Apparently Thursday was Blog Against Racism Day. It’s a shame I didn’t know that, since I had an entry on that very subject I was mulling over. No time like the present, though.
One of the problems with being–let’s flatter ourselves–tolerant, enlightened people with tolerant, enlightened friends and tolerant, enlightened politics is that we start to convince ourselves that fierce, virulent racism has been eradicated. Sure, we come across euphemistic racism every once in a while, we’re certainly guilty of it ourselves every once in a while, and we’re aware that racial minorities are discriminated against in innumerable ways. But in the circles we move in, we rarely come across explicit race-baiting, clear examples of race hatred.
I get in a lot of arguments about politics with a friend of mine. The arguments usually come down to a question of difference. Are the Republicans different than the Democrats? Is our democracy different (more free, more humane) than the dictatorships of other nations? Is the euphemistic racism I’m talking about an improvement over the days of open and explicit racism? His answer is usually that there isn’t a difference, that what you have are the same forces working in disguise, thus making them harder to fight. I simply don’t buy it. Yes, there is a massive amount of (relatively) subtle racism (since that is our topic today) in this country, and it’s not just a matter of hurt feelings–people of different races are discriminated against in just about every important way there is. It is revolting that some races are assumed to be stupid, others to be criminals, others to be terrorists. And there’s plenty of legal discrimination still on the books–while sentencing differences between coke and crack may seem subtle, it certainly makes a difference to the young black man who gets an extra few years in prison for possessing crack, instead of having the sense to possess refined cocaine like the white folks. And yes, there are way too many people who believe that racism has been beaten, that “playing the race card” is never valid anymore because that conversation has been settled. To talk about the long way we’ve come is irrelevant and complacent when racism is so brutally pervasive in our society.
But at least the (relative) subtlety of much racism nowadays is evidence that more blatant racism is not tolerated, that it’s been driven underground; and that in itself is progress. We have to drive racism underground, because, like any other ideology, it escalates. Tolerate the blatant racism–minstrel shows, slurs, matter-of-fact descriptions of how some races aren’t as good as others at certain things–and you will tolerate laws limiting the rights of minorities. Tolerate those laws, and you’ll tolerate lynchings. And on and on it goes.
Which brings me to the delightful piece of mail I got a couple days ago.
Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minutemen–the armed wackos patrolling the border (just the Southern one, strangely) in search of illegal immigrants–is running on the American Independent ticket for a Congressional seat in my district here in Orange County. He won’t win, but he will get thousands of votes. Normally I’d take that as good news–he might Nader the right-wing vote, leading to an amazing Democratic win–but I got a Gilchrist campaign flyer in the mail, and the more I read it the more I’m depressed at the fact that anyone would want to vote for such a disgusting racist.
The flyer is titled “How Jim Gilchrist Will Help You In Congress,” and it doesn’t mention a single issue other than stopping illegal immigration. My first instinct (which I indulged) was to laugh at this and dismiss it as paranoid raving. Someone who believes that illegal immigration is “the root cause of traffic congestion and smog” is clearly unhinged. I was initially going to quote it here accompanied by humorous Tommentary, MST3K-ing his hilARious racism, but in the end I didn’t have the stomach for it. The more I looked at it, the more I realized that the joke is old: far from being improbably disgusting, it is in fact an extremely predictable, even cliché, bit of textbook race-baiting. It’s not that no one’s ever made a campaign document like this; there must have been hundreds in the last fifty years alone. It’s just that I haven’t gotten to see one before, cerainly not one that was mailed to me. Here are the highlights:
“•Jim Gilchrist will protect the property value of your home. Illegal immigration helps to lower your home’s value, as illegals bring a demand for high-density housing in your neighborhood that increases crime and lowers the performance of local schools. Builders and developers win big, while homeowners’ property values collapse as native citizens are forced to move further away to buy a decent house in a decent neighborhood with good schools.
“•Jim Gilchrist will oppose food stamps and other benefits for illegals. … Think about that the next time you’re at the grocery store paying outrageous prices for food, and you see an illegal immigrant in line ahead of you paying with food stamps.
“•Jim Gilchrist will protect our public spaces. Illegals constantly trash public property and have no sense of responsibility to the community as they litter used diapers and who knows what else along public highways.
“•Jim Gilchrist will protect women from the sexist and abusive culture of illegal immigrants. Illegals bring the culture of the slums of Mexico to the heart of California, including backwards “machismo” attitudes towards sexual harassment, rape and abuse of women. How many women will be raped, murdered, or harassed in California this year because irresponsible politicians care more about being politically correct than protecting the safety and dignity of American women?”
It’s all there: fears over property values; advocacy of white flight (note that, as elsewhere in this document, “native” means “white”; so does “decent”); calls to protect the women from the dangerous ethnic group. Change a handful of terms and this could be about any race you chose.
We need to not tolerate this kind of thing. (“Be intolerant of intolerance?” Yes. I’m intolerant if someone calls me a fucking asshole, too.) We especially need to reject attempts, as this post makes clear, to make the Minutemen “mainstream,” or to justify racism against Mexicans and Latin Americans, or even to incorporate their despicable beliefs into the Democratic party to win votes of disaffected Republicans. (I’m serious, some people are talking about that. Read the link.) This is beyond political expediency–it’s about resorting to our basest instincts of fear and hatred with the same tired rhetoric that’s always used for that purpose. Let’s realize how bad this is and act and speak accordingly.
(In fairness to Jim, the ad wasn’t distributed by Gilchrist, but rather by Vote America First, a rabid anti-immigration site. In the laugh-or-cry department is the site’s claim that “Both candidates wanting your vote in December’s runoff claim to oppose illegal immigration.” In other words, there are two candidates in this race: the Republican candidate, and the American Independent candidate. The Democratic candidate, Steve Young (no relation to the QB), not only isn’t considered; he seems to have been totally forgotten about. You want to waste a vote, don’t bother with Nader; vote (as I am) for a Democrat in Orange County.)