Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Assimilation Discrimination

I was born in Cleveland (the one in Ohio) and spent most of my youth residing in Wisconsin. I lived in mostly white neighborhoods and attended nearly all-white schools. I grew-up listening to Seventies AM top-forty radio; Casey Kasem’s AT40 was my favorite radio show. Back then, I never thought of myself as being different than anyone else, although I recall when I was four years of age, a bunch of kids—all white—held me on the ground and stuffed grass in my mouth; I didn’t know why they did that, but I pretty much kept to myself afterwards. As I grew older, the way people acted toward me changed in subtle ways, as if I was part of some secret society I didn’t know about, but that they didn’t wish to enter; or they needed to feel sorry for me for some reason. Sometimes people were less subtle concerning their opinion about my relative position in society, or how I fit (or did not fit) in their world.

Example: I used to record some favorite songs off a pile of CDs onto cassette tape (yeah, I’m that old). One day I was sitting in the newsroom of the student paper at the university I attended, typing in some story on an ancient word processor that didn’t have a spellchecker. I was listening to one of my tapes when another student informed me that “That isn’t Your music.” What did he mean? Since I was, in his eyes, a “Mexican,” me listening to “American” music was mere interloping—my “culture” couldn’t produce such music. “My” music, apparently, was mariachi stuff that I was unfamiliar with except from television commercials. Of course, he could have meant “white” music, although that would have been an error, because I also had Seventies soul and R&B songs on my tapes.

I am also a collector of “classic” films on DVD. One day recently I was in a Big Lots in Kent, Washington, when after not finding my first priority, I investigated a large bin that contained $3 DVDs. I had no intention of buying junk, so I carefully looked through the bin for a title I might be interested in. But this behavior aroused the suspicion of the store’s manager; since “Mexicans” are too stupid to have “culture,” I was clearly wasting time in order to find an opportune moment to steal something. The manager moved his bulky, bald frame behind me, and started pretending to fuss with straightening out some items on a shelf. His intention was to intimidate me and let me know he had his eye on me, and that I’d better leave. But I didn’t leave, right away. After the manager couldn’t fake what he was doing anymore, he moved off to another section and started giving me sneaky looks. I continued looking through the bin, but since I didn’t get the “message,” the manager returned to fumbling with the shelf behind me; at that point I threw up my hands, said “I’ve had enough of you, Adolf” and marched out of the store. The odd thing is that people like this think that this “positive” for business; it is actually quite stupid.

There is a point to this story. One of the biggest myths concerning the “Mexican” menace is that it threatens the American way of life because they don’t want to “assimilate.” This is the myth that George Bush perpetuated in front of Latino school children when he told them they needed to learn the “culture” and the history of the country. This is pure hypocrisy. American “culture” is little more than “Do your own thing” within the limits of the law and local mores; the closest thing to an inherently American cultural contribution to the world is rock and roll music. As for history, most Americans couldn’t pass the naturalization test given to would-be citizens; would-be presidential contender Sarah Palin foundered when asked to name her “favorite” founding father; she hummed and hawed before belatedly she remembered who the first president of the country was (or maybe she read it off a hastily written cue-card by a Fox News employee).

Obama, meanwhile, gave a speech recently on immigration reform in which he chastised Latino immigrants for an alleged lack of desire to learn English. Again, this wasn’t derived from actual fact, but playing to the beliefs of bigots that they were not. Obama and the people who was speaking for don’t care about Eastern European immigrants who are allowed to bring their parents over who don’t feel the need to learn English, or—because of lingering guilt from the Vietnam War—allowing Southeast Asians to arrive by the plane load (or the shipping container load), where they display American flags on their autos and congregate in discrete communities where they practice their own culture and speak their own language and be rude and hostile to other immigrant groups. That’s OK, because of the guilt; it doesn’t matter that a million or so are in the country illegally, through Canada or those shipping containers. ICE doesn’t bother them at all, because it isn’t politically useful.

The fact is that there is no terribly obvious “cultural” difference that threatens to engulf the U.S. in a barbarian culture, particularly given the communication age where everyone aspires to be like everyone else (save in Muslim countries), and certainly nowhere near the scale when Germanic barbarians changed the Roman world. What worries Pat Buchanan and his ilk is not a change in “culture,” but a change in skin color. What they fear is assimilation, or “assimilation” not on their terms—meaning voluntarily subordinating one’s self to an inferior position.
Obama also chastised “Mexicans” for not paying taxes. Again this is a common belief based on nothing more than the belief that they don’t, not actual fact. There are no credible studies that make this claim, but there are studies that indicate that undocumented workers not only do pay taxes, but in many locales, like Washington state, they pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes, probably because they don’t avail themselves to tax skimming or the “sovereign citizen” ideology—the members of which claim to be “patriotic.” When someone goes to a retail store, the cashiers don’t say to a customer that if they are an illegal alien, they don’t have to pay the ten percent sales tax. Maybe employees of the “informal” economy don’t pay taxes, but that goes way beyond the simple street-corner laborer. In legitimate businesses, all employees are required to pay some amount of federal taxes; if they don’t have a Social Security number, they must pay through a tax ID number. This not paying taxes is probably the biggest lie that anti-immigrant fanatics have foisted on an ignorant public—which apparently includes Obama’s speech writers as well. It would have been more accurate to say that the poorest indigenous Indian paid more in taxes in one day than did Exxon all of last year.

There is an element of hypocrisy here. There always is. White people always want to change the terms of the debate when it comes to race or “ethnicity” in order to justify their beliefs or actions. For example, a white Southerner might say there is a difference between a black person and a n---r; blacks are “good” and n---rs are “bad.” They are only prejudiced against the people they refer to as n---rs. The problem is you never hear them use the term black, only the N-word—i.e. they are all “bad.” Similarly, it is claimed that those so inclined are only prejudiced against illegal aliens, except that since a single group is being targeted, how do you distinguish? You don’t; all are “suspect.” As Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, with her bleach-blonde hair and the Arian-Nordic-Nazi social philosophy she shares with Russell Pearce and his neo-Nazi friends, signed the Arizona immigration law, she declared that this law was designed to stem the tide of “crime” that illegal immigrants brought into the country, and had nothing to do with racial profiling. Technically she is right: being an illegal is a crime, although again rational studies on the matter demonstrate that illegal aliens are more likely than native citizens to avoid committing real crimes, for obvious reasons.

Underlining the Arizonan brand of hypocrisy is the laughably mendacious “training” videos just released to Arizona police officers on how to avoid the “appearance” of racial profiling while carrying out their “duties,” which requires them to corral anyone they “suspect” of being illegal; the police, of course, are not actually required to watch it. Various law enforcement officials repeated ad nauseam that racial profiling is not to be tolerated, but it is unclear how, exactly, this will be prevented. We must take an officer’s word that he or she is not stopping you because you look like a Mexican. Cop representative Brian Livingston intones that there will be mischievous types (like “Mexicans” who are college-educated, native-born U.S. citizens) who will “test” officers to see if they will use race as an excuse to make a stop. Don’t be “baited,” he says, into doing anything that would be construed as discriminatory. But that still leaves the slippery question of how to avoid the appearance of stopping someone for being a “Mexican.” By the way they dress (not clearly defined), how well they speak English (but what about those Asian, African and Eastern European immigrants—and some “natives” who speak in that incomprehensible redneck tongue?), and if they are walking “in tandem”—meaning walking like ducks in a row, or something (why bother asking what crazed mind came-up with that idiocy, since the law is idiotic).

This is the world I live in. Be glad you don’t have to live in it.

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