle here. MSNBC reported some domestic dispute between the attacker and his wife before the incident, and he appears to have set to light his house on fire, and the fire department had to rescue his wife and daughter. Gender gets downplayed often in these cases. This man first terrorized his wife and daughter, then engaged in an act of domestic terrorism against the government. His wife and daughter are now homeless.

White anger and violence directed at the government is not usually reported as terrorism. White, heterosexual, Christian men infrequently get called out as such and generalizations developed on the basis of these demographics. If these recent incidents by white men had been committed by Muslim men or others of color it is quite likely those demographics would be foregrounded. @GuerrillaMama has put it eloquently (via Twitter):

Suppose two men committed separate acts of extremist murder in the United States within a month. Suppose the gunmen attacked a church and a national landmark, motivated by politics and religious prejudice, targeting a nationally controversial figure and innocent civilians. Suppose there was a history of attacks by similarly motivated men in America, ranging from individual shootings and bombings to an act of spectacular violence that destroyed a federal office building. Suppose two Muslim men had done this. Is there even a question that we would be using a particular term to describe this behavior? Might reporters and news anchors be terming these horrible acts, say, “terrorism”?

Still, Matt Yglesias cautions about an overreaction to this event:

But instead of complaining about the hypocrisy involved in not trying to whip people into a fit of terror and madness about this incident, I think it makes more sense to congratulate everyone on handling this in a calm and sensible manner. . . . Simply put, the odds of “death by disgruntled anti-tax activist flying an airplane into your office” are extremely small and it’s extremely difficult to think of cost-effective and efficacious methods of ensuring that this never happens again. Off the top of my head, this looks to me like a demonstration of the desirability of better mental health services in the United States, but that’s something that I would think was true one way or the other.

In my view, this is a good time for much careful reflection and action about the underlying, stressful, oppressive class, racial, gender conditions of this society. For example, the society’s structural conditions, mentioned in the suicide note, that sometimes play a role in driving people of any background to such extreme violence are also rarely examined in the mainstream media. One can and should examine these contextual conditions of suicide attackers closely without excusing such violence. They often tell us something about our societies. Clearly, the economic depression we are now in is likely part of his story. So, it seems to me, is the violent rhetoric of many in the “tea bag” movement and on white supremacist websites. This extremely violent talk and discussion probably makes violence seem “normal” to people like this suicide attacker. Why is there no mainstream media discussion of the broader racial and class and gender implications of this story, and the biased ways it is being handled?

UPDATE: MEMBER OFCONGRESS EMPATHIZES WITH WHITE DOMESTIC TERRORIST (VIA TPM)

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told a crowd at CPAC on Saturday that he could “empathize” with the suicide bomber who last week attacked an IRS office in Austin, and encouraged his listeners to “implode” other IRS offices, according to a witness. King’s comments weren’t recorded, but a staffer for Media Matters, who heard the comments, provided TPMmuckraker with an account. The staffer, who requested anonymity because she’s not a communications specialist, said that King, an extreme right-winger with a reputation for eyebrow-raising rhetoric, appeared as a surprise guest speaker on an immigration panel at the conservative conference.

We should note too that the only person this white domestic terrorist killed was a black veteran of Vietnam.

Should We Regulate Extreme Racist Speech Like Other Democracies?

Candidates Have a Legal Right to Lie to Voters
Creative Commons License photo credit: Caveman 92223

The New York Times blog site (HT, Zulema) has an editorial on the white supremacist and “free speech” issues arising out of recent killings. After their opening they have comments from a variety of criminological and legal experts (Phyllis B. Gerstenfeld, criminal justice professor; Chip Berlet, Political Research Associates; Eric Hickey, criminology professor; Edward J. Eberle, comparative law professor; Eugene O’Donnell, John Jay College of Criminal Justice; and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Simon Wiesenthal Center.)

Here is what the Times editors open with under the general theme of “room for debate”:

The killing of George Tiller, the abortion doctor in Wichita, Kan., and the attack on the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington yesterday have raised questions yet again about the role that extremist propaganda sites play in inciting violence among some militant believers. In both cases, the suspect arrested was well-known among fringe “communities” on the Web. Most legal scholars and many experts on extremist violence in the U.S. oppose reining in of such sites, or restrictions on extremist speech generally. Should the United States consider tighter restrictions on hate speech?

Notice the language here and in later parts of the analysts’ commentaries. They talk about “militant believers” from “fringe communities,” and sometimes call them “extremist.” One has to ask why they do not call these terrorists by the term “white terrorists”? Indeed, “white” rarely appears at all in the editorial or commentaries. If these white men had been “Middle Eastern extremists,” they likely would be called by that term. Do white men get a pass when it comes go this group-linked terrorism? And not one of the scholars even raises this question and the related one about the very long U.S. history of white terrorism (e.g., thousands killed by Klan-type groups) against people of color, as well as others like Jewish Americans.

The main debate in the Times blog here is over “free speech,” and how we cannot restrict white supremacist and other hate speech because of first amendment protections. One of the Times blog commentators, Edward J. Eberle, law professor at the Roger Williams University School of Law provides what I see as very interesting comments:

The United States is perhaps the only country in the world that allows for protection of hate speech. Much of this has to do with the idea that a free exchange of ideas is important and that allowing speech — even hate-filled speech — can be a safety valve that helps prevent outbreaks of violence. Under this view, speech needs to be regulated only when it will present a clear and present danger, as when it is a direct incitement to violence.

OK, why is this point not central in our media and political discussions: We are the only country that protects aggressive white supremacist and other aggressive hate speech. Why is that? Is it only because of our first amendment and conventional ideas of “free speech” in the United States? Is it because we really do cherish freedom more than other countries? Is our past and present history one of much greater freedom and liberty than other countries? Or is it because we (especially elite whites who run the country) do not see aggressive racist or other extremist hate speech as threatening to them and the values they care about?

Yet, the United States does NOT have unlimited “freedom of speech.” This notion is in fact a myth. As Eberle points out, things like obscene speech are not protected speech, “even when there is no concrete demonstration of harm.” Indeed, numerous types of speech are not protected, including obscene words, “fighting words,” some deceptive commercial ads, etc, as this comment from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (epic.org) indicates:

Obscenity. Speech defined as obscenity is outside the boundaries of First Amendment protection. As defined by Miller v. California, obscenity is speech that (1) the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find, taken as a whole, to appeal to the prurient interest; (2) depicts or describes in a patently offensive manner specifically defined sexual conduct; and (3) lacks as a whole serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. The definition of obscenity, developed in 1973, focuses on a local “community standard,” and has proven to be the crux of litigation surrounding internet censorship cases, which by their nature cannot depend upon local community standards.

So, let me get this straight, we do legally ban obscene words, sexual words, obscene speech in many contexts even when these words have not been, or cannot be, proven to create significant harm. We still ban them in numerous settings regardless of the first amendment. But it is OK to spout much racist hate speech all over the place, including on the Internet, when one can show it causes some or much harm–including inciting people like white terrorists to commit violence against people of color and others? (Some “communities’ standards” and views of what is harmful clearly count more than others.)

Eberle notes how isolated the “free” United States is from other free countries, including those we consider our closet allies and kindred countries. Most do not protect serious hate speech, but prosecute it:

This is the case in all the European countries, like Germany, France, Britain, etc., and also Canada.

Notice that these are countries with high levels of free speech, in many ways countries where speech is more diverse and/or free than in the United States (as many newsstands in these countries reveal). Their legal systems recognize a conflict in human freedoms. The right of freedom of speech is not so absolute and does not always trump the right freedom from extremist hate speech and related hate crimes. Eberle notes what he calls the U.S.

individualist model of a right to self-determination and expression. For the Europeans and others, there is also a right to speak your mind, but there are some bounds based on respect of others.

So, how did we get to this backward place of protecting extreme racist speech over the right to be free from such vicious, often violence-generating hate speech attacks? Not one of these criminologists and law professors speaks to how we as a country might reasonably regulate the most extreme forms of racist hate speech, the kind designed to incite people to discriminate and commit hate crimes. These analysts do not consider what other “advanced” democratic countries do in this regard as legal or political strategies we might just consider in dealing with aggressive and virulent hate speech. Why are we so ethnocentric and provincial in not even knowing about or considering other, often more democratic, legal and political systems–and what they do to free their citizens from such virulent racist attacks?

Addendum: Paul Krassner reviews some of the array of speech censored and banned under the “obscenity” regulations of various places in the country. But no hate speech.

Racists calling “Racist”

sotomayorBarbinMD at dailykos has a useful summary of some of the right-wing white male commentators calling Sonia Sotomayor “racist,” even with their own extensive records of racist commentaries and actions (Image Source: Wikipedia). Barbin MD reproduces this nice little discussion centered on congress critter, Tom Tancredo, and a young white male associate:

TANCREDO: If you belong to an organization, called La Raza in this case, which is from my point of view anyway, just nothing more than a Latino, it’s a counterpart, it’s a Latino KKK without the hoods …
SCHUSTER: A Latino KKK — would you like to take this opportunity to apologize?
TANCREDO: (Laughs) No.
SANCHEZ: It turns out that Tom Tancredo has some explaining to do on this very front, because the Executive Director of his political action committee, his political action committee, has admitted to a blatantly racist act. It’s now revealed that in 2007, this man, Marcus Epstein, according to a Secret Service witness, came out of a bar in Washington, called a woman the “n” word, and then slapped her in the head. Slapped her in the head. He fled the scene, but he was eventually arrested. Epstein, who is due back in court next month, is blaming his behavior on too much alcohol. But according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, it’s more than that. They have described Epstein as a man with a network of racist connections. Back to Tancredo now — who said on this show, people who associate with racist organizations are racists. Congressman, why is Mr. Epstein still in charge of your political organization? And what sir, does that say about you? We got in touch with Tancredo. He declined to answer our questions yesterday, repeatedly.

Various folks like Tom Tancredo, Newt Gingrich, and Rush Limbaugh first called not only the La Raza civil rights group, but also Judge Sonia Sotomayor a racist, but then later started backing off on this and sounding confused.Rush Limbaugh is one good example, as here in this meandering gibberish:

… it’s racism, reverse racism, whatever, but it’s still racism. And she would bring a form of racism, bigotry to the court. But as I said yesterday, folks, I may look past that. I’ve got a whole stack on Sotomayor today. You know she would be the sixth Catholic on the Supreme Court and there are a lot of people worried about that. That does not bother me at all. I know a lot of Catholics, I love Catholics. But Sotomayor, she’s a Catholic, and she doesn’t have a clear record on abortion and I’m, overturning Roe versus Wade, well, that could be huge. I don’t know that it’ll ever happen, but if, you know, the opportunity to get somebody like her — she’s a Catholic, she’s a devout Catholic. She’s a Hispanic Catholic, Puerto Rican, they tend to be devout. She hasn’t got a record on this. Normally liberals do have a record, I mean when they’re pro-choice, man they’re, they, they, they champion it. They shout from mountaintops, they trumpet it. She hasn’t so I, I can see a possibility of supporting this nomination. If I can be convinced that she does have a sensibility toward life.

Given his own record of racist comments, this is very strange indeed.

Living in this country, when it comes to issues of race and racism is often like being Alice in Wonderland. The white-controlled mainstream media commentators get to define any word, like “racist” or “racism,” just about any way they want to. Why then do we have social scientists working so hard on trying to gather data on racism and defining it more precisely?

Who Learns a Second Language?

In response to my post on bystander intervention last month, an anonymous commentator maintained that the behavior of a deli clerk in an ABC News social experiment was not racist. Rather, the commentator argued, the deli clerk was reacting to the lack of assimilation on the part of the Mexican day laborers who could not place their order because of their lack of English proficiency. If they want to live in the United States, Anonymous asked, shouldn’t they learn English? Aside from the victim-blaming nature of the comment, I thought that Anonymous raised an interesting question, and in my brief reply, I mentioned that I’ve traveled to many countries where English is not the primary language and where I could not speak the native language, but I was always assisted by native speakers in ordering food, getting directions, finding transportation, and the like. Moreover, I pointed out that learning a foreign language takes time. But in thinking more about Anonymous’ question, I was compelled to explore the issue of foreign language acquisition further.

I was curious, for example, to learn just how long it does take for a non-English speaker to become proficient enough in English to be functionally literate (i.e., to be able to perform basic tasks of everyday living without difficulty). Not surprisingly, a number of factors play a part. One of the most important variables is the amount of formal schooling individuals have received in their first language. In a longitudinal study (1982-1996) of about 700,000 English language students who had no background in English, Wayne Thomas and Virginia Collier found that children 8-11 years old who had had 2-3 years of formal education in their native language took 5-7 years to become proficient enough in English to reach native speaker performance (i.e., 50th percentile) on normed tests. However, individuals with little or no formal schooling in their native language (e.g., children younger than 8, or individuals who were below grade level in reading and writing in their native language) took 7-10 years to reach native speaker performance. Thomas and Collier reported that these findings do not differ by native language (e.g., they studied Asian and Hispanic students), country of origin, or socioeconomic status, although we know that socioeconomic status itself is directly related to educational achievement.

Drawing on Thomas and Collier’s findings, Judie Haynes, writing for everythingESL.net, argues that maintenance of literacy in one’s native language should be encouraged and fostered while English is being learned, and she advocates a developmental bilingual or two-way immersion program in U.S. schools, an idea that “assimilationists” would no doubt consider anathema. Additional research, though, supports Haynes’ position, showing that bilingualism is positively, not negatively, associated with scholarly achievement (see, for example, research cited by Alejandro Portes and Ruben Rumbaut in Immigrant America: A Portrait, 3/e, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006, especially Chapter 7). But other studies indicate that the assimilationists needn’t worry: Among immigrant families to the United States, monolingualism is the norm within one or two generations after arrival. Portes and Rumbaut examine research that shows a clear historical pattern in which first generation immigrants learn enough English to get by, but continue to speak their native language at home and often in social settings with other immigrants; the second generation – those who immigrated as children with their parents or were born here – may speak the language of their parents at home, but English everywhere else, thus becoming fluent English speakers and “anglicized.” Members of the third generation typically speak only English, both at home and elsewhere (see also analyses by the Pew Hispanic Center). As Portes and Rumbaut argue:

Fears of linguistic and cultural fragmentation, like fears of ethnic radicalism, play well in the popular press, and harping on them has made the fame and fortune of many a pundit. However, historical and contemporary evidence indicates that English has never been threatened as the dominant language of the United States and that, with well over two hundred million monolingual English speakers, it is not threatened today. The real threat has been to the viability of other languages . . . (p. 242).

Indeed, the National Association for Bilingual Education reports that compared with other countries, the United States lags far behind in terms of the percentage of citizens who speak a second language. While only 9% of Americans speak both their native language and another language fluently, 50% of Europeans are fully bilingual. As Portes and Rumbaut quip,

“What do you call a person who speaks two languages?”
“Bilingual.”
“And one who knows only one?”
“American.” (p. 207)

Though humorous, one unfortunate outcome of the reality this fictitious dialogue represents is that by stubbornly adhering to the false “English-only ideal,” most Americans “[sacrifice] the possibility of looking at things from a different perspective and [become] bound to the symbols and perceptions embedded in a single tongue” (Portes and Rumbaut, p. 242).

Change? Don’t Count on It: American Racism is on Full Display: Open Thread for Comments



The Sun Journal on September 13, 2008 reported that

activists at a conservative political forum snapped up boxes of waffle mix depicting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as a racial stereotype on its front and wearing Arab-like headdress on its top flap. (Source: AP News)

The conference where the product was first introduced to the public was at the Values Vote Summit which was co-sponsored by the conservative American Values and Focus on the Family Action.

Values Voter Summit organizers cut off sales of Obama Waffles boxes on Saturday, saying they had not realized the boxes displayed “offensive material.”

The Summit and the exhibit hall where the boxes were sold had been open since Thursday afternoon. On the back of the box, Obama is depicted in stereotypical Mexican dress, including a sombrero, above a recipe for “Open Border Fiesta Waffles” that says it can serve “4 or more illegal aliens.” The recipe includes a tip: “While waiting for these zesty treats to invade your home, why not learn a foreign language?” The article goes on to note that the boxes were simply “political satire” and that the waffle reference was “poking fun at [Obama’s] public remarks and positions.” Even though the product was reportedly pulled, I noticed one could still purchase the boxes from a sponsored website.

On the site it is noted that

Obama Waffles are selling like, well, like hot cakes!

To me that simply signal that those running the machine of oppression are simply feeding the hunger that is the heart of many Americans. We as a nation should be mortified.

[Open Thread: What Do You Make of This Story and the Image?]

UPDATE: Courtesy of M. in comments, and of stuffwhitepeope do, here is a video of the white guys who did this.

Chris Matthews: “Regular Folks” = “White Folks”– Blatant Racial Framing Again


MediaMatters reports this continuing saga of leading media commentators questioning from a Senator McCain perspective and periodically framing the world, without apology, from the old white racial frame of society: (credit: MSNBC)

On the July 7 edition of MSNBC’s Hardball, host Chris Matthews teased an upcoming segment by saying: “They’re the working-class white voters Hillary Clinton won and Barack didn’t. Can Obama now win over the regular folks, white folks, against John McCain? We’ll ask the strategists.” On the June 30 edition of Hardball, Matthews similarly teased a segment by asserting: “Up next: They’re the working-class white voters Hillary won and Barack didn’t. Can Obama win over the regular folks against John McCain?”

This is the year 2008, right? And we are a “colorblind” society? Right?