Sunday, July 22, 2012

Jose, Can You See?

Arizona's anti Latino law is racist. This is widely believed on the Left and denied by anyone who favors the law and wants an excuse to disguise their own racism, but the release of emails by the man who wrote the law, former Republican state senator Russell Pearce, proves pretty conclusively that the law is racist, and provides insights into how Pearce and those who think like him think. 

If we try hard enough
"We are much like the Titanic as we inbreed millions of Mexico's poor, the world's poor and we watch our country sink," Pearce wrote in one email.

The emails contain fuzzy thinking, thinking that is racist in its content and construction, and which is often not based in fact. For example, Pearce makes false assertions about the crime rates ("illegal immigrants" commit 9,000 murders per year and have a crime rate 2.5 times higher than normal) and birth rates ("substantially higher than the population at large") of the undocumented.

Other of Pearce's quotes are revealed in an Arizona Republic story by Alia Beard Rau that's been reposted at Reader Supported News.

Air Conditioning

I've written before that I think racism is widely misunderstood, that it's mistakenly thought of as a problem specific to a person or group that has been identified as being racist.

Racism, like its twin, almost its synonym, nationalism, arises from a universal human condition which is a function of human nature. If you replace the word racism or the word nationalism with tribalism, it's easy to imagine a time in human development when family groups and extended family groups, or tribes, stuck together because of fear for their survival and how, now, a similar dynamic leads to attributing certain negative characteristics on those who cause the fear. This attribution of negative characteristics is often used by political leaders to manufacture support for going to war against others or to demonize those they see as threats such as Socialists Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, and by politicians like Pearce to conger up fears of economic insecurity among the working class.

Racism is most obvious among elements of the working class whose physical survival actually is under threat, but it extends to people like Pearce who fear for the survival of their race based privileges.

Whether it's called racism, tribalism, nationalism, or patriotism, it's much the same thing, and the same kind of bond can exist at any given time between any two people or among any given group. Imagine when two people huddle together and talk ill of a third. Imagine gossip. Imagine sports fans, or the bonds of loyalty that form out of thin air around the desire to partake in winning any given goal or contest or material gain. Just as quickly as these bonds are formed they can dissipate and any given individual can quickly, almost immediately, form new bonds of the same kind with another person or group.

Racism is a manifestation of our fear for survival. It consists of acting upon that fear, against a person or group identified as a threat, through our capacity for violence. Like most urges, it originates in the unconscious and is translated by the conscious into something more amenable to the ego.

Urges like this, with conditioning, can either be brought to the surface, i.e., manifested in the consciousness, and reinforced, or they can be suppressed. An urge can even be replaced by other ways of expressing or dealing with what is at its base, in this case, fear.

Conditioning, of course, means replacing one set of material conditions with another. An example would be to use school busing to allow children to be exposed to children of other races.

Another is the case of rap and hip hop music, in which young Black people are allowed to express themselves in the way they want to express themselves. Although this has been permitted for the purpose of their commercial exploitation, because the music is popular with young people of all races, it has resulted, or at least has greatly contributed to, young people having different attitudes about race than their parents and grandparents. Recent surveys, such as the widely reported Pew Research survey of "Generation Next" and a similar one by the Levitt Center at Hamilton College, show that young people are better on race issues than their predecessors. For example, they are open to interracial relationships (and gay marriage) and they think immigration strengthens America. Recall, too, that the votes of young people swept Barak Obama into office.

The National Sacred Hymn

What is just as troubling to me is Pearce's thinking of The Star Spangled Banner as a "sacred song."

 "Last week, Denver's illegal aliens sang our national anthem and bastardized the words of OUR nation's most sacred song," Pearce wrote in an email.

Sacred can simply mean related to God, but is usually is used to denote something god-related that deserves special veneration. Something to idolize.

Belief in God, and religion, are not universal. Many who do believe in a god don't attend religious services and don't bond with any given sect, and within organized religion, some has elements of the sacred in it, some does not. Some religions fuse nationalism with religion, as Pearce does, some don't. Pearce and others like him are not able to fuse their racism with their religion -- this is no longer socially acceptable in the US -- but they are able to cast their racism in nationalistic terms, and then fuse that nationalism with religion. (There is a permissible exception now, on the political Right, to the social rule against fusing racism with religion, which allows the public expression of racist views of people of Arab descent in  religious terms.)

The problem with fusing anything with religion is that it makes a problem more intractable. We can easily see how sectarianism causes problems in foreign lands, but in the US one of the most intractable issues is abortion, a sectarian issue. The divide over abortion is no closer to being resolved than it ever was.

In the case of racism, while it still lingers and is a formidable problem, it's at least been possible to establish as a given that racism is wrong, and that not being racist is right. Not so in the case of abortion.

The National Question

A joke my older brother brought home when we were kids went like this:

Truck Driver Francisco Pinto
   My friend from work
A guy named Jose went to the baseball game. Jose was very short, so he started looking for a place he could see the playing field from. As he was walking around Jose saw someone from work. His friend was concerned about Jose being able to see and asked him, "Jose, can you see?" Jose eventually found a seat, but as soon as he did, someone sat in the seat in front of him.  He found another seat but the same thing happened.  He ran into another friend from work, who also asked him, "Jose, can you see?" He tried standing, but wherever he stood, someone was standing in front of him. Finally he looked to the outfield and saw the flag pole. He went out and climbed up the flag pole and sat on the ball at the very top. Then, just as the game was about to begin, everyone in the stadium stood up at once and sang, "Jose, can you see?" 

If something strikes us as funny, it's because a complex set of elements are at work. Most humor works on a number of levels. In this joke, one of the reasons it works is because of the way the joke treats the first line of our national anthem, which is, "Oh say can you see?" The joke works, in part, because our national anthem is generally seen as sacred or as something like sacred in that it is given a certain kind of veneration. When we suddenly thinks of those lines meaning something somewhat ridiculous, it strikes us as funny. Maybe a Russell Pearce or a Michelle Bachmann wouldn't see it as so funny, but maybe, if they were off their guard, they would. Most of us do, though, enjoy taking an ocasional stab at things that are venerated.

As for the way the joke treats Jose, pregunte a Jose.

The name Jose is used by many Anglos as the stereotypical Mexican male name, and there's a saying we use instead of "no," which is "No way Jose." Out of ignorance, we never pronounce Jose properly, giving the "s" a "z" sound instead of the soft s sound.

There's a man at work whose name is Jose, but no one knows his name is Jose except the managers, and me, because at work, he goes by Joe.


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