Saturday, May 8, 2010

21st century nativism, or, Arizona, find yourself another country to be part of....

A lot to be said about SB1070, the anti-minority law passed in Arizona. If it was just a simple matter of a rogue state testing the limits of states rights versus primacy of federal law, it would be a simple matter of striking down the law as unconstitutional and telling Arizona, a la Phil Ochs, that it needed to find itself another country to be part of.

But it's not just about Arizona -- the old spectre of nativism has once again risen its ugly head from restless slumber and has spread across the nation like a cancer. Arizona is not the cause of this, it is (and I hate being cliche, but...) just the symptom.

21st century nativism isn't any nicer, or any less racist, or more refined than 19th century nativism, and the whelps of immigrants long dead should be ashamed at becoming the ugly hateful xenophobes that kept our immigrant ancestors "in their place," forcing assimilation as a "benefit" of living and working at reduced wages than their native-born neighbors, which further bred resentment and division amongst the working class, deflecting attention from what should have been the true target of working class resentment.

I don't really need to spend a lot of time detailing the racist agenda of the authors and supporters of SB1070 -- those racist roots are indisputable. The law was conceived of by far-right organisations, meant to specifically target poor Latinos, the leadership of the Arizona GOP has actively supported -- and been supported by -- openly-racist white separatists and supremacists. This is fact. The evidence is there from multiple sources. And more troubling is that direction and support wasn't just anchored in Arizona, but also in Washington, where the intent is to spread this fascism to other states.

So when you hear xenophobic supporters of the law insist it is not racist, they are either lying or willfully ignorant. They may wax philosophical about the basis of SB1070, they may try to put an intellectual spin on their racism, but there is no way around it -- the law they support was specifically intended to target Arizona's minority community.

The first victims of this law -- even before it officially goes into effect -- have been American-born Hispanics, caught without birth certificates, detained, handcuffed, and arrested for being unable to prove, on the spot, their country of origin. Fellow Americans are being asked for "papers, please" -- that old bogeyman we were warned about when criticising Nazi Germany, Soviet Europe, and Apartheid South Africa -- and true to form, 21st-century nativists in positions of power have now adopted these tactics.

The issue in Arizona isn't about so-called "illegal" immigrants, it goes back to working class resentment towards cheaper labor, and xenophobia, and the old school nativism rearing its ugly head once again is unbecoming the mutts of America, and a betrayal of our roots as a nation, where we welcomed -- with open arms, and frankly with ulterior economic motives -- those coming to America to make a better life. It's the image we've projected as a nation, and we can't credibly turn that back now that we're "all filled up".

My ancestors came from Ireland and Poland. The Irish and Polish experience in America was one of forced and dehumanizing assimilation. But at least outwardly we fit in, so long as we behaved like little croppies and lay down. That experience isn't specific to the Irish and Polish immigrants, of course -- Italians had their own period of forced assimilation, the Chinese brought in to build California had their own period, and so on.

I embrace the promise and privilege of immigration to the United States -- the promise of new-found religious, social and political freedom, the privilege of living in arguably the best (ideally, if not realistically) country in the world.

I also embrace the notion that no person is illegal, and borders are artificial man-made socio-political constructs, nothing more than gang warfare writ large on national scales, with each gang "protecting" their turf. In that context, "legal" immigration is simply a matter of getting permission from a gang to live and work in their territory, on their terms and conditions.

An early exchange I had with someone about SB1070 had the other person mentioning the so-called "social contract" that "we have agreed to." It was argued that we do not get to go to a buffet of laws and cherry-pick which ones we agree to and which ones to ignore -- it is an all-or-nothing deal. Examples of immigrant myths were given -- double-dipping of unemployment insurance and benefiting from infrastructure upkeep, all while being allowed to immigrate illegally.

Now, if you are going to bring up this "social contract" which "we all have agreed to," let's apply it absolutely and universally. Let's not exempt the ruling class and their lapdog allies and target the working class when it is convenient, "buffet style." I never signed or agreed to this social contract, and I don't know anybody else who did. Frankly, if we're living under the provisions of this mythical contract, I want a do-over, because it absolutely is not applied fairly, or absolutely, or universally, and most of the inequitable application is done according to class and race.

America benefits from the presence of immigrants, illegal or otherwise. The work and services they provide (hard work for lower pay, with little to no safeguards), the taxes they pay (sales tax, for instance), the money they pump into local economies (from rent, purchases, etc), would absolutely be missed if they suddenly and magically vanished and we woke up to a whiter shade of America tomorrow.

But this isn't meant as a defense of illegal immigrants. It is an attack on 21st century nativism, born and bred in racist xenophobia. That is more of a threat to America than the spectre of hard-working, law-abiding immigrants. As a nation of immigrants, we are obligated to be better than that, collectively.

The working class -- our class -- must not give aid and comfort to the ruling class, the sole beneficiary of artificial divisions within the working class. Fascism must burn. It must not be given respite in attacks from progressive elements. This IS class warfare, masked in racism. The ruling class really isn't worried about illegal immigration -- their primary concern is fear that the working class -- our class -- will unite against them, rise up against them, and break our chains of wage slavery that keep us in their bondage. THAT is why false divisions are created and fostered, and why we must work hard to break down those walls that divide us.

Is it all bleak? Widespread outrage at this law, within Arizona and from most other states, at least gives us hope that correct-thinking people recognise the futility of an America based on exclusion and discrimination, and hopefully serves as a warning to other 21st century nativists that we are not going to peacefully go back to the America of the 1800s. It remains to be seen if Arizona is really a lost cause, but hopefully it is at least a fire-break against similar cancerous legislation worming its way through other states.


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