The U.S. Today: Still Diversifying

The MSNBC website has a nice summary of the new census data a lot of folks are talking about, titled “Census: Minorities now surpass whites in US births.”

According to census bureau figures for 2011 the children born, for the first time, are majority not white:

Minorities made up roughly 2.02 million, or 50.4 percent of U.S. births in the 12-month period ending July 2011. That compares with 37 percent in 1990.

And even with some decrease in Latin American and Asian immigrants, because of the economic downturn in the U.S. and some improvements south of the U.S. border, the population of the U.S. is still becoming ever more diverse.

There was this interesting bit of data as well:

. .the nation’s minority population continues to rise, following a higher-than-expected Hispanic count in the 2010 census. Minorities increased 1.9 percent to 114.1 million, or 36.6 percent of the total U.S. population, lifted by prior waves of immigration that brought in young families and boosted the number of Hispanic women in their prime childbearing years. . . . 348 of the nation’s 3,143 counties, or 1 in 9, have minority populations across all age groups that total more than 50 percent.

Still, the growth rate fell for Latino and Asian American populations to just two percent last year,

.. roughly half the rates in 2000 and the lowest in more than a decade. . .. Of the 30 large metropolitan areas showing the fastest Hispanic growth in the previous decade, all showed slower growth in 2011 than in the peak Hispanic growth years of 2005-2006…

Over at the NY Times, Thomas Edsall, has some interesting comments on the political implications of these shifts, which I recommend to you. Here is a sample:

. . . it’s interesting that the two-party system has not imploded. In the face of sustained centrifugal upheaval — including a proliferation of religious affiliations, the enfranchisement of substantial minority populations, rising levels of economic inequality, and the belief among a plurality of voters… that our economic system (capitalism) and the religious identification of three-quarters of the electorate (Christianity) are not compatible — we still are a nation of Republicans and Democrats.

He makes some interesting points about some opinion poll findings on how people see the Christian religion and capitalism (as in tension, a real surprise there) and also wonders out loud about the future of US parties and especially the Republican party. Can it adapt in this changing demographic world that

threatens its ability to compete nationally? As presently constituted, the Republicans have become the party of the married white Christian past.

This issue and related issues are ones I have dealt with deeply and historically in context in my new book, White Party, White Government.

There are clearly many political and policy implications to these demographic changes. Given the explosion of anti-immigrant nativism in this country in recent years, one can wonder if the mostly white nativists will take these data to heart and cut back at least on their anti-immigrant screed. One also has to wonder if the declining immigration will have any effects on the anti-immigrant legislation passed in numerous states. Especially with the looming Supreme Court ruling that will come down on the Arizona anti-Latino-immigrant law that has been celebrated in some white conservative circles.

Yet, many of us find these changes exciting and healthy for a country that has long depended on a diverse immigration for its social and economic health.

Thousands March against Georgia’s Nativistic Immigration Law

Here’s a good article on the march in Atlanta by thousands against the new nativistic Georgia law on immigration. Parts of the law have already been voided by a judge, as has been the case in Arizona and Utah:

Men, women and children of all ages converged on downtown Atlanta for the march and rally, cheering speakers while shading themselves with umbrellas and posters. Capitol police and organizers estimated the crowd at between 8,000 and 14,000. They filled the blocks around the Capitol, holding signs decrying House Bill 87 and reading “Immigration Reform Now!”

These nativistic laws, which mostly arch-conservative white legislators are passing in a number of states, always remind me that all of us, except for the indigenous folks, are indeed immigrants or the descendants of fairly recent immigrants to this continent. And they need, I think, to ponder carefully the 1880s poem of immigrant Emma Lazarus on our Statue of Liberty:

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Somehow the mostly white nativists forget we are an immigrant nation, and that these Latino, Asian, and other recent immigrants and their children have constantly saved this country from economic decline by providing a regular infusion of new and usually youthful workers who are willing to work, often in the worst jobs in the country, to build new lives and families–and thus to build up the US as it like many countries would otherwise have an aging population and too few younger workers (as in much of Europe)……. They also constantly bring in new cultures, new ideas, new currents of all kinds. I suggest we remember Emma Lazarus’s fine words on the Statue of Liberty, this July 4th.

Britain’s Prime Minister Attacks Multiculturalism

According to MSNBC

Prime Minister David Cameron, in a speech attended by world leaders, on Saturday criticized his country’s longstanding policy of multiculturalism, saying it was an outright failure and partly to blame for fostering Islamist extremism.

Britian’s new parliamentary leader goes on to make this all about “Islamic extremism,” a biased and stereotyped framing of contemporary Islam seldom questioned in the mainstream media. Apparently operating out of a one-sided and highly stereotyped white Eurocentric framing of Muslims, he does not mention the increase in whites’ neo-Nazi and racist extremism in Britain or Europe, or indeed the recurring verbal and actual attacks by apparent Christians on ordinary Muslims in Britain.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also been making the same white-framed noises about the dangers of multiculturalism in Germany, not exactly the poster country for anti-racism and tolerance.

Cameron recently said that

Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream. We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.

Here is some old white-centric framing, with the “we” obviously not including the Muslim British folks, who are othered as a “they.” Presumably this means the “we” are the virtuous ones so central to the traditional white Eurocentric framing and the stereotyped “they” must confrom to this conception of (white European) virtue?

Is it only coincidental that Prime Minister Cameron made these inflamatory comments on the very day the far-right (“extremist” and probably Christian) English Defence League (EDL) had a racialized demonstration in racially diverse Luton? Notice too that Cameron did not call out or condemn this nativistic, anti-immigrant group for its intolerance and inflamatory actions.

One report also noted that

Stephen Lennon, the EDL leader, reportedly said of Mr Cameron: “He’s now saying what we’re saying. He knows his base.”

And, ironcially, when he was strongly criticized by human rights and Islamic groups, Cameron made this claim:

We don’t tolerate racism in our society carried out by white people; we shouldn’t tolerate extremism carried out by other people.

But I see no criticisms of white racism or the English Defence League in his statements recently. He does seem to have his conservative white base mainly and firmly in mind.

Indigenous Voices Point to Race, Ethno-Nationalism & New Racism In Arizona

“Pascua Yaqui Native-American Carlos Gonzales gives a Native American blessing to start a memorial service for the Tucson shooting victims.” So states the text that accompanies a remarkable passing of time and politics in the place we call America.

When some colleagues told me that controversy and criticism had arisen about the introductory blessing at the service where President Obama spoke so well, I looked at it more deeply, recognizing a focus on the “Four Doors” and on Balance and Harmony (the Navajo literally say “Walk in Beauty” and as when I returned from S.E. Asia for medical treatment where traditional healers kept a focus on “balance”) after the personal introduction of “who I am” and being “given the right to speak” – and ending the blessing “All My Relations” (an interpretation of “Mitakuye Oyasin”), itself indicative of an Indigenous way of Healing and Restoring Harmony.

Here is the site you can link to for the youtube replay.

But then, what could cause controversy from FOX News Brit Hume, or the deep criticism of Glen Beck and others calling the Blessing both political and partisan? Could it be when Doctor Gonzales described his relatives as being survivors of “genocide” (which the Yaqui like so many other Native peoples assuredly are), and/or when Professor Gonzales described himself as descendant of Mexican peoples and coming from the “barrio” of Tucson (where many native and Latino peoples have shared families over the centuries, in his case fifth generation)? Why do “Sacred Words in Tucson” seem to enrage right-wing commentators?

Yet these are quite typical ways of introducing oneself in Native circles. Perhaps it is because, as I have respectfully noted, Carlos Gonzales not only had been given the right to speak by traditional elders, but had earned a medical degree and received tenure as an Associate Professor in a respected medical school at a Research I University, hardly the stereotypical minister or medicine man that one could dismiss with such simple mockery as “peculiar” (as Fox commentators did). Perhaps it is because so many pundits want to believe the memorial service only existed within the individual acts of a mentally ill person, not within the highly diverse society that Arizona has, represented so well by Carlos Gonzales in his many personae.

Herein lies the rub, of course. Arizona had just passed what amounts to racist legislation against immigrant populations (using the dehumanizing term “illegals” with reference to “hostiles” used to justify genocide against Native peoples who were not citizens or even accepted by a historical America), and further had just passed racist, hegemonic censure and attacks against ethnic studies curriculum which simply tells the stories of these many diverse peoples. These last set of attacks could only be focused on the K-12 educational systems, but the conflict has definitively moved to the universities who train the teachers and future leaders, potentially affecting the next generation in Arizona, and of America.

And Arizona has become ground zero for the hyperbole and suggested violence by Right Wing commentators and their closeted racist discourse, evidenced by the now infamous cross-hairs on Congresswoman Giffords district, the use of “target” along with “M-16 training” and “elimination” language in political ads, nearly all of it with historical antecedents in the repression of Native Nations, potential slave uprisings, and later the Mexican claims to treaty-rights in the great southwest taken from them under invasion and violent conquest. This confluence of events and attitudes assuredly is representative of what many scholars have called the “new racism” which, even as it actively denies a racist underpinning, attacks and censures those who historically racism has destroyed, exploited, and suppressed.

Perfect evidence of this is found in Sarah Palin’s response, attempting to paint herself as the victim of “blood libel” which refers to how the Jewish peoples have had their histories distorted and denied, leading to the ultimate decimation of the Holocaust, and a perfect reference to how Arizona wants to eliminate its history of destruction against Mexican immigrants, descendents, and the genocide of its Native peoples.

Rather than have a simple discussion of possible gun control or a civil discourse, perhaps what we need is what Professor / Doctor / Traditionalist Carlos Gonzalez has asked us to do, to pray and prepare ourselves for the Balance and Harmony necessary for healing and movement into a future. Here I can speak to what Lakota have done after one hundred years remembering the slaughter at Wounded Knee, instituting the Big Foot riders memorializing the “Wiping Away the Tears” ceremony which allows us to move forward as a people without forgetting the past. In this, I think an indigenous voice was a perfect blessing and philosophy for understanding what happened in Tucson, in Arizona, and in the United States of America.

“Mitakuye Oyasin” (respect to all my relatives, all my relations in the world)
James Fenelon, Professor, Poet, Native Philosopher (given right to speak by elders)

(See also: Indian Country media )

Antiracist Action: Against Tea Party Antics in Minnesota

The blog (HT/ Christopher Day) has a post on, “Anti-Racists Steal the Show at White Supremacist ‘Tea Party Against Amnesty,” with some pretty funny and ironic tactics against the anti-immigration folks:

Forty-five anti-immigration activists held a small rally outside the state capitol on Saturday. Counter-protest from members of Anti-Racist Action, Bash Back, the Minnesota Immigrants’ Rights Action Coalition and others was frequent, vigorous and hilarious. (“America is not for Russians! America is not for Germans! Europeans go home!”)

The cheerful crowd of immigrants’ rights activists held a banner reading “Stop the raids and deportations”. In conversation with members of Minnesotans Seeking Immigration Reform, the activists repeatedly pointed out that all non-native people in Minnesota are illegal immigrants–Minnesota was taken by force by whites from the native people who lived here for centuries before white arrival. One activist, under the name “Robert Erickson,” managed to get on the list of speakers and riled the crowd into a frenzy about the theft, murder and disease inflicted by illegal immigrants… from Europe, upon indigenous populations. In a “Yes Men” moment, the anti-immigrant crowd sat in silence, trying to figure out what just happened.

Here is part of Erickson’s speech (see video here):

It’s no secret that with an invasion of immigrants, comes waves of crime. We see them involved in massive theft, in murder, and bringing diseases like smallpox, which is responsible for the death of millions of Americans. These aren’t new problems though, they have been going on for hundreds of years, and continue to this day. I say its time for us to say enough is enough! Are you with me? Are you with me? Lets send these European immigrants back where they came from! I don’t care if they are Polish, Irish, English, Italian, or Norwegian! European immigrants are responsible for the most violent and heinus crimes in the history of the world, including genocide and slavery! Its time to restore the sovereignty of people native to this land! I want more workplace raids, starting with the big banks downtown. There are thousands of illegals working in those buildings, hiding in their offices, and taking Dakota jobs. Let’s round them up and ship them out. Then we need to hit them at home where they sleep, I don’t care if we separate families, they should have known better when they came here illegally!

Rather clever use of lampooning, indeed.

Racializing the Flu and Immigrants

“Media Matters for America” put up a youtube mashup of right-wing commentators’ racializing the swine flu (possible) epidemic (h/t Rosalind).

Once again, the right wing (Notice how white these excerpts are too) seems obsessed with creating racialized “others” for US folks to fear. This time it is Mexican immigrants, even though the mass media reports also indicate that it was white visitors to Mexico who apparently brought the flu across the border.

Viewing this video gives one a sense of what it must have been like to listen to the hostile and fear-mongering ravings against the Jews by Adolf Hitler’s “brownshirt” (paramilitary) and other demagogues in Nazi Germany in the 1920s-1930s. Is that what these commentators intend?


Jay Severin, the fiery right wing talk show host on Boston’s WTKK-FM radio station, was suspended yesterday after calling Mexican immigrants “criminaliens,” “primitives,” “leeches,” and exporters of “women with mustaches and VD,” among other incendiary comments. Heidi Raphael, a spokeswoman for the station, said Severin had been suspended indefinitely from his afternoon drive-time show. She declined to say which of his comments – made since an outbreak of swine flu was linked to Mexico in recent days – sparked the suspension. . . . Severin’s comments sparked deep concern among Mexicans and other Latinos living in the Boston area, prompting what Tobia described as a flood of complaints to station management in recent days.

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, 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?”
“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).