Sunday, December 16, 2007

Reflections on Immigration Part 1

Per my last blog post, I saw the perfect news story today (yesterday) about a shop owner (who himself seems like the offspring of Italian immigrants, I would guess) who put a sign out saying "This is America. When ordering 'speak English'." As I'm sure he wasn't expecting, his sign has caused an uproar. Even though I'm in the middle of finals right now and this is not how I planned to approach this entry (which is why I anticipate a Part 2), I felt like responding to the issue in the article and am also not wanting to neglect my blog as I have.

Here's basically where I'm coming from in relation to immigration issues:

I don't see what's wrong with the sign. The story repeats an argument that the sign conjures up the old days when "Whites Only" was explicit (vs the modern days when "Whites Only" is implicit). I don't agree with that. If he were trying to keep immigrants and people mistaken for immigrants, i.e. certain people of color, out of his shop, the sign would have more appropriately been, "No Immigrants." Now. Sure, as I said, these are the modern days when not everyone is openly prejudiced, and, sure, a legitimate argument can be made that specifying a language wipes out those certain people of color as customers. To me, that's an argument that assumes most Latinos and Asians, say, in the US don't speak English, which probably is just as offensive as some people find the sign. It also assumes that if an Asian or Latino or even an African/Island immigrant came into the shop and they spoke English well enough to be understood, the shop owner wouldn't serve him or her. We don't know that.

While we're talking about things I don't understand in relation to this topic. I don't understand why anyone who expresses concerns about immigration is racist. I don't know why wanting English to be the official language of the nation is racist. I don't know why concerns regarding there being people in the US who can't speak English is racist. What I do understand is how Asians, Latinos and other non-white immigrant groups can hear whites and even blacks argue against immigration, and suspect racism is beneath it all. After all, when I hear non-black people talk about how much crime black men commit or say anything else negative about blacks that blacks say to each other all the time about blacks...while I don't suspect it of black people, I do suspect the usually-white people to be racists. And I understand how some of the arguments made against immigration sound, and even actually are, racist. But I've never heard a reason why the aforementioned arguments/opinions automatically mean racism is at work, and, to me, it's not exactly like how "everybody" thinks black males are criminals anyway due to a history of racist anti-black ideology in the US...with saying things like that about black men, the suspicion of racism isn't a huge leap.

Another thing I do understand is having a problem with people saying, "This is America; speak English." That does sound, at the very least, borderline racist, because the tone of it is "English is superior, and American culture is superior, and you 'Mexicans' and your damn Spanish while you're eyeing me up and down makes me angry and uncomfortable." And I won't lie; I hate when people speak foreign languages around me, because I always view it as a way for them to get away with talking sh!t about me without my knowing it. Still, I would never say, "Speak English." Frankly, it bothers me a little bit more when an Asian or Latino doesn't at all know or care about the language of their ethnic origin, and it bothers me a lot more when they don't know or care about their Asian or Latino identity because of over-identification with white Americans. I absolutely believe that people who come to the US from other nations should maintain their culture and that even American-born kids of immigrants should be taught about their culture, instilled with that pride and demonstrate an interest in the language. Of course, that's a personal choice, and it's not as if I can say I speak perfect French or am hyper-into French culture, though I am very "proud" of that part of me. I do wish I could speak fluent French and am very interested in knowing more than I do about the culture.

So my thing is not that they're not American, not white and not trying to assimilate. You know what I think about assimilation if you read my blog--I say f*ck it. Keep your language, speak it at home and among friends, know your culture and who you are. But, at the same time, I maintain that if you're going to come to the US, you've got to know English. It should be required. Instead, the direction this nation is going in, we're all going to be required to learn Spanish, which I don't think is right. English is the predominant language in this nation, and people who want to come here should have to bend in at least that one area rather than us having to change...especially given that many of the Spanish-speaking people who come here do so illegally. It really does just blow my mind.

I was born into a predominantly English-speaking culture. I worked hard perfecting my English language skills and have always been proud of my writing skills in English. I've made 'A's on nearly every English paper. My writing has been praised by lawyers. I don't speak ebonics and don't want to; I love "standard" English and would prefer everyone speak it, not just immigrants. I was believing these strengths would put me ahead of so many people in the job market...and now I go to job interviews and am asked if I speak any foreign languages fluently...which would be fine if I wanted to work in international relations in some way. But I'm trying to get a job in the US where, to me, knowing another language besides English should be a choice, not a requirement. Yes, this rubs me the wrong way, because it's hard enough, as a black female, to get a job as it is. But I don't hate immigrants because of it; a lot of the changes that are taking place in the US in connection with immigration, to me, really are not directly immigrants' faults.

I think it's awesome that there are all kinds of people in the US, but I just think we are to the point, for several reasons, where we need restrictions on immigration. To say that immigration should be cut off completely, I think, makes the "racist" claims more valid. My number one problem with immigration is truly the language issue. Forget feeling uncomfortable when a pack of Asians are speaking Korean in your presence; my thing is pretty simple--understanding. How can the shop owner seriously be expected to serve people he can't understand and who can't understand him?? How is having that concern or that frustration racist? And at a shop or restaurant, not only is it frustrating to the's frustrating to people waiting to be served. What's wrong with saying people can come to the US, but they need to demonstrate an English-language proficiency for the sake of communication and even safety? Serving food is not the only issue; what if someone's life is in danger and an immigrant who can't speak English well is seeking help but no one understands him or her, for example? What if someone who speaks English needs help and the immigrant doesn't understand or can't communicate with others? At the very least, cheap or free English language courses can be offered by some of these Liberals who call everybody racist for worrying about this kind of thing.

Ultimately, I don't know why people get up in arms about this issue either way. Nothing we say will matter. I don't think immigration will be restricted, and I don't foresee English pushing Spanish out in any way, especially not as the official language of the US. Another thing you might know about me is I think Democrats are as full of sh!t as Republicans are. Well, a lot of these [white] Democrats who "stand up" for immigration and call people who don't racists, as far as I have figured out, are really about the economic benefits of it and nothing more...which is funny, because I vaguely recall this being the political party that is always harping on Republicans and money. As I've said before, white people will be white people; they don't truly care about any racism that is underlying the issue or how immigrants benefit the American culture. And since money is almost always at the top of white people's concerns, and white people being the ones who run the US, immigration really isn't in any danger.

So people like me who have concerns don't have a chance in hell of winning this debate. The arguments Republicans dish out are full of sh!t anyway--no one really believes that they care about how immigration hurts black people, for example. My feeling is, ultimately, immigration hurts white Americans, as well...and I think that's not lost on the majority of the whites who oppose immigration, so, once again, I can see where the suspicion comes from. However, I do believe that there will come a time when 1) whites become the minority because of immigration and interracial relationships, but they will rectify that by doing as they've done throughout history, i.e. opening up the "white" label to anybody in the US who isn't black, and 2) "others" will be running the US and/or serious job competition for whites. Now, Liberals make these arguments about immigrants taking the "menial" jobs no one else wants to do. The thing about that is immigrants don't come here to do menial jobs for the rest of their lives, and, indeed, many work their way up to good careers. More than it hurts white people, this hurts blacks. Again, this is not immigrants' faults. White people just do--and will continue to--use other people of color as pawns in their game of systemic racism against blacks...the "model minority" ideal is an example that even many Asians recognize as white people's game against blacks.

As a result, when people argue about all the various consequences of immigration for blacks, it's not necessarily coming from a place of racism. I've seen it while I've been in law school with law firms--if a white business wants to look "diverse" and the choice is between a black and an Asian, or a black and a many times, they will hire the Asian or Latino. In turn, their arguments go something like, "We're not racist; we hire minorities" or "Racism is not a problem today in hiring. Just look how diverse corporate America has gotten." And, in a pinch, it's that much harder to argue that blacks are being discriminated against, even though they're still being left out. Unfortunately, employment isn't even the worst of it. More and more racially-motivated hate crimes have been occurring against blacks in certain parts of the US, particularly by Latinos.

My reading tells me that some blacks feel that this is another of white people's games in pitting "other" people of color against blacks, i.e. use immigration as a method of white-man's-hands-clean racial cleansing of blacks in the US. I don't know how true that is, but I have spent months now reading about how so many Latinos and Asians hate black people or have a similar/worse struggle with lightness vs darkness as/than blacks do--I'd actually say theirs is worse than blacks' light vs dark dilemma. And I haven't been reading stuff by scheming whites or bitter blacks--these blatant acknowledgments of racism within the culture have come from pieces written by Asians and Latinos. The fact that so many blacks are ignorant of Asian and Latino culture adds to the harm immigration can put us in. The extra anti-black sentiment coming into the US, especially at a time when whites are once again becoming very vocal and active in their anti-black sentiments, makes the return to the 1960's and earlier that we're looking at three times as bad as before because, this time, 1) it's not just going to be whites, and 2) unlike white people, Asians and Latinos have no residual guilt from a racist history their ancestors perpetrated upon blacks to make them feel bad about having racist thoughts or engaging in racist actions. That is the only thing that has made many white people develop these "liberal" sentiments some of them espouse and keep a lid on blatant white racism for as long as they have before letting it all hang out in various ways throughout the year of 2007.

So when Asians and Latinos do start running America, it's going to be worse for blacks than it is now with white people running it.
I'm tired of racism, I think the US has more than enough racism without more racists entering the US, and some of the stuff that has happened this year in terms of race relations are things that I hoped I'd never see in my lifetime. My worry is that what's coming up for blacks in the next couple decades will be worse than what my mother lived through. And I realize there are Asians and Latinos who would like to build coalitions with blacks or identify with blacks on some level, and that not all conform to/will conform to what I've just expressed. Then again, the same can be said for whites...and, yet, look where blacks are.

Whether or not some people want to face it, some--if not all--of these racial concerns are valid. Because you recognize racial tensions exist between your group and others doesn't mean you're being racist by pointing them out. I'm certainly not arguing that these are reasons to end immigration. As I've said, arguments for or against immigration ultimately won't matter, and nobody cares about the racial concerns I've raised--blacks don't know they exist (with the exception of the job market and the relatively few blacks who know about Latino-on-black hate crimes), and white people either don't care or are happy they exist. My feeling is everything I've written is a done deal, so this is not a scare tactic, either, to spur blacks into action. Blacks are done with action, as far as I can tell. We're in a stage of settling for bullsh!t or denying bullsh!t exists in the first place. Nothing anybody says is going to make blacks get up on this or most any other issue that affects black people. As I've said, I merely have concerns.

For me, my arguments for restrictions on immigration if I were a politician or anyone else who mattered would go something like: 1) having a language in the US that everyone speaks at a necessary level of proficiency is essential, and not only do we need to see to it that immigrants can speak that language...we need to do better in US schools to ensure American-born students leave high school at that level of proficiency, as well; 2) the US simply does not have the resources for any and everybody who wants to come here to be able to do so. We already have enough homelessness, unemployment and a decreasing supply of irreplaceable resources, etc. My thing would be to somehow work having a compelling need/reason for admissions to the US into the equation; 3) what is the point of having immigration rules if we're not going to enforce them? Why say you have to go through XYZ process, then turn around and let everyone who comes illegally stay with no consequences? Why do Americans have to pay for breaking laws but no one else does? And, more importantly, why should anybody respect US laws after all this?

Final thought: anybody who knows me or has read enough of my blog knows I have no problem pointing out or admitting to my own prejudices, because I feel that nobody in the US is free from having racist ideals. If my problems with immigration had anything to do with the racial & ethnic backgrounds of immigrants, I would have said so. I'm not like those white people who say, "I'm not racist, but..." then say something totally racist. I know I'm racist. My friends know they're racist. The question, for us, is not "are you racist?" It is to what degree. We talk about that kind of stuff, and we're from diverse backgrounds. We just happen to be more comfortable with saying, admitting and hearing things that most people aren't, because we think it's more useful to the nation than just pretending like this stuff doesn't exist or trying to make everybody be quiet if they don't have anything nice or "correct" to say.

I'm telling you--none of the above has come from a place of racism. I'm not of the degree where I believe everyone in the US should either be white or black and everyone else needs to "go home." If I were, I'd argue for whites to take their @sses "back" to Europe before I'd try to send Asians, Latinos and Africans anywhere else--in case you haven't noticed, whites are the group of people whom I have the most against, as I suspect is the case with most blacks who have a group gripe. Immigration is not a huge issue to me, and it's not an issue that sways how I vote. I probably care less about it than GLBT issues, and if you know this blog you know I'm not all that into GLBT issues (not typical ones, anyway). For me, I just don't understand where people who are pro-immigration are coming from, for the most part, especially when it comes to illegal immigrants...and the little bit that I do understand has come from cursory reads on the internet and my "Liberal" law professors.