JUNE 8, 2018
From governmental institutions to interpersonal interactions, the culture of the United States has always been plagued and molded by racism. For centuries, people of color have been spoken of in criminalizing and dehumanizing ways through coded language such as slaves, welfare queens, criminals, super predators, terrorists, illegal aliens, and now, animals. In the Long Island press conference hosted by the White House, MS-13 was used as a rallying point to vilify immigrants and create enforcement policies that ultimately affect every person of color.
Throughout time, similar rhetoric has led to policies and events like Japanese internment, forced sterilization, and Jim Crow laws that have been normalized in the American consciousness. This collective consciousness views people as unrestorable, unworthy of having their human rights observed, and therefore, disposable. Thus, racism feels as normal as drinking water.
The White House openly embraces an ideology that perpetuates and maintains the social, political, and institutional domination of white people.
Both Democrats and Republicans have used rhetoric to push for policies that have left people of color in a perpetual state of being underserved and unheard. It is only natural that we now find ourselves in a political climate where white supremacy is the official business of the White House. The White House openly embraces an ideology that perpetuates and maintains the social, political, and institutional domination of white people.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups in the U.S. has been increasing since 2000. Heidi Bierich, director of the Center Intelligence Project, links the rise in recruitment to the 2000 census that predicted whites would be a minority by 2042. Upon Trump winning the election, he appointed key administration advisers with ties to the ‘radical right’, including Stephen Bannon, the head of the white-nationalist website Breitbart.
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke commented that the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 was a “turning point,” and vowed that white supremacists would “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back.” This however, wasn’t an isolated event. Almost a year and a half before, in Anaheim, California, a small group of Klan members held a rally in Pearson Park on February 2016. Klansmen were reported to have used the point of a flagpole as a weapon while fighting protesters. Seven people were stabbed and nine others were injured.
California is and has historically been a battleground state for white supremacists, they are just trading their white hoods for megaphones now. The hateful rhetoric is not limited to cross burning rituals but is now fearlessly stated at local city and county meetings across the state against sanctuary policy. They have created organizations like the American Patriots and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, whose names are reminiscent of the American ethos of nationalism and militarism. They have recruited people of color who have done things the “right way,” the “legal way,” and tokenized them as spokespeople to avoid being exposed for their coded racism.
As a community organizer, I have learned that laws are not a matter of justice, but a matter of power. The decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for a number of countries including Haiti, Honduras, Sudan, and El Salvador, was one that was done with little regard to the life-threatening conditions that these refugees had fled. It had everything to do with fulfilling a presidential agenda rampant on getting rid of people who are ‘undesirable’, and nothing to do with the welfare of TPS holders and their families. The federal government’s official policy is to now separate families at the border, further continuing with this legacy having already separated children from Black, Indigenous, and Japanese parents for economic profit, forced assimilation, and national security purposes.
White supremacists argue, “This issue is not about immigration, it’s about safety.”
But safety for whom?
Their concern is not for the safety of ‘the’ country, it is for the safety of ‘their’ country, a country they believe should only “serve and protect” a selected few.
A new analysis of post-election survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic found that besides partisan affiliation, three factors stood out as strong independent predictors of how white working-class people would vote. The first was anxiety about cultural change. Sixty-eight percent of white working-class voters said the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence. Nearly half agreed with the statement, “Things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my country.” Together, The Atlantic reports, these variables were strong indicators of support for Trump: 79 percent of white working-class voters who did not share one or both of these fears cast their vote the same way.
In his book, A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle says that by far the greater part of violence that has been inflicted on each other is not the work of those convicted of a crime or those with mental challenges, “but of normal respectable citizens in the service of the collective ego…It strengthens the sense of separation between yourself and the other, whose ‘otherness has become magnified to such an extent that you can no longer feel your common humanity, nor the rootedness in the one Life that you share with each human being, your common divinity.’”
As immigrants are routinely criminalized in this political climate, I’ve given a lot of thought to what safety means for me and the youth in my community whom I serve. The places we fled wage a daily fight against U.S. agricultural subsidies that continue to unfairly leave farmers in our countries unable to compete with U.S. prices, patenting laws that favor Western entrepreneurs, the covert and sometimes not-covert meddling of our political elections by Western powers, the privatization of our public industries, the violence surging from the insistence of the U.S. to declare global wars against drugs, against terrorism, and the list goes on.
Those of us that left have had to reclaim our safety – emotional, physical, mental, spiritual…
Those of us that left have had to reclaim our safety – emotional, physical, mental, spiritual – and for many of us it meant coming here, to the U.S. and forming new communities. Where there are no opportunities, we have made them happen. When we can’t vote, we figure out ways to have our voices heard. Our communities have become so resilient that they are now viewed as threatening. A multi-billion dollar detention and deportation apparatus has been created to silence us and keep us in the shadows. Yet we refuse, and will continue to refuse.
Right-wing politicians are desperately trying to ride the anti-immigrant wave for political capital. Mayor of Los Alamitos, Troy Edgar, and Mayor of Escondido, Sam Abed, who have led anti-sanctuary efforts in their respective cities met with Trump. That’s due to the fact that the White House has become nothing more than a hub for ego stroking, helping those who play into hateful rhetoric to obtain higher political offices.
In the meantime, youth of color across the state are beginning to do the real work in resolving the challenges that are faced in our neighborhoods. We are far too tired of elected leaders who have been kicking the can on these issues because they are too afraid to challenge the systems which sustain white supremacy. We are advocating on behalf of cities making investments in youth programs. We are challenging the narratives of sheriffs and local law enforcement who continuously try to define what safety should mean for us. We are beginning to question if our prison systems really rehabilitate people and if our criminal justice system is really empowering victims in any meaningful way outside of seeing the person convicted of a crime and in a cage. We bring to light the conditions that perpetuate crime and are exploring ways that we can address them, so that all members of society have opportunities to thrive.
We are charting a new course of what safety means without white supremacy, one in which we don’t sacrifice people’s humanity to uphold social stigmas based on race.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Crissel Rodriguez is the South California Regional Organizer with CIYJA and is based in Los Angeles, CA.
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