Friday, May 14, 2010

Changing the Minds of White Folks Whose Anti-Immigrant Fears have been Manufactured

To what extent are the racist ideas about immigration manufactured versus automatic in the average white citizen? How many of their opinions about immigration are formed based on messages in the media which are left unquestioned? How have people's opinions been shaped by changes to law and enforcement?

We know a few things for sure: capitalists and the state benefit from the divisions caused by ideas about outsiders vs. insiders and attitudes about people of color especially when it comes to criminality. We also know that there are blatant racists, many of whom are organized, who intentionally spread misinformation and biased messages, studies, and statistics about immigrants and other people of color. Fear is used to appeal to the loyalties of white people with other whites across class, against people of color.

In fact, it has taken decades of laws and messaging to barely convince enough people that to overstay a visa or traverse a man-made line is a crime worthy of any sort of punishment. For example, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the larger Tanton Network it is part of have put millions of dollars and decades of effort to shape the American public's view of immigration and to change legislation. Much of this is so far from grassroots, it makes you realize that these ideas are manufactured in people. The ideas are not coming from the people- the people are just repeating what they hear on Lou Dobbs. So despite the fact that there are many armed white people convinced they’re being invaded, and so many people are receptive to the fear tactics, I have some hope that with effective counter-messaging, the majority of white citizens can at least be convinced not to join with blatant racists against undocumented immigrants.

One obstacle is that speaking moralistically of wrong and right, or appealing to compassion, is likely to be limited. No matter how many images of families torn apart, bible verses, or “what would you do in a desperate situation?” type questions, there may be little leeway in changing minds. There are certain concepts that are instilled in American citizens that must be overcome. Unfortunately, while our opposition uses simple phrases, the truth and the context of these issues are very complex. It is our responsibility however, to figure out how to convey the ideas in the best way possible.

There are armed, scared, angry people out there ready for a race war. It’s hard to say how many. And although the state might find them to be a threat on some level (a lot of these people are angry about their money going to the rich), they are also used by those in power to promote the divisions between races, insiders and outsiders, etc. These people support the efforts of the police to enforce the color line. The possibility of people uniting across race against the rich (which threatens both capitalism and the state in some ways though perhaps not in others) is a major threat to the social order.

Because of these armed and frightened folks, it is important that we find ways to minimize their power. What matters most is what side people would come down on (or perhaps what side they already come down on) at a time of crisis. There are some interesting ideas about this coming from the Phoenix Class War Council (particularly regarding pointing out contradictions regarding ideology of libertarians) but while their strategy isn't for everyone, we must also consider ways to bring more white people into the opposition to the anti-immigrant fervor. Of course, it is likely not worth debating with those who are coming out to anti-immigrant rallies, but the ones who believe the lies while being less politically active.

There have been various efforts to address the myths/lies about undocumented immigrants. “No, it’s not true that they don’t want to learn English or assimilate” they might say, but why should they have to? There are many ways that dispelling the myths just reinforce the status quo. In addition, some allies of undocumented immigrants fall into the trap of legitimizing the previously existing racial order by calling on the police to catch the "real" criminals, or, without criticizing the laws and the racist context in which they were passed, calling for the police to cease stopping people on the basis of their skin color.

Therefore, in trying to change minds without reinforcing or legitimizing much of the white supremacy, rule of law, and economic order, we need to have a critical analysis or multiple analyses within our messaging. What I feel may be necessary is to address white people who identify as anti-racist already, laying out the critical analyses, at least increasing the numbers of people who can debate with their family, co-workers, etc. Studying the rhetoric of the opposition is extremely useful, such as by listening to right-wing radio or watching the TV shows, but also being acutely aware of the ways that the left-wing does not adequately address the issue. What's left unsaid? What is being supported that shouldn't (such as border security/militarization).

I intend to expand on this more later (and have written on some of this in the past-see this flier or this older flier), but here's a working list of issues to examine with people:
  • The legitimacy of the law that makes immigrants "illegal", and the significance of it in relation to other laws, as well as in relation to other acts that are not against the law (such as crossing state lines)
  • The relationship between race and criminalization (as discussed in No Borders or Prison Walls)
  • The idea that cops and laws prevent crime, as opposed to actually creating dangerous situations (in relation to human trafficking and drug trafficking as the main examples
  • The reality of the economic burden and the bigger picture: capitalism, neo-liberal projects/globalization/NAFTA, etc., as well as the ways in which the government spends so much money to enforce immigration laws
  • The legitimacy of the border, the nation, and white/American entitlement to this land, the supremacy of "our culture" over others, including language
  • That the state, capitalists and white supremacists have a reason to manipulate and lie to the people to maintain and increase their power
  • The reality of "overpopulation"  (see Concerned about Overpopulation?)
And then a few things to address critically to those on the left, such as the anti-racists I mentioned:
  • The federal government's plans for immigration and their position not as an ally against rogue sheriff's and bad laws in AZ, but as a proponent for mass detention and deportations that are already taking place, etc.
  • The blindness to the situation on and near the border, particularly among native communities such as the Tohono O'odham (see this)
  • The misrepresentation by leadership/politicians of the people they claim to represent, and the diluted messages they promote
  • Myopic views that don't include the larger situation of white supremacy, institutionalized racism ( particularly the role of the police), and colonialism
  • The legitimization of the economic order, such as in saying that migrants do the work that "Americans" don't want to do as though it is the migrants rightful place to do shit work.  Is it okay for migrants to be exploited like they have been for decades as long as they aren't getting arrested or harassed?
  • The unwillingness to think big, accepting that we will have to settle for less than what will truly allow for equality and freedom  (see The Best Immigration Law is No Law at All)

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