Friday, April 27, 2012

Name That Majority

Rachel Maddow spotted and spotlit this paragraph in a Washington Post profile of two Rabid Right pols whose claim to fame is helping to create Rabid Right tyranny by scaring people about illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico: Kris Kobach and Michael Hethmon.  The graph quotes Hethmon:

Immigration is “on track to change the demographic makeup of the entire country. You know, what they call ‘minority-majority,’ ” said Hethmon, who is general counsel at the Washington-based Immigration Reform Law Institute. “How many countries have gone through a transition like that — peacefully, carefully? It’s theoretically possible, but we don’t have any examples.”

So if you were wondering why illegal immigration is such a big deal to these folks, apart from the usual cynical lying GOPer politics, you (as usual) won't find it in the facts.  Immigration from Mexico for instance is severely down from its peak, and because of demographics (fewer young Mexican men in the current and future generations) is unlikely to ever increase much. Border enforcement and other federal enforcement of illegal immigration is stronger. And (according to the new Pew study) at least as many Mexican families are leaving the U.S. to return to Mexico as are coming from Mexico to the U.S.  But the real "issue" is a certain political fear: a perceived threat to certain whites who are afraid of losing the "white" majority.

The economic impacts, good and bad, are highly debatable. So let's parse the racial issues.  Part of the impact of immigrants in a given town or city or region is cultural, if they are from unfamiliar places.  That's real, and it is also not new. Before the relatively recent waves of immigrants from southeast Asia and now from Mexico, there were the huge waves of poor people from Ireland, eastern Europe and Italy.

 Countries in Europe experiencing waves of immigration now, even greater in some respect than the U.S., are coping with the often difficult changes, especially when immigrants become the face of all the other change.  All this can inspire a panic turned into a principle of racial and national purity, which has its own ideologies or "pragmatic" fears (for Hethmon wants to sound pragmatic), along with lots of ugly history.  In its most obviously warped expression, it's behind the massacres that killed 77 people in Norway, most of them teenagers, by a man (now on trial) upset by the racial tolerance represented by broadcast of Roots and a popular children's song based on a Pete Seeger ditty about multiculturalism (which some 40,000 people sang to the murderer in Oslo on Thursday.)

But it's more than a racial rainbow that scares Hethmon, it's the end of the white majority, and therefore of white privilege and supremacy.  He is afraid of a "minority majority" in the U.S. caused by immigration.  First of all, he doesn't need to be afraid of new immigration--even without it, the minority majority is in the demographic cards.  The 2010 Census made it clear that we'll achieve this by the middle of this century.  There are already fewer white infants than non-whites.

To get a little personal, those of us of a certain age are watching the world we knew slip away, and it does cause anxiety.  We understand a world dominated by English-speaking white people, English/American institutions and culture.  Even those of us who welcome the wisdoms and liveliness of other cultures into the common culture, are nervous about being overwhelmed by intrusions, and by what we cannot understand.  But let's face it--that applies as least as much to the world of a thousand aps and computer viruses as it does to an influx of other languages and behaviors from other countries.    

But that's very minor stuff compared to the fears of people like Hethmon. What really scares Hethmon? I don't think it's what he says (societal stability, more or less), at least not directly.  What threatens Hethmon and GOPers is finally out in the open--it is the loss of their political control.  That's why this virulent anti-immigration scare stuff is of a piece with voter suppression and other efforts to maintain their control, to keep minorities out of democracy, and (in Michigan for instance) democracy out of minority communities.  That they are likely Democratic voters is of course the proximate reason but probably not the entire one.  White supremacy--their supremacy--is the motive, and he all but announces it.

  Hethmon refers to the lack of any precedent of a peaceful, careful transition.  Well, "careful" is about control, and we don't control who has children, at least not yet, although we can carefully manage any sort of transition--that's what governments are supposed to do, by matching support and solution  to need, with housing, community support, employment policies as well as law enforcement.  But peaceful?  No such transition is possible without violence?  There is no precedent for this?

In a way he's correct.  There was violence and people died--mostly black people--in the struggle for equal rights for African Americans.  On the other hand, you could hardly call African Americans "immigrants." There was also violence involved in the 20th century union movement, mostly by police and agents of the 1%.   For the union movement was largely representing prior waves of immigrants, who were the workers in American industries--in the textile mills, the mines, the steel mills. 

But these were white immigrants, weren't they?  Not always by the definitions of the times.  Even in the 1920s, Italians--with dark skin, hair and eyes (like those in the top photo, or to the right)--were considered black.  Polish and other eastern Europeans may have been pale, but they were--in an expression that survived in Pennsylvania well into the second half of the 20th century--Not Quite White.  For Hitler, these folks weren't "white" or Aryan at all--they were racially inferior and planned for eradication.  The extermination of the Jews was to be just the first act, partly to test the equipment.

If you go by early 20th century definitions, the U.S. is already a minority majority country and has been for at least half a century--not entirely without trouble, but successfully.  Of course, many of the participants don't choose to see it that way.  Some of the most rabid oppressors of new minorities have been and are from these nationalities, previously scorned as Not Quite White.  This entire concept of "race" is fraught.  There's no more scientific justification for it.  It's all about other things now.  And one of those things is power-and-wealth.

But Hethmon and the white supremacist police state that the GOPers support is also congruent with their anti-Obama racism.  This is yet another test of the strength of the American constitutional system and the American culture in creating common ground as a civil culture, as a self-governing society.  In the end, all the issues about economic fairness, equal opportunity, tax equity, equality before the law, rights of women and members of all other groups--they all come down to this: the basis for self-government.  Because without these, we're seeing the future in Michigan (where state appointed dictators negate elected officials) and in the laws passed by GOPer legislatures and signed by GOPer governors that dictate to doctors how to treat their patients, that take away rights of individuals to govern their own bodies and lives, that substitute the rule of the few--including the wealthy 1%--for self-government.  That's the minority we really need to be worried about.

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