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.

Denying In-State Tuition For DACA Students: AZ Follow-Up

In a previous post I discussed the predicament of DACA college students in Arizona. In 2006, Proposition 300 passed with the approval of a substantial 71.4 percent of the voters. Its goal was unequivocal: the denial of in-state tuition in Arizona public community colleges and universities to DACA students. As the State’s Attorney General explained it, Proposition 300 requires the

verification of immigration status of persons who are applying for state-funded services . . . [which include] in-state tuition and financial aid for college students.

In 2015, DACA students in Arizona were allowed to pay in-state tuition following a judge’s ruling that

DACA recipients were considered legally present in the U.S. and therefore qualify for state benefits.

However, Arizona’s State Attorney General appealed the decision and this month an appeals court ruled that the state had the right to enforce Proposition 300, thus depriving DACA students of access to in-state tuition. This court decision, in turn, was appealed and the Arizona Board of Regents voted to allow in-state tuition to remain in effect while the appeal is resolved. It was an encouraging development.

But a series of recent events augur rough times ahead for DACA students in Arizona and elsewhere in the US. The attorneys general of Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia as well as the Governor of Idaho asked the Trump administration to “phase out” the DACA program. Speaking for the group, arch-conservative Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stated in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the DACA program

confers lawful presence and work permits for nearly one million unlawfully present aliens in the U.S.

He added the following:

[T]he multi-state coalition that made the request . . . [is] prepared to pull a lawsuit challenging the deferred action program currently pending in district courts if the program is ended by Sept. 5. If not, he said the suit would expand to include DACA and remaining expanded DACA permits.

Recently members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to discuss the DACA program. Luis V. Gutierrez, the U.S. Representative for Illinois’s 4th congressional district, was at the meeting and evaluates its outcome as follows:

Secretary Kelly said . . . that the future of DACA is up to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, America’s leading advocate against immigration, so Kelly was basically telling us DACA is facing a death sentence. . . I fear for anybody currently with DACA.

Gutierrez’s closing comments are sobering:

Trump, Sessions and Kelly want to take 800,000 DREAMers with DACA . . . who are registered with the government and in compliance with the law and make them into criminals, felons, and deportees in the next few months. Anyone with a conscience who thinks legal immigration is an integral part of who we are as a country just got called to action.

I prefer to close my posts on a hopeful note. I can’t do it today. Congressman Gutierrez said,

I think we have to prepare for the worst and get ready to fight mass deportation.

I believe that he is right.

Denying In-State Tuition for Arizona’s DACA Students

On December 7, 2006, Proposition 300 passed in Arizona with the approval of 71.4 percent of the voters. According to the state’s Attorney General,

The enacted measure requires verification of immigration status of persons who are applying for state-funded services . . . [which include] in-state tuition and financial aid for college students.

From the point of view of an Arizona state representative, the measure was necessary because “illegal” immigration was having catastrophic effects:

Arizona has been overwhelmed with illegal immigration and all the negative things that follow — crime, increased public service costs, especially education, and depression of our wages — and the federal government seems barely capable of doing much. . . . Denying the in-state tuition . . . deters illegal immigrants from coming here.

In 2015, recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in Arizona were allowed to pay in-state tuition following a judge’s ruling that

DACA recipients were considered legally present in the U.S. and therefore qualify for state benefits.

Arizona’s Attorney General appealed the decision and this month a federal appeals court ruled that

federal immigration law allows each state to decide on optional benefits for DACA recipients [and] Arizona law [i.e., Proposition 300] bars in-state tuition for anyone who doesn’t have a legal status.

The consequences for the education of Arizona’s DACA youth are substantial. For example, at the Maricopa Community Colleges that operate in the larger Phoenix area, the cost per credit hour is $86 for Arizona residents and $241 for non-residents. At Arizona State University the current undergraduate basic tuition is $10,792 for residents and $27,372 for non-residents.

Some students intend to persist. Belen Sisa a junior at Arizona State University who came from Argentina when she was six-years old, said “I can’t let this stop me. I’m so close to give up now.” Oscar Hernandez was brought from Mexico when he was 9-years old and has lived in Arizona ever since. He has one year left to get his degree but it may take him three years to finish if he has to pay out-of-state tuition but said that “he is determined to finish.” Their resolve is admirable, because they will unjustly confront new obstacles in the pursuit of their education.

Karina Ruiz, board president of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, a group that advocates for undocumented young children brought to the U.S. as children, criticized the state for taking away in-state tuition from DACA recipients. “This is all hate,” Ruiz said.

There is nothing else. There is no reason for the state to be fighting students that want to get educated. This is wrong.

It is difficult to disagree with her. What rational purpose would it serve to deprive the DACA students who have been in Arizona since they were very young of in-state tuition? How just is it? Doesn’t a state benefit from an educated citizenry? How will it discourage undocumented migration?

Arizona has a long history of white racism. In recent times the undocumented have become the target. This is the state where Sheriff Joe Arpaio, according to the U.S. Department of Justice,

Oversaw the worst pattern of racial profiling in U.S. history.

Arpaio is currently on trial for allegedly

defying a federal judge’s orders that barred [him] from enforcing federal immigration law.

I wish I could be optimistic and hope for a quick solution. But with Donald Trump in the White House, racists in Arizona and elsewhere will find fertile ground for their odious plans.

Signs of Racism: “Save Our Country Close Our Borders”

Recent Central American migration has generated numerous protests across the U.S. Yet this backlash differs because the primary targets of white anti-immigrant sentiment are Guatemalan, Salvadorian, and Honduran children. This humanitarian crisis and the subsequent relocation of undocumented families to various border patrol stations and detention centers has led to significant increases in anti-immigrant and anti-Latina/o rallies and demonstrations. The protest signs reveal a hodgepodge of political, economic, patriotic, and emotional reactions as evidenced in the following pictures below.

SaveOurBorders

(Image source)

Although the protestors vary in the messages they seek to convey, here I focus on four themes (1) health (2) taxes (3) illegal/legal status and (4) children. Moreover, the protest signs are often accompanied with crude attempts at humor as a way to further denigrate Latinas/os. An informal examination of the white protester’s signs and banners reveals a common connection, the racialization of Latinas/os and the reinforcement of white supremacy. All the pictures except for one were collected through various online news articles using the search terms “immigrant protest.”

BoycottMexico UR_Tax
Dumping NoAmnesty

(Image sources, clockwise from top left:
Times of San Diego, Syracuse.com, MagicValley Times-News, and Syracuse.com).

 

Health: Mainstream U.S. society has treated undocumented and documented Latina/o immigrants as foreign piranha eager to devour jobs and overrun communities. Over time immigrants have been wrongly portrayed as plights on the system draining public services, specifically the health care system.

Rising hospital costs, overcrowded emergency rooms, and increased diseases, have been some of the common historical and contemporary ailments undeservingly blamed on Latina/o immigrants. Yet, the overwhelmingly white protestors continue to attack Latinas/os by operating out of the white racial frame.

Within this worldview an anti-Latina/o health perspective emerges. For instance, the following white oppressive sign “Save our children from diseases” (image below) refers to the stereotype that Latina/o immigrant children are unhealthy, unclean, sickly, and dirty. The presence of immigrant children threatens the health status of white American children (read the future of whites), therefore, as the argument goes Central American immigrants need to be removed or eliminated in order to preserve the health status of white children.

FreePass

(Image source)

Another sign reads, “Stop Diseases Crossing Our Border” and the message is clear. Central American children are viewed as a danger to white health and therefore should be removed before they infect white children. This health hysteria harkens back to public health campaigns steeped in xenophobia (see, Shah Contagious Divides). The fact that it continues today, speaks to the continuing power of white xenophobia and white racism.

The final health related protest sign “Thousands of American veterans die waiting for medical care, free medical care for illegals” (see below) underscores a blatant attempt to utilize health as a weapon of fear. The white protestors falsely attribute the death of American veterans to the medical expenses and increased waiting periods generated by Latinas/os. Invoking veterans is an attempt to utilize patriotism as a mechanism to solicit outrage and thus support, yet none of these claims are substantiated with actual data.

MedicalCare

(Image source)

Taxes: Historically, immigrants have been falsely represented as disease carriers in order to justify exclusion and control. But, exclusion from what? Well according to protestors, from economic and social support. This uninformed and inherently racist perspective interlocks both health and taxes to delegitimize the prospect of citizenship “Our tax $ for u!!! Hell no, go home”. Despite the fact that undocumented immigrants pay more into the system than they receive. Another protestor perpetuates the myth that immigrants drain public services by reframing the issue around illegality and criminality “UR TAX $ 4 Illegals” (see image above).

The protestors’ misconceived argument regarding taxes and Latino/a immigrants goes something like this:  “As an American, I believe that the immigrant children should go back to their country immediately. I do not want to spend my money nor the government’s resources on immigrant children because they are illegal.” These misinformed views and statements fail to contextualize the complexity of the situation. These particular slogans do not capture the forces that have shaped present day Central America, particularly the role of the US in perpetuating war in such places as Guatemala and the subsequent legacies of poverty and violence; and thus migration.

Legal/Illegal: The law is used to mask the dehumanization of Latina/o immigrants while also failing to consider the dire circumstances which led to the children’s precarious situation. For example, “U.S. citiens don’t get free pass y should ileagels” (see image below) and “We Immigrated Legally! Please do the same”. Despite the spelling and grammar, these arguments do not consider the historically racist immigration policies the U.S. has placed on people of color. Immigration policies have worked to exclude and control non-whites rather than incorporate them into U.S. society. Furthermore, similar to “American” the synonym “We” stands for whites. We followed the law, we are good law-abiding citizens, whereas these children are criminals “illegals” this rhetoric creates a familiar “us versus them” scenario.

 

Legally

(Image source)

Children: The protestors also use comedy as a way to belittle and degrade the immigrant children, for example, “No vacancy try the white house” and “The White House Called: Obama & Michele are waiting for you there… They love children!”  “Return to sender” and “Agents: Secure Our Border Not Change Diapers”. However, underlining the sarcasm is another hateful and racist attempt to demean Central American children. The first two protest signs unrealistically suggest that the white house and by extension the Obamas can be an alternative housing option for the children. The white house acts as a symbolic site for failed immigration policy and the misplaced fear that the protestors’ own homes will be occupied by menacing foreigners, as expressed by this sign “Breaking into MY House Doesn’t Give you the Right to Stay NO Amnesty!”. The racist protestors blame Obama and the white house as the source of the perceived immigration problem. In addition, the protestor’s white privilege affords them the ability to feel mistreated, yet propose unrealistic solutions.

The protestors shamelessly deflect the problem by calling for the children to be sent to Washington, DC “Tired of the lies! Bus the kids to the White House!”. The white protestors rehash the hurtful images and experiences of desegregated school busing. Busing children of color has been a consistent theme in the struggle for racial equality and a reality all too familiar for Blacks and other People of Color. It is in this vein that the irrationality of the protestors comes to light; Obama can deal with the children first hand and then perhaps deportation efforts will be expedited. But it is hard to believe that the kids themselves are the central issue, especially when the protestors expel messages of impeachment and securing the border, as in this sign, this one and this one.

The concern over the moving of displaced immigrant children into their communities caused intense panic among many of the protestors, “What about our kids?! Keep our kids safe”.The call for self-preservation is based on an anti-immigrant ideology that demonizes Latinas/os. The white racial framing of Latina/o immigrants is particularly troubling in this case because the children are thrust into circumstances that are beyond their control.

BusKids

(Image source)

The white anti-immigration protestors rely on the stereotypical about disease carriers, arguments loosely based on legality, and the familiar, convoluted tax angle. The protestors use banners, signs, exclamation points, puns, innuendos, sarcasm, and humor to hammer their point and enhance their hate speech. White privilege, self-preservation, and fear, fuel anti-immigrant supporters in their effort to degrade children who have desperately fled from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The protest pictures are also shrouded in nationalistic fervor; almost every picture has a US flag or clothing, likening securing the border to patriotic duty. The systemic nature of white supremacy works to exclude and deport Latinas/os while simultaneously reproducing inequalities and sustaining racial oppression; as a result, whites are able to rationalize the sentiment “Save Our Country Close Our Borders.”

Meanwhile, the families of undocumented Central Americans wait in facilities that resemble prisons, while elected officials refuse to make any progress towards the dignity of innocent children.

ImmigrationAmerican

(Image source)

Perhaps the anti-immigration protestors can learn a different message.

No citizenship? No worries, Uncle Sam needs you. (Pt.2)

Yesterday, I began discussing the enlistment crisis in the U.S. military and the strategy of targeting Latinos/as to fill those needs.  Today, I continue that discussion.

The Few. The Proud. The Overzealous.

Some branches are quite open about their selective recruitment of Latina/o non-citizens and Latina/os in general. Campaigns such as “Leaders Among Us” and the “Hispanic H2 Tour” do not mask who they are targeting. They push 30-second commercial spots of Spanish-speaking brown folks and have military recruiters attend Latina/o-specific cultural events to sign up new enlistees. These tactics are suggestive of a racial and ethnic pursuit. The story does not end with these campaigns though.

Several incidents reveal the extent to which some recruiters will go to meet enlistment goals. These may be exceptions to the general rule, but because they such reports exist they should be further explored. In 2005, a Marines recruiter was convicted of providing false documents to Latina/o non-citizens in order to enlist them. In another incident, the Associated Press released a story about an Army recruiter crossing the Mexico border. A recruiter had traveled to a Tijuana high school in attempt to enlist students. While these cases don’t describe the entire recruitment efforts pursued by the military, they are indicative of who is being targeted. Nonetheless, more empirical evidence is needed to determine the extent to which these practices persist.

With fewer rights, privileges, and power, Latina/o non-citizens are left with less protection when faced with aggressive recruitment tactics such as those highlight above. For fear of deportation, coercion persuades effortlessly. If a recruiter came to a person’s door and that person did not have legal citizenship, let alone access to the legal system, imagine the leverage this recruiter would possess. In other instances, little coercion is needed. The lure of U.S. citizenship is enough, especially for those in marginalized locations. After dealing with problems like overpopulation, poor paying jobs and few of them, lack of social services and government corruption, many Latina/o non-citizens view spending a few years in Afghani mountains or Iraqi deserts as a viable option.

The politics of Latina/o non-citizens and the military

Many support the idea of non-citizens serving in the military. Among this group the question is not: “Is this ethical?” but “How can it be made most effective?” Much of this debate centers on whether recruiting efforts should be limited only to U.S. territories. Defense policy analyst Max Boot proposes aiding military needs by creating a foreign “Freedom Legion,” as reported by The Christian Science Monitor (Jonsson 2005). This proposal would follow the models of Britain’s Nepalese Ghurkas and France’s Foreign Legion. Boot argues that such a plan would tap into other cultures, help the military meet enlistment needs, and bring great people to the country. But this uncritical assessment does not acknowledge that such a practice would likely exploit disenfranchised populations.

While Boot’s optimism describes turning great people into U.S. citizens, it ignores poverty-stricken situations that would be a driving motivation for many to join. Not only, his position does not acknowledge that such strategies give uncertain promises of citizenship and places an assumed value on life. Because recruiters know how to reach their enlistment goals, the disenfranchised would be vulnerable to attacks by such a “legion of freedom.”

Those supporting non-citizen recruitment counter that it’s not an issue of exploitation, but a sense of loyalty and patriotism to the U.S. (see Avord 2003). Supposedly, military service is a means for Latina/o non-citizens to gain legitimacy in American society. Consider the words of Thomas Donnelly: “From the French involvement in the American Revolution to the iconic Hollywood image of World War II squads filled with Irish, Italians and Jews, Donnelly said immigrants have always been integral members of the military.” (see Davis 2007:Para 22).

Such statements assume that situations of immigrants are alike, but in reality, the many stories of assimilation are different. Unlike the French, Irish, Italians and Jews, Latina/os have not and will not receive the same passage. Their path to American society is one that does not come with the same social privileges and economic access that the aforementioned white ethnics have received.

The Latino/a situation is different. They have had a long-established presence in America predating mass European migrations. Unlike white ethnics, assimilation into American society has been a stratified one. Disparities in nearly every socioeconomic measure available prove this. The passage waiting for many Latina/o non-citizen service members is a path to lower rungs of America’s racialized caste-like system.

Hope on the horizon?

With current occupations having no end in sight, there is no reason to expect the number of Latina/o non-citizen enlistees to decrease. This group finds itself in quite the paradox: the very country they serve is a country filled with immigrant hysteria and anti-Latina/o hostility. This means that Latina/o non-citizens are engaged in a double-front. They fight for a country that they must also defend against – and potentially lose their life for.

~Kasey Henricks, Ph.D. Student, Department of Sociology, Loyola University Chicago

More Invisible Americans: Bias in Media Reporting on Latinos



The Pew Hispanic Center’s useful Excellence-in-Journalism website reports a survey of the media’s skewed reporting on Latinos, and severe under-reporting of numerous matters of importance to Latinos and others, but falling outside the white-racial-frame’s concerns with Latinos.
Il pranzo è servito...
Creative Commons License photo credit: tortuga767

From early February to early August 2009 they examined 34,452 news accounts on 55 major U.S. news outlets– 13 newspapers, 15 cable programs, 7 broadcast networks’ news programs, 12 prominent news websites, 9 news radio/talk programs. Among thousands of news accounts were only 2.9 percent (645) dealing substantially with Latinos at all. Of these

only a tiny number, 57 stories, focused directly on the lives of Hispanics in the U.S.

The most covered event was the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 39 percent of all accounts dealing with Latinos:

The Mexican drug war came second at 15%; the outbreak of H1NI flu (with its origin in Mexico City) was third, at 13%. . . . Immigration, the number four topic, accounted for just 8.4% of the coverage involving Hispanics during these six months. . . . Immigration, which from 2006 through 2008 had been heavily debated in Congress and on the political campaign trail, was the subject of fewer than one in ten stories involving Latinos, a reflection of the degree to which the issue largely fell off the radar during the early months of the Obama Administration.

I guess the mostly white controllers of the mass media think Latinos are these days mostly about drugs, the flu source, and problematical immigration. The everyday stuff of Latinos’ lives gets little attention–even though there are now about 48 million Latinos in the United States:

In the small portion of coverage that dealt with the experiences of Hispanics living in the U.S., the most common storyline was the effect of the recession. Next was the immigrant experience, after that was population growth and changing demographics, and then the question of fair treatment and discrimination.

And this for a group growing in significance in 90 percent of U.S. counties and forecast to be 129 million (29 percent of Americans by mid-century). The researchers also found that other Americans of color (Asians, Africans/African-Americans) got even less serious media attention in this period. Whites’ power and privilege again?

(For some stories rarely covered in mainstream media see, just to take one example, the
United Farmworkers website, and listing of recent successes in improving farm workers lives. Also see their worker news blogging at dailykos here.)

Stealing the Language of Empathy and Anti-Racism

Justice with a swaggerOne striking thing of late is how the words “racist” and “ racism” often appear in the media without reference to the white racism underlying this society. The language of anti-racist analysis and action is now taken to serve conservative political ends (Creative Commons License photo credit: quinn.anya).

In a recent column, Leonard Pitts, a leading media commentator, argues the naming of Judge Sotomayor “racist” by conservatives like Gingrich, Tancredo, and Limbaugh is about much more than political mudslinging:

This is part and parcel of a campaign by conservatives to arrogate unto themselves and/or neutralize the language of social grievance. . . . They made “liberal” such a vulgarity you’d never know liberals fought to ban child labor, end Jim Crow or win women the right to vote. Having no record of their own of responding compassionately to social grievance . . . conservatives have chosen instead to co-opt the language of that grievance.

A very good point. They are not only co-opting and weakening the language of social grievance, but also intentionally taking the focus off the central reality of whites’ continuing racial oppression.

Over at the Dailykos blog, George Lakoff, influential linguistics professor, accents related points about conservatives appropriating the language and idea of “empathy”:

The conservatives are reframing empathy to make it attackable. Their “empathy” is idiosyncratic, personal feeling for an individual, presumably the defendant in a legal case. With “empathy” reframed in this way, Charles Krauthammer can say, echoing Karl Rove, “Justice is not about empathy.”

Lakoff ties the conservative attack on empathy as personal feelings to the attack by Gingrich and others on Sotomayor as “racist”:

[In their view} because of her personal feelings for her own kind — Latinos and women — she will discriminate against white men. It is to support that view that the New Haven firemen case keeps being brought up. The real target here goes beyond Sotomayor. In the last election, conservative populists moved toward Obama. Conservative populists are working people, mostly white men, who have conservative views of the family, of masculinity, and of the military, and who have bought into the idea of the “liberal elite” as looking down on them. Right now, they are hurting economically, losing their jobs and their homes. Empathy is something they need. The racist card is an attempt to revive their fears of affirmative action, fears of their jobs — and their pride — being taken by minorities and women. The racist attack has a political purpose, holding onto conservative populists.

He also makes a very important point that by constantly repeating the comments on her as “racist,” liberal Democrats and other liberals are reinforcing this theme in the public mind. That should be replaced with a reframing that positions Gingrich and company as extraordinarily racist and anti-democratic, using that type of language. In addition, Lakoff suggests liberals, both Democrats and others, must speak about real empathy that links to social justice:

They need to point out that empathy leads one to notice real social and systemic causes of our troubles and to notice when and how judicial decisions and legislation can harm the most vulnerable of our countrymen. And finally that empathy is the reason that we have the principles of freedom and fairness — which are necessary components of justice.

Pitts and Lakoff are on target in tying these white-racist attacks on empathy and the language of anti-racism to a much larger reactionary political agenda. The attacks are not only on real multiracial democracy, but on organizational and individual efforts to break down systemic racism–that is, to probe deeply the systemic realities of racial oppression and to increase organizational efforts to overturn that system.

Recurring racial discrimination targeting Americans of color requires a breakdown of normal human empathy among whites. Racial oppression not only severely distorts human relationships but desensitizes the minds of racial oppressors. Oppression requires in oppressors a lack of recognition of the full humanity of the exploited others. The psychiatric term “alexithymia” describes individuals unable to understand the emotions of, and empathize with, other people. Hernan Vera and I have suggested going way beyond this individualistic concept to a concept of “social alexithymia.” Essential to being an oppressor in a racist society is a significantly reduced ability, or an inability, to understand or relate to the emotions, such as recurring pain, of those targeted by racial oppression. And this involves many white individuals acting collectively both today and historically.

Since the days of slavery and Jim Crow, most whites have revealed a rather high level of social alexithymia, the sustained inability to relate to suffering of those oppressed. For centuries, systemic racism has both required and constantly bred a lack of empathy and recognition of the full humanity of Americans of color. Today, most whites still do not “see,” or do not wish to see, the impact of institutionalized racism or to recognize its determinative role in everyday life. A substantial majority persist in denying that white racism is systemic, commonplace, and devastating for its targets.

Today the challenge for those seeking to expand antiracist strategies includes the creation of widespread conditions where a great many whites will have to confront the catastrophic reality of the pain that the white-imposed system of racial oppression has caused Americans of color, especially including those with whom they come into daily contact.

It is this aggressive move in the direction of increasing real collective empathy and new invigorated organizations to expand that collective empathy that white conservatives and reactionaries seem most worried about.

Continuing Significance of Institutional Racism: Latino Undergrads

The US Census Bureau just released population projections that by 2050, minorities will be the numeric majority of the population. For Latinos especially gains in the percentage of the population are expected to increase dramatically. In an article on cnn.com, Dave Waddington, chief of the Census Bureau’s population projection branch, stated that “Who’s going to do the jobs that are characteristically held right now by certain types of people…All those things are subject to change.” As the white population decreases and the number of people of color increase, it is critical that we take a look at how systemic racism plays out in some of our major institutions, especially education. Change is coming and in so many cases needs to happen in order to prepare for a future that is more diverse (photo: Brewer).

Education is important to Latinos, and universities often claim to value diversity by actively recruiting students of color. This effort by universities can be interpreted either as a cynical effort to enhance the image of their school, or more benignly as a true reflection of a deeply held value of cultural difference on campus. Nevertheless, there is often concern at universities about recruiting and retaining students of color. However, through my interviews with Latino undergraduate students at three universities (“Southern University,” “Southwest University,” and “Midwest University”) across the country, I found that institutional discrimination continues to be a major impediment to student success. Universities are historically white arenas and they continue to be so today, regardless of their rhetoric about diversity.

My research showed that many aspects of the university are still white dominated. Almost universally, students reported an underrepresentation of Latino faculty on their campuses. It was difficult for students to find faculty members that looked like them or that they could relate to. When students did have Latino instructors, they were often non-tenured and/or teaching only in Latino areas (like Mexican American studies or Spanish.)

“I think that that does happen. There probably aren’t that many Latina professors or working as the dean or something like that. And there are more cooks and janitors that are Hispanics or—[Have you had any Latino professors?] No, I haven’t. [How do you feel about that?] I hadn’t really thought about it, but I would like to have a professor who has similar, I guess, cultural background as me. That could connect more I guess, but I haven’t really noticed.” – Southwest University Female 19

Increasing Latino faculty membership and tenure, as well as diversifying departments are important issues that institutions of higher education must face if they truly want to retain Latino students. Most of the adult Latino faces that students saw were those working in lower (and underappreciated) positions at the university. This included food service, landscaping, maintenance, and custodial work. Latino students saw this pattern of work as lowering their status at the university, as well as reinforcing what they see as low expectations from whites about their potential.

Latinos are also underrepresented in the curriculum and symbolically on some campuses. Though Southwest University has done a better job with symbolic representation in terms of artwork, statues, and celebrations that represent Latinos, all three campuses lacked diversity in their curriculum. Latino culture and history are not often discussed in general education classes (like American history) and instead are relegated to specialized courses. Though students are not denying the importance of those courses and departments, the result is that diversity becomes optional. If they do not take those courses, they will not learn about their people, and neither will whites. At Midwest and Southern University, symbolic representation was also a big issue. Latinos were rarely represented around campus in things like artwork and statues, though Southern University students were looking forward to the arrival of a statue of Cesar Chavez. Midwest University did a poor job of representing any students of color symbolically, but students noticed that when they did see art, it was often in the form of photographs from the university’s past—a past that did not include people of color. At Southern University, symbols of white racism are present in the statues of Confederate soldiers and buildings named after racists. These symbols (or lack of symbols) create an atmosphere that is not welcoming to Latinos. Often there are very few places on campuses that they feel they can call their own because of racialized space.

On all three campuses students could point to examples of institutional racism. Institutions of higher education, whether they are in the South, in predominantly Latino areas, or in located big cities, still organize themselves around white ideals and values. Students of color are admitted in greater numbers, but by and large the institutions remain a white place. Because of the changes that are being predicted about our population composition, the institution will have to change and adapt to a more diverse student body.