WE BEGIN, but do not end, with the sensational incident where the Obama White House, under Trumpian pressure, produced for public inspection the President’s “long form” birth certificate.
I do not know how successful I will be in my attempts to navigate the journey, but I think it’s important to move from an immediate feeling of hurt or anger to a broader view of the very thing that moves behind this event and is so upsetting about it. This is what I will try to do.
Why can’t we roam this open country?
Oh, why can’t we be what we wanna be?
We want to be free.
–Bob Marley, 3 o’Clock Roadblock
What a frenzy.
What a storm of feelings, thoughts, tweets, and emotions were exploded into view with that one event, where the President of the United States of America—a man of color—answered the insincere jeering of a single white citizen by producing his identity papers for inspection. As if our duly elected President was but a teen at a police checkpoint, wearing baggy pants and with his hands up against the hood. As if he were a young man standing on a corner looking Mexicano, immediately suspect and thus beholden to the law man to prove he was not up to criminal acts. What a shaking of the timbers of racial history were felt up and down the blogosphere in this one simple happening.
And rightly so. What a harsh reality we trade in; that it will take far more time than our grandparents’, parents’, or our own lifetimes to evolve past the sickly, sadistic, inhuman history we Americans share on matters of race. In matters of history—look to Mexico, or China, or Egypt—this country is in an infantile stage. And the things that were done to African Americans, and Indians (indigenous peoples from el Norte as well as from south of the “border”); to Chinese and Japanese and Chileans and so on…. these ghosts will not fade fast.
Donald Trump is one of those ghosts, his ailing caricature of a human form cavorting to and fro, swaying recklessly but cleverly. Almost as if animated by an actual soul, he bellows nearly-intelligible sounds, and the media flocks to absorb the spittle. His expression remains forever puckered like a lemon-shocked anus-mouth, his mind alight with tired stereotypes and bursts of fart-static. A clown who doesn’t have the decency to laugh at himself.
And Donald is so easy to hate, isn’t he? Because he is a hateful man. And because he enlists the powers of hate, hate long rooted in American soil. Hate that long ago drew blood and tossed ropes and smiled for the picture as the body cooled to a dusk-like temperature. Hate that raided Native American villages to murder sleeping children. Hate that buffed its boots before demanding that black men duck their eyes, and go drink from some other fountain. Hate that considers women, and Blacks and Cubans and Haitians and Iraqis and Afghanis and Mexican and Chinese and Vietnamese and Puerto Rican as less than human. Hate today that spends Joe Arpaio’s paycheck, props up his decaying frame, and parades his prisoners in pink. Hate yesterday that reneged on treaties, and swallowed up gold, and burned codices.
Donald Trump is animated by the very same hate that is used to divide so many people today, and strives to obscure the roots of our liberation as it obscures the hands that lock the cuffs on us. It is a disease of the mind and soul called White Supremacy. And in the land wherein this virus thrives, certain kinds of men, with their ballooned minds and feverish egos, get to demand certain concessions from other people: that you surrender your papers; that you not harbor anger in your eye or your tone lest it be beaten out of you; that law shall endorse such beatings; that you prone out on the ground with a gun in your back at a moment’s notice; that you swallow a bullet if the bully feels sexy while perched up there and straddled around your spine. It is a land where you apologize for a role you never asked for but is ascribed to you by thieves and liars; where They will always have the right to tell you to pull over and prove yourself, and where You will always comply and perhaps be allowed to live with just humiliation if you are lucky enough to walk away with your life.
And so the target of so much history, for a day, becomes Donald “I am the Patriarchy” Trump. And many hearts seethe for his being so cruel as to remind us of our history, and to imply that even when you gain The Most Powerful Office In The World, it means nothing next to the anger of a White Man. It was the same reminder Republican Senator Joe “YOU LIE” Wilson gave us when he shouted down the President of the United States in the middle of an address that was adorned with all the pomp and decorum as we see fit to afford our nation’s executive leader. That shout, that demand to show papers, that insistence that you duck your eyes, it hisses You can even become President, but you still are not White. Which means you are not really the President. Don’t go dreaming that somehow you are now more powerful than me, darkie.
And as an immediate and visceral (and predictable) reaction, what did so many of us people of color need to see the President do? We needed him to scoff at the implication that such assertions could be true. We needed him to refute that reality. To deny it exists. To stand up and stand proud. To destroy that reality with a new action.
Was coughing up the papers but then roasting Trump at a gala dinner in front of the Press enough? Was ordering the home invasion and murder of a wanted man of color in Pakistan enough to erase that reality? Perhaps for our empathy with Obama being humiliated, it was. Perhaps now the unpleasant memory of watching the national daddy figure bow to a carnival barker has been mitigated for most. Maybe now that feeling, as if we watched the POTUS hand over his lunch money to bullies, has been nullified, gunsmoke wafting about our heads like purifying incense smoke.
And I suppose it is best to take the man at his word: he saw the Birtherism (also known as “Racism”) wasn’t going to go away and wanted to squash it and force the GOP ravers into a corner by removing what he saw as their last leg in what was left of the Birther argument.
But I do not think it does the larger issue any service to forget it when the feelings fade, or to imagine it resolved because the President has shown his papers, is in the clear, and we are feeling tough again because, damn son—he’s got that killer instinct. Just as Rosa Parks’ challenge was not to one bus driver, but to an entire system of inequality, this matter is much broader and deeper than the pageantry that recently unfolded between two rich men on TV.
Yes, the dynamic where we identify culturally or ethnically in some way with President Obama (and as a man of color, I do) leads us to watch the disgusting Trump claim victory for making the President skip on command, and we fume with empathy. We gnash our teeth and swear our allegiance all over again to Barack, this poor besieged man who has to endure the barbs and slings of Age Old Racism. This intelligent, thoughtful scholar, statesman, gentleman, father and husband. This President who bears up nobly in conditions potentially humiliating, conditions asked of no other President has been before him. We spit on the ground and growl Trump’s name. We swear to show up in the voting booth for the Democrats…as if that in any measurable way addresses the larger issue of Them Who Shall Be Asked For Papers.
CONQUER AND DIVIDE
I should probably clearly state the obvious in case it is not as obvious as I’d hope: the American Black experience is deep, unique, and I highly respect it. I would never claim to see it in all its parts or stand within it. I am not pretending to have any stake or voice therein. At the same time, I have my own experiences as a Xicano, and there is some degree of overlap between the experiences of all people of color in this nation. This I know from years of activism and friendships and conversations with people of different ethnicities.
Also—quite important to suss out and account for—there are (exploitable) gaps between our experiences. It is in those gaps that divide and conquer wedges are introduced by the ruling class.
Strategically, it is in marginalized peoples’ great interest to discover these gaps ourselves so they cannot be exploited casually. It is in our great interest to find them, examine them, and prepare for the attacks that will be launched; attacks that would seek to exploit the latent weaknesses that could threaten our unity as people marginalized and exploited by the oppressive, racist hand of law. Black and Brown alike suffer behind the racist criminal justice system, for starters. Statistics for both Latinos as well as Blacks are disproportionately high for the actual number of crimes that run rampant through all communities, when compared. This is so because the law continues old power differentials and is implemented by human beings who have been conditioned by the same society .
And because law begins as idea, and only becomes strapped with force when enough people agree on that idea.
One of the ways that unfortunate ideas become commonly accepted is by the use of emotional triggers to mislead thought and obscure the true machinations of state or corporate power.
It is necessary to deny the apparent binaries here.
This is not just a black/white issue. Take it from Chuck D. And for all of us who care, there is a way to channel the need to see justice done in the wake of this ugly moment. There are other peoples and communities who would greatly benefit from our consideration in the current context. People who would suffer in continued indignities and abuse were we to avoid using that lens in a broader sense. Other communities that are having their own dignity denied, with not just social pressure demanding they suborn themselves and produce papers for how they look (not white), but laws. Laws and actions, I’m sorry to say, that are supported very much by President Obama. Laws being snuck under the radar that increase the reach of the surveillance state. as well as that feed into the growing prison and detention industry in the U.S. Like the actions of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
I will be more specific on these both in a moment. But I wanted to prepare the soil of your imagination for this turn of thought. I invite you to explore these ideas:
• The President, seemingly the unwilling subject of this degrading and dehumanizing shape of act before our eyes—being forced to show papers in the course of his day, with no reason but for the fact that he is not a pale man called Smith—supports that very idea being implemented for others who Appear Foreign, and is directly involved with making this a reality across America.
• If it bothers me that he, as one person (and a very powerful one on the continuum considered) is subject to this, how can I engage the larger fight where millions are subjected to this? Millions of very vulnerable people. Not graduates of Ivy League schools; not powerful politicians with millions of dollars at their disposal, and millions of people clamoring to back them up.
2. This is not a struggle between Barack H. Obama and Donald Whatever Trump. Nor one between their persons or personalities. Sure, let us consider their power and from where their power derives, and what they use it for. Let us give context to the scene and the players. But we really don’t need to make either of them a demon or a hero for us to successfully engage this important fight. In fact, doing so will dilute our powers of observation and thought.
3. The battle is not between the Evil, Rich, Racist Ole GOP and the Beleaguered, Liberal, Bullied, Righteous Democrats. If I may presume to know and say so, the battle at the heart of this outrage and hurt here, is for principles. For human dignity, and human rights. The battle is for integrity. The battle is against racist hate shaped into popular opinion and finally, given the force of the masses’ will—be it in the shape of social pressure, law, violence, or all three.
Going forward, we must recognize the possible faultline that divides certain viewpoints rooted in the Black American experience from certain viewpoints in the Mexican American community, as well as in the Pro-Migrant community. Especially when exploited by the powers that be. We must dwell in our connectedness. It’s not hard. I know I don’t just care for Mexicanos. I care for all people who suffer behind the racist machinations afoot in the nation today.
4. It’s not citizens vs. immigrants. Human rights, dignity, fairness: these are not things we should let legal terms determine. These are things we want human beings to have. Don’t let the squirming exploiters and vampires at the top whisper to us the nightmarish myth of scarcity. Things only seem scarce when a small group of people need to capitalize on many people’s energies and resources, and this profit-making pyramid shape enforces an artificial scarcity.
When we feel we cannot even take care of “our own,” it’s easy to let a feeling of solidarity slip away. It makes me sad when I see people of color who should understand and join in the struggle that Mexicanos and other immigrants face today, but who veer away from that struggle imagining that immigrants represent a threat to their own community. This is the voice of White Supremacy, and it’s a bullhorn turned on all day and night in this land, so I understand. But when in all important ways our struggle is the same, “our own” can be an expansive thing—and these larger numbers will render us more powerful to fight those exploiters at the top, already unfairly given advantage.
Many of today’s most important issues deal with power differentials between the very rich, and the rest of us. Immigration is one of the most important area for us to mind. Many issues come together here. Drug war. Commerce, and the Economy. Lines of ownership; lines that signify an US and THEM, borders that we end up believing need small army units and millions of dollars of technology in guns, drones, and surveillance equipment to maintain their reality; their solidity.
In the issue of immigration and corporate abuse of borders and employees is revealed the secret of how towns and communities become economically destroyed by corporate powers being above the law, and exploiting the worker. In the selling of the idea that the only people affected are Criminal Illegal Alien Invader Types, the elite continue to exploit our vulnerable brothers and sisters.
In Immigration politics, we see the manipulative hand of Economics, and the fallout of Capitalism and Neoliberalism. Domestically as well as Internationally. Within this struggle are handholds to engage the struggle for working class rights, women’s rights, family rights, culture, reproduction, human rights, our national ethics.
As more and more strife becomes about resources and mobility, more conquer and divide tactics will be put to work in this area of Immigration.
We must remember first and foremost (and again at the end), that the forces that benefit from our being divided will seek to exploit all these key areas. A simple lens adjustment would make that impossible. We must come to realize how many of us share this same struggle; fighting that power that reared it’s ugly naked head recently under the glow of sunlight bouncing off skyscraper windows, and hissed at the President with breath as old and rancid as years of gallows sweat.
TO PUT IT ANOTHER WAY
There are so many discussions about the Arc of Obama in the eye of popular opinion as of yet. We’ve all had an intense experience of some sort from election day until now, though our specific experiences may vary, and our current feelings vary just as much. Some have offered arguable reasons for becoming disenchanted with his administration. I will avoid the political laundry list, some or all of with which you may or may not agree with. That’s not the conversation(s) I am here for. I don’t want to get sidetracked. I don’t want to exploit or even risk the potential differences and faultlines in our unity just for a moment. And when I say “our unity,” I mean working class people. I mean the 99% of income earners in the nation. I mean many many Black, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Mexican, Guatemalan, Dominican, Chinese, Korean or otherwise golden brown beautiful red black people. I mean white people. Here, I talk to all those people marginalized in some way by the powers and status quo that men like Donald Trump act in the service of.
I propose that what we have in common here is the idea of how wrong it is to deny the full dignity and rights to the Other in the name of safety and legal procedure. I suggest that this fight and furious sense of injustice cannot and should not end with the humiliating press conference, nor with the empowering roast of Trump at a dinner you and I had no means nor invitation to attend.
Candidate and President Barack Obama made some very specific promises to crowds of Latinos, in speeches to NCLR and to the immigrant community. He decried the ICE raids that tore parents away from their children, he called the system broken. In passioned speech, he told desperate immigrant families that he had their back. That he understood their pain. That he was determined to make a difference for them. He said he was an ally to Latinos and to Immigrants and that we could count on him.
He then turns around and continues the raids, but in other shapes. He deports more people than George W. Bush does, insuring that many, many children are torn from their parents, after all. He does this in the name of Papers, not in the name of human rights or dignity.
President Obama and Janet Napolitano brag to the Republicans that they are deporting record numbers of undocumented immigrants. He turns his back on his own disabled aunt when the cold eye of ICE falls upon her. He sends troops to the US’ Southern border, when the economic refugees flee conditions in Mexico that have been greatly caused by NAFTA policies (A Democratic accomplishment under Bill Clinton). Those people risking rape, murder, starvation, and poverty to cross the border to find a chance at life don’t need bullets in their heads, they need help accessing resources so they don’t need to flee their homes and families.
Obama’s Department of Homeland Security offers a program called “Secure Communities” (S-Comm) that ties in the FBI and ICE to local police so that anyone apprehended by local police has all their info shared with these other agencies, even if a person is not convicted of anything. We’ve seen how successful Arizona’s SB 1070 has been in disrupting society, and at driving a wedge between local police and many communities where people fear either being detained or simply being hassled based on ethnic signifiers. Many police have protested the implementation of S-Comm, understanding right away how it would harm their relationship with the immediate community and lend a hand to the proliferation of many crimes that would exploit this wedge. A few cities attempted to opt out of S-Comm, but voila! The cloak came off and Obama’s DHS suddenly informed these cities that the program was not, after all, voluntary. Whoops.
Immigrant communities understand that they are being targeted when they are just trying to feed their kids and make a living, often exploited by workplaces that know they live without protection from law or society. But to console the rest who don’t know this, Obama’s White House claims it is only deporting serious criminals. The most cursory examination of reality shows this to be a complete falsehood.
One easy example of this is shown quite blatantly by how the White House is going after activist, friend, and law school student Prerna Lal. Prerna is a positive role model, an engaged, passionate person and organizer. Hardly a serious criminal. (Please sign the petition to help Prerna fight deportation. Her crime? The creation and success of DreamActivist.org. Prerna was simply too successful in organizing students behind the DREAM Act, which—unlike these sly and disingenuous actions by the Department of Homeland Security—does exist in the service of human rights. We don’t need to be frozen in the sixties to aid those fighting for communities before it becomes common sense to do so. We can look Prerna’s way.
The stats tell the same story. The Obama administration is not deporting scores of dangerous criminals but people who have an old offense, or minor offenses, or who get caught up in the widening and growing web of “immigration enforcement,” or who are simply students and children of immigrants and dared to make a valedictorian speech at their school, or reach out to help other people in the same plight. Sometimes they are simply driving home from work, and get pulled over by an old, white, sheriff who might as well be Donald Trump. They get asked for their birth certificate because their name sounds…un-American.
It’s so easy for us to stay firm in our personal experience and all the ways it feeds our own heart. One of the major premises in this article (or ramble depending on how you look at it) is that we proceed deeper and deeper into times when it will be important to not let ourselves be divided in the wrong ways. The Earth, mother of all, is increasingly poisoned and robbed…and those plunderers conspire to keep us misinformed about her condition. As she sickens in different ways; as our reckless, imbalanced, capitalist society veers drunkenly to and fro; as the divides grow starker and the ultra rich more intoxicated by desperation, the powers that be will work harder and harder to keep us at each other’s throats; to offer us others who we can throw to the curb in order to keep our own apparently threatened freedom.
We can feel empathy, kinship, or even an affection for the person named Barack Obama; for the challenges he faces navigating a system so strongly interwoven with racist currents, yet simultaneously see how today’s policies enacted by the creepily-named Department of Homeland Security exist to grow the racist prison system, and aid racist behaviors and values through the normalization of certain laws.
We must shift our view of immigrants as Other. We must consider their fight our fight. They are, in fact, us—if we had less protection and more need for the help of the greater community. They are far closer to you and me than the President is, when it comes to struggle. They can be disappeared down a hole of legalisms and racist hate in a second flat…and you will not see them roasting the police a day later on national TV.
We need to feel simultaneously outraged by the racist mechanisms in society that demand documentation from President Obama simply because he is not white, as well as demand that he, too, do his part in eradicating those very mechanisms.
Final notes: Thanks to friend (and immigration lawyer) Dave Bennion for help with resources.
Crossposted at Shakesville