The bigotry that’s widely accepted
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets,” the Gospel of Luke tells us. So hopefully this column will make me sufficiently unpopular to avoid eternal damnation.
I’m wondering if I’m the only one who takes issue with the increasingly ugly pitch of the nativist bigotry against undocumented immigrants that’s sweeping this state. It’s both funny and sad to hear North Carolina liberals make a big deal about being on the right side of the Civil Rights Movement and even conservatives avow their conversion to the principle of racial equality, but who of them will speak up in defense of undocumented immigrants – possibly the most despised class since the Jews under the Third Reich.
Everyone from talk-radio hatemonger Michael Savage to the Ku Klux Klan and avowed liberal columnist Jim Longworth – whose opinion is regularly published in these pages – seems happy to jump on the bandwagon of condemning undocumented immigrants as a shadowy force threatening to destroy the American way of life.
Longworth recently tossed off a canard repeated so many times that it’s easy to overlook how ridiculously false it is – that “we taxpayers are spending a half billion dollars per year to educate children of illegal aliens who pay no taxes at all.”
Actually, undocumented immigrants who obtain counterfeit Social Security cards to work in the United States so they can support extended families in Latin America often have payroll taxes withheld for Social Security and Medicaid by their employers, contribute sales tax with their consumer purchases and sometimes even pay property taxes. At least in the case of Social Security, they are likely to never get that money back. As if that’s not enough of a subsidy to us, the native born, then consider that all of us benefit from cheap food prices because of immigrant farm labor, and homebuyers and small businesspersons realize cost savings by availing themselves of cheap immigrant labor in the building and landscaping trades.
Of course, globalization is the force that has dislocated Latin Americans from their traditional livelihoods and set the current migration wave in motion, just as it is the culprit for the domestic economic insecurity that fires the resentments of the native-born poor. Add the Bush administration’s constant drumbeat of anti-terror rhetoric to sustain popular support for its wars, and suddenly we’re faced with a combustible situation.
Consider that Imperial Wizard Virgil Griffin of Gaston County – the same Klansman who rode in a caravan with a coalition of white supremacists that carried out a deadly attack on a multiracial group of communist labor activists in Greensboro in 1979 – recently told the Charlotte Observer that the Klan is staging a comeback, using calls for militarization of the border and withholding government services to illegal immigrants as its recruitment calling card.
Consider that the Davidson County Commission passed a resolution last November declaring English the commission’s official language – a measure with no conceivable practical purpose except to antagonize Latinos and exploit the anti-immigrant sentiments of native-born constituents for political gain.
How much further do we have to go before demagogic politicians are standing in the door to the schoolhouse – or the emergency room – and mouthing the contemporary equivalent of “Segregation now and forever”? How long before the Klan and Nazis begin to spread terror across the land through acts of arson and murder with official impunity?
Are we too blind to see the similarities between the Negro of the Jim Crow era and the Latino laborer in America in the age of globalization? Are not both of their conditions of exploited labor predicated on their brown skin color and the prerogatives of white skin privilege? Are not both of them tolerated so long as they remain quiescent and invisible – and treated as dangerous subversives once they aspire to improve their condition?
Political and business leaders have little reason to speak up in defense of immigrants. After all, they tend to benefit from an economic arrangement that pits native-born workers against immigrants whose main offense is working hard to put food on the table for their family.
On this count, let me note two notable exceptions.
Kudos to the North Carolina NAACP for including protection of the rights of immigrants in the 14-point agenda it unveiled at the Historic Thousands on Jones Street assembly in Raleigh on Feb. 10, which states, in part: “The anti-immigrant hysteria that was whipped up by certain politicians was designed to drive wedges between our brothers and sisters of color who have been oppressed by the same racist system we have struggled against for almost four hundred years in America.”
And the Orange County Commission is to be commended for the resolution it passed on Jan. 23 forbidding its sheriff’s office from allowing its officers to be used as a local arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
If you don’t, as I do, believe in welcoming the stranger, then consider the squandered potential to our society in talent, innovation and social development if we fail to educate the brightest of immigrant children, offer opportunity to entrepreneurs and build strong, sustainable local communities. Can we afford to return to the benighted days of Jim Crow and slavery when our region was hobbled by poverty and prejudice?
To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at email@example.com