Playing the Race Card: Black vs Brown

2007-Jun-02

The Neo-Cons in the Bush Administration had a novel tactic in getting Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court confirmed. They tried to push the claim that anyone who opposed him could only be motivated by racism: “blue-state liberals against a modest Italian-American”.

Playing the race card by using false accusations of racism to defend a morally suspect political agenda worked so well for the Bush Administration that the fake liberals have been using it to justify their support for the Bush Neo-Con agenda of illegal immigration, by implying that any criticism of amnesty is racist.

When dealing with the Bush Administration (and all too often the Democrats who support them), it is safe to assume that whenever they hurl an accusation, they are trying to distract attention from the fact that they are guilty of whatever they are accusing others of. And the same goes here. If they are claiming it is racist to oppose the cheap labor corporate proponents of illegal immigration, it is more likely that the illegal immigration they encourage is serving the interests of racism, not ending racism.

Who wins and who loses through illegal immigration?

The biggest winners are employers of iillegals. First, they get the cost savings of cheaper labor. Second, they can now pay everyone less for the same job, since those who got fired and replaced by illegals must now accept lower wages in order to work, as the wages of all workers doing that job are reduced to what the lowest paid workers will accept. And once certain jobs are performed mostly by illegals, benefits (such as medical or pension benefits) are reduced or eliminated, job safety standards can be ignored, and unionization becomes impossible when strikers can always be replaced by an infinite supply of scab laborers. And those cost savings give corporate criminals an incomparable competitive advantage over employers who obey the laws. As long as employers know they will suffer no sanctions, the advantages of employing illegals over Americans are truly amazing.

The next winners are the illegals themselves. As I outlined previously, illegals can leverage the first world wages here against the third world cost of living of their extended families to get a strong competitive advantage over their neighbors back home through remittances.

So who loses? Blacks, first and foremost, as I noted before. The question is why would Liberals, Democrats let it happen? Why would Democratic politicians let Blacks, their most loyal supporters, slide into oblivion by supporting handing their jobs off to illegal immigrants?

Well, because that’s what happens every time a new wave of immigrants enters the country. White Liberals dump Blacks just as eagerly as white Conservatives do.

This time around part of it is crass political number crunching. Hispanics now outnumber Blacks and if Democrats can curry their favor and a majority of their votes, they may be able to make up for losing the votes of all the white racists in the South after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, especially since all those white racists voting solid Republican means Blacks really have nowhere else to go, so Dems can give them lip service and then abandon them with impunity.

And the dirty little secret…despite Democratic gloating that on the immigration issue Republicans are split between corporatist Republicans (“amnesty!”) and racist Republicans (“fence!”), Democrats have just as bad a split. Only on the Democratic side the corporate Dems and the racist Dems are the same damn Dems. But the racism is different.

When my Ex was young she went to summer camp, and when she returned her best friends refused to play with her. It seems that Blacks get tans too, and she was now a shade darker than her playmates, so she was too dark to be able to play with them. Republican racism is very simple. Everything is just black or white. But Democratic racism is complex, all shades of brown and gray. But with every wave of this “nation of immigrants”, the new immigrants always turn white but Blacks still end up at the bottom. Because each wave uses blacks as the spring board to step on to climb their way up the ladder:

IN 1971, THE Amsterdam News, New York City’s oldest African-American newspaper, published a cartoon by Melvin Tapley that gave vent to a uniquely black ambivalence toward immigration. The cartoon portrayed a downtrodden black figure crouched on the ground, labeled “US Folks,” a double entendre for “us folks” and “U.S. folks.” A chain of other figures, representing Spanish Americans and the foreign born, climb on the back of the crouched black figure, to pluck fruit off the tree of opportunity. Tapley had no illusions about the struggles of these immigrant minorities. Although he portrays them as getting ahead on the backs of blacks, immigrants too must climb over the wall of prejudice, and they reach only the lowest branches on the tree of opportunity.

The accompanying editorial read as follows:

News from the Census Bureau that Spanish-speaking Americans are now able to earn higher incomes than Blacks will not come as a surprise to many of us.

Since our arrival here in 1619 as slaves, Black Americans have watched millions of European immigrants arrive and within a short time hold jobs and reach levels of incomes Blacks were not allowed to attain.

In fact, during the early part of the century the hordes of Irish, Italian, Jewish, Polish, German, Scottish, Greek, Spanish, and other European immigrants frequently replaced Blacks as longshoremen, street-car motormen, construction workers, jockeys, blacksmiths, and able-bodied seamen. Outright, rank racism, and discrimination were the tools by which Blacks have been deprived of work over the decades.

The cartoon and editorial reflect a long strand of black thought, which regards immigrants and immigration with an ambivalence verging on resentment and bitterness. This should come as no surprise. As Lawrence Fuchs reminds us: “In 1883, when Emma Lazarus, a daughter of immigrants, wrote the impassioned words ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ the Supreme Court undermined the last of the civil rights laws passed by Congress following the Civil War.”3 And 1965 — the year these rights were finally restored — also marked the beginning of a massive influx of immigrants from every part of the world who were thrust into competition with blacks for jobs and opportunity. The crowning irony is that most of these immigrants would not be here, but for the black protest movement that led to immigration reform abolishing the national origins quotas that had chocked off flow of immigrants from nations outside of northern and western Europe.

Let me throw down the gauntlet: my challenge is to think about immigration from the standpoint of this black figure, crouched on the ground as others pluck fruit off the tree of opportunity. Dare we also read the immigration literature — the celebratory narratives of immigrant progress and triumph against adversity — from the point of view of “the man farthest down,” to borrow a phrase from Booker T. Washington?

When white “liberals” speak of immigration, they do it from a long history of themselves using it to give themselves advantage at the expense of others. It’s time they started to think of the wider context of who is being hurt as well as who they can obligate for future political favors. They have no basis for their self-righteousness. The effects of their racism are just as deep and lasting as that of the more honest racist on the other side. It’s time they faced up to it.


On the Backs of Blacks

2007-Feb-20

“We are a nation of immigrants!”

What does that phrase mean? Ask Toni Morrison:

Fresh from Ellis Island, Stavros gets a job shining shoes at Grand Central Terminal. It is the last scene of Elia Kazan’s film America, America, the story of a young Greek’s fierce determination to immigrate to America. Quickly, but as casually as an afterthought, a young black man, also a shoe shiner, enters and tries to solicit a customer. He is run off the screen — “Get out of here! We’re doing business here!” — and silently disappears.

This interloper into Stavros’ workplace is crucial in the mix of signs that make up the movie’s happy-ending immigrant story: a job, a straw hat, an infectious smile — and a scorned black. It is the act of racial contempt that transforms this charming Greek into an entitled white. Without it, Stavros’ future as an American is not at all assured.

We immigrants have “made it” in this country in two ways, by taking land from the Indians and by taking jobs from Blacks. That’s our dirty little secret.

When my Irish ancestors came here we were not “white”. My great-great grandfather had a sign he had taken that said, “We hire Blacks but no Irish need apply.” But within a generation we had become white, and in doing so we were now able to make it by taking jobs away from Blacks. And so has every group of immigrants in turn. When jobs are plentiful and workers are scarce, Blacks make inroads. Then another set of immigrants comes and takes the jobs away. We make it by climbing on their backs and jumping up above them onto the ladder to success, and we leave them on the bottom rung. Because that’s what racism is all about.

And who are those immigrants getting their slice of the American Pie by taking it from those who were holding it? Why, us, the nation of immigrants. Those immigrant groups that voted Democratic alongside of Blacks when we were both down, and who feel ever so kindly toward Blacks as we make it at their expense and as we then help other ethnic groups to make it in their turn at the expense of Blacks.

We are what, when I was a politically correct New Leftist, was called a “White Liberal”. We always hated that label, because we could never understand how all our good intentions toward Blacks could be so misunderstood. After all, some of the best Blacks were allowed to be our friends. So why did they still think we were racists? What more could they want from us besides good intentions?

We Liberals–White Liberals–have to disguise our racism. We can’t use the N-word, we can’t call them “uppity” or even “lazy and shiftless”…or can we? So how can white liberals be racist in a manner subtle enough to get away with it? By following the lead of the Neo-Con Republicans. Don’t call Black people “lazy and shiftless”, just call the people who are taking their jobs away from them “hardworking and industrious”. Don’t call Blacks “uppity” when they ask for a living wage, for medical and pension benefits, or for union representation, nope, just call the folks you are giving their jobs to “easy to work with”. Just as the obvious white racists have learned to use code language to express racism, like having their presidential candidates make the necessary pilgrimage to the southern, um, “meccas”, those right-wing Christian schools that until recently forbade blacks from dating whites in their schools, so to we white liberals have our own code language that permit us to stay smugly pious as we dump our black nannies and landscapers and agricultural workers and construction workers and all of those other “jobs that Americans just won’t do” (at least not after we fire them) to replace them with those who are lighter, and like us before them, well along the road to becoming white.

And as we muscle then aside yet again, we ask Blacks to once again “silently disappear”. And if they don’t, then we will look away as the newcomers take their place on a higher rung on the ladder to success by force.

It will be extremely enlightening to watch our supposedly Liberal Democratic politicians as they deal with the next wave of immigrants who will want power in exchange for votes. Where will their slice of the political pie come from? Will the White Liberals give up some of theirs? Or will yet another wave of immigrants take their power by climbing up on the backs of Blacks?