••The Quiet Death of the Minutemen

In story posted on their website, Zvika Krieger of The New Republic profiles Jim Gilchrist,  founder of the paramilitary border vigilante group “The Minutemen.”  She writes:

This year, there has been more evidence that, while immigration remains a legitimate issue, the supposed nationwide furor was a product of media hype. With the congressional debate over and the press increasingly ignoring the Minutemen, most Americans are professing moderate views on the issue. As of June, the percentage of Americans who want to reduce immigration levels has fallen within a percentage point of the 20-year low, while 64 percent of those polled say that immigration is a good thing for the country (the second-highest it’s been since September 11). Even on Super Tuesday, the height of the presidential primary, exit polls found almost 60 percent of Republican voters favoring immigration policies that Lou Dobbs would deride as “amnesty.”

The full article can be found here.


••Racism and the Murder of Marcelo Lucero

A group of teenagers murdered Marcello Lucero on November 8th.  An Ecuadorian immigrant who had lived in the U.S. for 16 years, the 37 year-old Lucero was lynched in the Long Island (New York) suburb of Patchogue.  The seven teenage assailants–ranging in age from 16 to 17–apparently sought out Latinos to beat up.  They were quoted as saying “Let’s go find some Mexicans.”

While the spectacular character of such a tragedy is clear to almost everyone, the sad murder of Marcelo Lucero should serve as a living lesson of the continued presence of anti-Latino bias and hatred which are heavily embedded in our national cultures and, increasingly, being picked and poked to disastrous consequence.

There is an injustice in merely criminalizing these seven young people who committed this crime, though they must face justice.  There is an added disrespect in isolating this gross act as an abberation to the daily existence of Latinos in this country.  While most of us will never die the victim of a hate crime, it is the barrage of daily instances of a cultural difference and social separation–which do not rise to the level of violence and death–that flesh out the fuller picture of the setting of Lucero’s murder.  We all are guilty of letting such currents to thrive; some of us are far more guilty of nurturing them in our present.

For more information on the Lucero murder, see the following:

  • A Death in Patchogue” [NY Times (Nov. 10, 2008)]
  • A Killing in a Town Where Latinos Sense Hate” [NY Times (Nov. 13, 2008)]
  • Hundreds pay respects to slain immigrant” [Newsday (Nov. 15, 2008)]
  • Defining a hate crime” [Newsday (Nov. 16, 2008)]
  • ••The racial fallout of Prop. 8

    This is what I wrote last July:

    My great fear is that, in California and elsewhere, the coalitions fighting against these restrictive ballot measures won’t reach out in any organized and systematic way to Latino voters. This may be a huge mistake, because, I assure you, the other side already is.

    Last month, I reiterated my analysis:

    Last summer my fear was that the “No on Prop. 8″ movement would not reach out effectively to these groups, leaving them with no other channel of information than the steady stream of fear from intolerant zealots. I continue to have this fear. Poor and working-class immigrants and people of color are often ignored in political campaigns. It is not surprising, therefore, that they also tend to vote in lower numbers. In an ironic twist, the state of the economy and the campaign of Barack Obama are both contributing to a projected increase in these groups’ participation this fall. Where will they fall on Prop. 8 in California?

    Sadly, my prescient words seem to have come true, with California’s Proposition 8 passing this past week with the support of Latinos (about 52%) and African American (about 70%) voters.  Also sad is the growing racial fallout of these numbers.

    I want to make three points about what I see to be a troubling development in progressive/liberal politics, namely, the divide between race and sexuality:

    ONE. While we may be conditioned to think in terms of race/ethnic voting blocs, the notion that there is a “gay vs. Black” problem is ludicrous and, itself, a little white-centered.  While “whiteness” often carries with it the notion of exceptionalism, let me assure you, queer folk come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  White folks aren’t the only gay and lesbian folks, making the sensibility behind (for example) the L.A. Times’ article “Gays, blacks divided on Proposition 8” as silly as saying “Gays, whites divided on Proposition 8.”  The analysis of “us versus them” in gay/straight and left/right terms, being merged with a white/black dichotomy, is very troubling and artificial.  The divide is really between queer rights advocates and their allies and a rabid, homophobic religious movement seeking to legislate their “morality.”

    TWO. The “No on 8” effort was nothing like the organized, grassroots movement of the other side.  They had funding, organization, mobilization, and a host of messages to appeal to voters fears and ignorances while distracting them from the way this issue is about equality.  On top of that, the “No” side ran a poor ad campaign, always having to respond to the other side instead of running proactive messages on their own terms.  And, as I mentioned above, they did little to mobilize working class, uncollege-educated voters of color.  They did almost nothing to reach out to Spanish speaking voters in the state.  They gave up on the “religious vote,” despite the support from a number of progressive churches.

    THREE. Homophobia is not any more part of Latino or Black cultures than it is part of white culture.  A majority of white voters in California voted against discrimination, but it wasn’t a huge majority.  And white folks voted the other way just eight years ago.  To suggest the 51 or 52% of white voters who voted against Prop. 8 are a reflection that homophobia is no longer a problem among whites is, well, stupid.  Just check out Florida and Arizona this week, and Ohio and 10 other states four years ago.  For those of us familiar with either (or both) Latino and African American cultures and the place of queerness within them, we know of many examples of loving, unconditional acceptance.  That is not to say that there aren’t examples of the opposite, but these are also well known to us no matter what our cultural background.

    There are lots of ways to make sense of the passage of Proposition 8 (that include homophobia) without replicating the kinds of racist divisions we are beginning to see.  For the sake of justice, I hope we remember that.  And anyway, same-sex marriage will be legal in California again, someday, as it will be in this nation as a whole.  If there is a bright side to the passage of Prop. 8, it is the loud, visible, angry, and diverse movement now representing the cause of queer equality.  I wish it would have been here a few months earlier…

    ••And what you gonna do about it President Obama?

    And now the real work begins.

    The RISE Movement–the grassroots effort whose recent rotating fast served as one of the more righteous actions in the late election season–are but one of a growing number of progressive coalitions agitating for change from the new President-Elect.

    In an online petition I would encourage you to sign, RISE is advocating for Obama to issue an executive order to end all ICE raids.  The full text is below:

    President-elect Obama, we congratulate you on your historic victory, and we celebrate this moment with great hope that under your leadership we will finally be able to achieve a humane, inclusive immigration policy that unites families and offers a path toward citizenship for the undocumented. Fundamental reform of our broken immigration system is an urgent national priority. The first step, that you can take through executive order, is to immediately end all Immigration & Customs Enforcement raids.

    The enforcement of the unjust laws of our broken immigration system is tearing our country apart. The workplace and neighborhood raids by squads of ski-masked ICE agents armed with automatic weapons are the most brutal and outrageous part of this enforcement. They tear our families apart. They terrorize our communities. And they routinely violate the civil and constitutional rights that define our nation.

    The ICE raids must end now! President-elect Obama, Latino and immigrant voters responded to the promise of change you made to our nation and voted for you by huge margins and in record numbers. We call on you to uphold that promise and honor our support by declaring an immediate and unconditional moratorium on ICE raids until just and human immigration reform is passed and implemented.

    I gladly signed the petition, and these particular kinds of political mobilization are not my favorite.  But I sincerely hope it is a wasted effort.  If President Barack Obama isn’t already planning to end ICE raids within one month of taking office, then he is more talk than action in my book.

    This is the easiest thing the new president can do to take a bold and vocal stand for human rights.  Additionally, this is a quick pro-Latino stance he can take.  Win-win?

    ••Latinos Shape the 2008 Results

    The sleeping giant sleeps no more!

    The 2008 election will go down in history as the election in which Latino voters emerged as a political force.  Not that it hasn’t been a long time coming.  But our electoral presence is now undeniable and will change both regional and national politics for the foreseeable future.

    Here is the round-up of some of the more notable results relating to Latinos:

    Nationally, Latinos voted for Barack Obama (66%) over John McCain (31%).
    This really isn’t a surprise to anyone who has been following the numbers but it seemed hard to believe for a lot of pundits just a few months ago.  The potential long-range pattern here is the most significant.  The African American vote coalesced and became a solid and predictable Democratic safeguard during the Civil Right Era.  Lesson?  A major historical experience molded them into a solid bloc.  Did the immigration crackdowns and accompanying racial hostility just do the same for Latinos?  Only time will tell…

    In Florida 57% of Latinos chose Obama and about 42% McCain.
    Latinos make up 14% of the total electorate of this southern State and have been, traditionally, a predictable voting bloc for Republicans.  Tonight they helped turn Florida blue.

    The primarily Cuban American voter showed an almost unwavering alliance with the anti-communist stances of late 20th century Republicanism.   What changed?  Their Latino population has grown far more diverse in the last 10 years and the grandchildren of Cuban exiles seem a lot more willing to witness the end of the embargo and the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S.

    On a different note, Latinos also helped pass an anti-gay marriage measure in the State, supporting it by a 64% to 36% margin.

    In Colorado they picked Obama by a 73% to 27% margin.
    In this formerly Republican stronghold, where Latinos are 17% of the electorate, they helped deliver one of the night’s swing surprises delivering CO to Obama.  Latinos are helping to put certain regions of this nation into political play and Colorado is a great example of the shift, but they also present a confusing terrain.  Latinos voted overwhelmingly (82%) for an anti-abortion measure that went down to defeat overall.

    Latinos chose Obama in California (75%) and Texas (63%).
    Latinos  are 19% of the California electorate and 20% of that in Texas.  Like the cases above, they are also growing.  While they helped give Obama his landslide in CA, they helped temper his loss in TX.  In CA they also slighty favored a ban on same-sex marriage (which, as of this posting, remains undecided).

    ••On Sending a Black Man to the White House

    Shirley Chisholm remembered the faces.

    About to address the 1972 Democratic National Convention, Chisholm—the African American woman whose attempt to secure her party’s nomination made her the first black and first female candidate in history to do so—stared at the sea of faces before her in the convention audience.  “What I noticed most were the older black men and women,” she wrote in her book The Good Fight.

    Some were crying, and their faces were so full of joy that they looked in pain.  I thought I could read their lives’ experiences in their faces at that instant, and I know what it was they felt.  For a moment they really believed it: “We have overcome!”

    Today, we elected Barack Obama President of these United States of America and I can’t help feeling the same way.  While I didn’t grow up in a time of overt and widespread electoral discrimination, segregation, or violence, I can’t help feeling the same way.  I know we have so much work still to do, as a nation and as a globe, but today, I can’t help feeling the same way.

    Today I think of all the millions of lives who fought for a fraction of what has just occurred. Today I think of all the lives that were lost in the name of racial hatred and in the struggle for racial justice. Today I think of all their deferred hopes and dreams, the progress they knew could happen but they could not live to enjoy.  Today I am amazed at the victory of their words, of their ideas, of their blood.

    Barack Obama is the president-elect of the United States. And while I know the struggle for equality, equity, and social justice is far more complicated than this, tonight, I just want to enjoy this achievement. Tonight I want to celebrate the majority of the American electorate who chose to distance us further from a bloody and painful past. Tonight I want to be hopeful and believe.

    Tomorrow, the real work begins…


    Race Traitors, Sellouts, and Uncle Toms: Thoughts on the Election of Barack Obama

    Last summer, I came across this thought-provoking piece by conservative pundit Larry Elder.  In it, Elder responds to a letter he received attacking him for being, essentially, a traitor to his race by supporting John McCain.  “How can a fellow black American feel this way?,” his reader asked.  Elder goes on to attack the premise that the only way to cast a compassionate vote for “the underprivileged”–specifically, the underprivileged Black community–is to vote for Barack Obama.  He declares, “Compassion is not about making people dependent on government.”

    Elder’s rebuttal provoked a tidal wave of responses from me, none of them, I suspect, the ones he intended.  Though he tried to make the case that the Republican party represented more potential progress for Black Americans, he did so by embracing the basic assumption of the letter writer.  He proceeded from the assumption that, in fact, Black Americans should be voting for candidates who support the broader issues confronting them as a people.  That the political awareness of people of color should include an awareness of “race” and the distinctive issues it frames for the nation.

    In this post, I want to embrace this fundamental assumption as true yet as something more than the simplistic form of “race politics” as expressed in the above piece. I then want to use this as a first step in making sense of the (upcoming) presidency of Barack Obama.

    To point you in the direction I am heading, I want to emphasize the importance of thinking about Tuesday, November 4th not as an end but as a beginning.  This is not a beginning of a new form of government, or even of a new day in race relations in the United States. It is the beginning of a new opportunity, if we will it. It is time for progressive people of color and our allies to begin the difficult work of transforming all the electoral energy and organization we see around us and refocus it toward nurturing the change we seek in our nation and our world.  This thirst for change fueled these electoral efforts, and now they have elected a new president. But that is not change in and of itself. In fact, unless we do something about it, this change in leadership will not bring about any of the meaningful transformations of public life we seek. Historically, that kind of change has only come with the realization of common purpose and the mass mobilization and organization of people.

    This begins with a sober realization.  While Barack Obama will be president of the United States of America, his electoral victory is not “justice,” racial or otherwise.  This election–like all elections in this nation’s history–has not been about changing the nature or location of power in this nation but, rather, about who should manage it.

    The Obligation of Racial Solidarity
    The question at the heart of Larry Elder’s piece is: Are African Americans, and people of color more generally, “obligated” to vote for Barack Obama? Are they “race traitors” if they don’t?

    You might think this question is simple. “Of course not,” you say. “People can vote for whoever they want.”  To suggest otherwise is, in the view of many, a kind of “reverse racism”–voting for him because he is black is equivalent to not voting for him because he is black.  But for people of color–especially those who are politically engaged–the question unleashes a host of complicated issues. In the end, the question is not as simple as it may seem, and the reason is anything but “political correctness” or the “policing” of people’s politics. Instead, it has everything to do with power.

    As a person of color, (many) other people of color assume Barack Obama understands their realities of “non-white life in the U.S.” like no other candidate we have ever seen.  This is not because he is black.  This is because he expresses a sensibility that he understands what it is like to be black in the U.S.  You see, white candidates can (and have) also expressed this sensibility before.  Even the best of them, however, can only empathize–say they understand in the imaginary.  Another person of color can sympathize, express solidarity with and validation for your own personal and communal experience.  [It is the difference between saying you can imagine what it is like to walk in my shoes and showing me your own pair, looking and feeling just like mine.]

    I say “can” very intentionally here because not all people of color do express this sensibility.  Not all people of color in the U.S. express a consciousness which is rooted in the same analysis of race.  Not all seek out political power that recognizes these.  And, of course, not all can therefore sympathize.  Barack Obama does.  This isn’t about the color of his skin, then, as much as it is about the life he has experienced because of it and the meanings he associates with and becasue of it.

    Let me state, without hesitation, that certain basic assumptions guide my thinking on the following points.  In fact, these assumptions are the point I am trying to make.   I believe race (both “white” and “non-white”) continues to be a factor shaping people’s lives in the United States.  I believe white supremacy has been fundamental to this nation’s history and continues to operate in measurable ways as the de facto standard of most of our systems.

    These assumptions are grounded in my own experience as well as the experiences of people I know.  They are complimented by the things I study for a living, a distinct process which nurtures my understanding providing me a context to the above assumptions.  Combined together, I see race not as anything biological but rather as a set of historic meanings assigned to biology.  I see racism not as people’s beliefs in racial superiority or inferiority but as systems of power whose rationals of allocation are based upon these.  [For the sake of space and time, let me say these beliefs are easily “provable” historically.]

    All this is the context of most of the support of communities of color for Obama.  It is the hope, that for the first time in this nation’s history, a person who can affect profound change–DIRECTLY–is a person who understands your struggles.

    Talking Race and Voting Race
    So where does this leave “us”?  As Larry Elder and I are both suggesting, people of color bear a heavy responsibility in dealing with racial inequality (itself a reflection of that inequality) and one of the ways to do this is to advocate for “our” issues within the systems of political and economic power.

    But the election of Barack Obama doesn’t necessarily bring with it the changes we seek.  Just as the election of McCain wouldn’t have, what we debated these months is the person most likely to be an advocate for those changes.  The first step is, of course, an ability to understand these issues exist but, also, to be a steward for them.  This is where Barack Obama defeated McCain for many of us.  It is the difference between (yet again) placing your hopes in the good intentions and effort of “white” politicians or in another person of color.  But those changes still have to be made into realities.  Those issues still require relief.

    I believe the 2008 presidential election will be a watershed moment in the history of the United States with respect to “racial discourse,” that is, the way we think about and talk about race in this nation. In saying this I mean to suggest it will act as a moment for the society-at-large to consider what they really and truly think about race, and, more importantly, why they think it.

    These moments have happened before, but not all that frequently. They are moments in history where the national focus revolves around race and/or the consequences of race. These are moments which almost force us to take pause and be reflective, just by their context.  Perhaps one of the first such moments in U.S. history was the conclusion of the Civil War, when Northerners and Southerners alike had to reevaluate the ways they thought and talked about race, even if it was only to reinvent and strengthen what they had thought before. The same sort of phenomenon occurred in the post-WWII era, when the Civil Rights Movement and a host of radical movements for change forced the nation to look at itself in the mirror and contend with what they saw.

    Moments such as these are not inconsequential to the life of “race” in this nation. In fact, they are its flesh and its bone, its breath and its thought. That’s because “race” has very little to do with a person’s biology. It has everything to do with the way a society thinks about that biology.  That is where the election of Barack Obama is very important, in and of itself.  A black man ascending to the highest elected office in the land will unquestionably alter how some people think about African Americans and future elected officials.

    But, on November 5th, the core of racial inequality in this nation will remain in tact. Big changes will come in how people think, in how they view the racial “other,” but this is but the pretext to an altering of the system of power and power allocation with which we live.

    Our Work has Only Begun
    I do not mean to sound as pessimistically as did George Will when he recently opined “The question we settle on election [day] is not whether elites shall rule but which elites shall rule.” While I do believe the two party system is often nothing more than competing factions of the same interests, there are tangible differences between the two parties and very real world differences in how we each experience life under their respective rule. I also don’t want to minimize the symbolic significance of a nation whose history is inseparable from the enslavement of millions of Africans electing as their leader a man whose personal history is also intertwined with these two continents.  This, too, will have real effects in the way we see race, and in the ways we racialize leadership.

    However important these developments, they are both really just the context of change, not meaningful change itself.  The racial system is which we live (in which we are trapped) has existed so long because it creates advantages for its maintenance.  Its defeat will require what has always been required: active mobilization by people of conscience to create change.

    Many people are beginning to express a concern for Barack Obama since they 1) believe he will seek to ameliorate “their” issues, and 2) they know he will face opposition from a system of power opposed to progressive (racial) change.  While this may be true, I think it is far more complicated than that.  The maintenance of white privilege doesn’t just create incentives for its protection and nurturing for “whites” but for everyone, Barack Obama included.  He will require no less pressure and effort by “us” to make the changes we seek (and, after all, he never ran on a fundamental altering of the system of power in question).  But he, alone, is not the source of change.  Racial injustice is far bigger and diverse than saying what the color of the president has to be.  Accordingly, we shouldn’t read too much into that change, or expect too much from that person to create change.

    This also sheds light on the obligation many of us felt (feel) to vote for the first black president.  We have never before been presented with the opportunity to cut through so much of the struggle toward power–that is, having to communicate your “reality” to a politician.  This also sheds light on the idea of a racial “sell-out.”  The inequality of the system has placed the cause of racial justice in the hands of people of color instead of where it should belong, in the hands of those who have historically most benefited from it. Regardless, what do we do?  We advocate for the change we seek by representing the issues of our experience and those of our communities of solidarity as best we can.  To ignore this, smacks of working to maintain that system of privilege rooted in the past.  If you read Elder’s piece carefully, you will see how even he works from an awareness of this.  The notion of a “race traitor” or “Uncle Tom” is far more complicated, then, than merely violating the rules of the “thought police” or a breech of “political correctness.”  It is rooted in the numerous historical examples where white supremacy has sustained itself on the backs of people of color and, sadly, often due to their effort.  Right or wrong, it comes from a very nuanced understanding of the system of racial inequality in which we continue to live, one which encourages people of color to ignore the specificity of their own experience.

    In the upcoming months, progressive people of conscience (“non-white” and “white” alike) will have to begin the difficult work of checking their own assumptions.  Many have this belief that because a black man will be in the White House that everything will magically become better.  Many expect Barack Obama to take a leadership role in transforming the political system in meaningful ways.  But why?  Why should this special burden be placed on Barack Obama when it has not been evenly placed upon all politicians?  Of course, he does have a special obligation regarding race, but that is the same responsibility we all share–white, black, or otherwise.

    This week can be the beginning of a new course for our nation.  Barack Obama may be a big part of that but, if it is to be true, we must be.  The brilliant James Baldwin said it well, in his 1960 speech titled “In Search of a Majority”:

    “…the majority for whch everyone is seeking which must reassess and release us from our past and deal with the present and create standards worthy of what a man should be–this majority is you.  No one else can do it.  The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.”