A Deferred Dream Action

When the Dream Act was being watered-down, stalled, heavily-militarized, rejected, watered-down some more, and rejected again, this heavily affected many of my clients, students at a community college. These were young adults who came here as children, had lived highly respectable lives, went to college and tried to do the right thing, according to the unrealistic, hubristic standards of the American Dream. Many of them—born in but coming from Latin American but sometimes Middle Eastern, South Asian, and the African regions—were relieved when then-President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The DACA program was a temporary stop-gap measure for young immigrants (Generation 1.5, and under 32 years of age, as of 2012) who come here as children, graduated from high school, know English, and have completely spotless records that allowed them to register every two years for the chance to obtain an official state identification. These are students who traversed the traps of a country and society that highly problematize and criminalize them. They are raised in an environment of fear and secrecy, not necessarily of their own communities or families (though like any other demographic, that can be the case as well) but of being ripped from their families, communities, homes, and often the only country they know.

This existential fear is not a result of their innate badness or goodness or anything else. For immigration is a necessary lifeblood to both industry and to global capitalism. Yes, often immigrants are used as pawns to drive down the cost of labor, but that is to say that capitalists will not pay living wages and will use others to wedge in those “costs” – and further drive their theft – any way they can. At first it was indentured servanthood, then chattel slavery, then Jim Crow, then the Bracero program. Initially, the program was to bring in seasonal laborers (aka, guest workers) across the border, largely for agricultural work. When the Braceros began to settle permanently, have families, and organize their labor, then the corporations and their puppet state began striking back. In 1954, Eisenhower’s Immigration and Naturalization Services began the “Wetback Program” to round up immigrant workers who were not covered under the Bracero Program. Ten years later, when Mexican immigrants made up a full 15% of the farmhand labor force, the program ended as unions, churches, and competing demanded that both nationalized and guest workers’ wages be raised.

Immigrant rights were raised when Cesar Chavez’s joined together with Filipino migrant workers to protest grape growers’ lowering wages on the Filipino’s to undercut Mexican wages. The groups recognized that they were being pit against each other and worked together to demand fair wages from the landowners. And it worked. For fifteen years, while their wages were never at-par with the median for non-farmhands, they rose considerably. Seasonal farm laborers enjoyed a massive uptick in material conditions as a result of cross-sector solidarity and heavy organizing.

I point this out not simply as a history lesson from merely one group of workers and only a couple of immigrant groups, though the past informs the present and the future. But in light of the fact that the political parties will only serve capitalism and in doing so will seek out to destroy communities that do not meet their needs or have outserved their purpose—this includes immigrant families. Because they seek cheap labor that they can easily exploit we find this alternation between temporary, compromised rights under Democrats and permanent raids under the openly xenophobic and nativist Republicans (especially under Trump).

While DACA gave many young adults a fresh hope and materially benefited them with access to jobs, forms of valid ID, and more affordable college,[1] it only accounts for 10% of the most ‘exceptional’ immigrants (those who arrived by the age of 16, are younger than 32, have graduated high school and do not have a criminal record) and thus places all immigrants in an impossible situation of having to be super role models while under intense scrutiny in a highly criminalized climate in order to be accepted by the wider society, or to live and operate largely underground.

Additionally, the temporary fix that is DACA relied upon the idea that Obama would be replaced with someone of a like mind. The fact that this like-minded person was 1) facing off against an explicitly racist nativist and 2) herself having just repeated an astoundingly horrid nativist sentiment regarding refugee children should have alerted us all to the fact that the work, even the work for that dream-like 10%, was not complete, would not be near complete. The fact that now Donald Trump, Steve Miller, and all the fascists at ICE (and everyone who works at ICE is a fascist; don’t @ me!) have access to all this biometric information recipients is terrifying and incredibly irresponsible on the part of Obama. Further, that even the most-left-leaning national politician, Bernie Sanders, repeated nativist rhetoric about immigrants as themselves actors in lowering wages means that we are going to have to look beyond an electoral strategy.

We are left with the brazen fact that our politicians are failing us, that we must rely on each other. That capitalists only care about profit margins means that whatever actions they are willing to take for immigrant rights will be just enough to maintain their machines and not disrupt them. It is up to us, workers, to band together to make sure that everyone, regardless of race, gender, where they were born, or immigration status, is treated fairly and justly, has enough to eat, adequate income, a decent place to live, freedom from oppression and constant surveillance, and sufficient security. This cannot happen if we allow Nativism, White Supremacy, and Patriarchy—the tools of capitalism—to organize us. It cannot happen if we are mobilized through Islamophobia[2] or the impetus of a police state.

Together, fighting for and with the marginalized amongst us, on their terms, we have nothing to lose but our chains.

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[1] Including many of my student clients, some of whom came out of hiding to go back to school

[2] http://www.rawstory.com/2017/09/bank-has-entire-arab-american-family-arrested-after-father-tries-to-deposit-large-check-from-home-sale/

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Radical Muslim Dudes!

In light of the recent extreme acts of the Illegitimate President of the United States of America, I’m thinking of how awful the terms “radical Muslim” and the related term, “radicalized Muslim” are. As a linguist and writer, I’m concerned about words and how they’re handled and understood. Words are symbols and so they mean whatever (social and psychological) power we give them, but words then hold that power and dispense that power. The power of a term such as “radical Muslims” – highlighted by its use in Trump’s defense of his Executive Order banning immigrants from Muslim majority countries – is phenomenal and changes how people not only see, but think about and then act on a group of people.

The word radical generally means “getting to the roots of.” This is at least how many self-avowed Leftist Americans (such as myself) read it. Of course that is not the predominant reading, that largely being somewhat negative and dismissive of activists, due in no small party to American acquiescence to passivity in relation to the status quo. In all of these understandings is a kind of root: That a radical really believes and believes very strongly. Also note when it is used–rarely for something that is considered the norm. We never hear the phrase “radical capitalist” as America and Britain are very radical and devout in their relation to the economic theory. Rather we tend to hear the phrase attached to something that is outside the norm. “Radical communist”. “Radical integrationalist” during the height of Jim Crow and “radical segregationalist” afterward. “Radical pacifist” during war time.

The term is often worn as a badge of honor, the bravery of going against the norms of society. The fundamentalist branches of Christianity that I spent most of my life in loved to be called “radical Christians”. “X Church trains up radical, fanatical Christians” was the motto from one of my churches for a couple years. Radical for Jesus was a way to live, to celebrate an insular community. Christian, Fundamentalist, Born-Again, Bible-Believer, Jesus Freak. A very popular Christian music song from the rap-pop band DC Talk put it, “What would people say if they found out I’m a Jesus freak?” Fundamentalist Christians, radical Christians, should not be afraid or ashamed of proclaiming their beliefs despite a seemingly hostile word. In the US, they were never criminalized nor extradited for stating these beliefs, but that’s what it is..

DC Talk then used the popularity of the song to sell a hip version of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs for the teenage church. The radical Christian is the real, true Christian who is then persecuted by the world for following the real God. This is interpreted as a  positive thing. The problem then isn’t so much the word “radical” but what it is modifying.

As one of my Facebook friends reiterated this phrase “radical Muslim terrorists” on my wall, I can’t help but notice the spread of that specific phrase used by Trump. IPOTUS himself picked it up from its reiteration by the Islamophobic industry before him (which helped propel him to political prominence both through his Birther controversy and then through his Islamophobic comments throughout the campaign) and has spread it like wildfire.

The stigma of the term is now connected insolubly with all those who observe, practice, or are even near Islam, its language, its practices, its appearances.

The term “Islamic radical” assumes that there is something inherently wrong with Islam. Or, more to the point, something wrong with Muslims. Muslims thus are viewed as positive in White Western eyes only in as much as they don’t really believe in Islam (New Atheists have long called non-fundamentalist Muslims “fake Muslims”; believing as Wahhabis do that there is only one legitimate form of Islam. This view does injustice to historical and current Muslims and Islam). And as much as Muslims accrue to Western modes of activity. This view erases Muslim feminism, Muslim liberation, Muslim science and whitewashes Western societies savageries of genocide, hyper-masculinity, and capitalist war-mongering, for starters.*

Islam is seen to be inherently dangerous in itself, despite the fact that it is as large and as diverse as Christianity, that it has many different forms, that most of what we recognize as “radical Islam” such as Wahhabism and related sects are post-modern, illiterate takes on a pre-modern religion and thus stripping it of its historical roots and valid interpretationsto promote a much more violent, reactionary and hyper-masculine version of the religion–not unlike the Fundamentalist Christianity of Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham. The comparisons don’t end there, either. Wahhabism teaches that whoever does not follow its version of Islam is damned, whether or not they were Muslims. Much as the Bible churches I grew up in believed that only those who believed as they do were saved from hell.

True Islam is not represented by the so-called Islamic State any more than the Ku Klux Klan represents true Christianity. In fact, these are not the sole faces of their respective religions, but only relatively small variants therein. The rest of Islam and Christianity should not be refracted through them, but only inasmuch as they differ from their more violent messages.*

Realizing how powerful and dangerous this linguistic term is is important not just against the standard Islamophobe, but against the entrenched Islamophobia, or rather Muslimphobia that is mainstreamed in standard Euro-American discourse and policy. Because if we’re being honest, this ostracizing, expulsion, and detention of American citizens and workers merely due to the predominant religion of their national origins (regardless of their desire to be US citizens) is making militarized versions of Islam more palatable to those being ostracized.

Maybe what we’re talking about isn’t Radical Muslims but Militarized Muslims. After all, the US and its allies are pushing militancy upon Muslim communities with the hyper-surveillance, the drone warfare, the police raids, the anti-Muslim rhetoric, the nearly-universal suspicion. The turning away and detentions. This racist militancy by the United States, by European allies, and especially by the neo-fascists such as UK’s PM May, French pol Le Pen, and our own Illegitimate One work to create a reaction of entrapment that will be worth all the trouble of breaking international treaties because, LOOK MUSLIMS DOING BAD THINGS! never mind the fact that we forced them into that situation.

It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy of the Never-ending War on Terror. Muslims do bad things because we expect them to and then force their hands until a small segment of them breaks off to do bad things. If only we had ended this racist, fake war eight years ago when we had the chance to.

 


*I know that some reader somewhere is going to get the idea to tell me that The Muslims did and do all these horrific things, etc, etc. Yes, they are human. Yes, they were involved in wars and empire-building and slave trades of their own. This isn’t a zero-sum game.

**As a Christian, I’m well aware of portions of mainstream White Evangelicalism that readily connect to theologies that the Klan practiced. It does not delegitimize Christianity as a whole, but helps to pinpoint how theological practices can remain in pockets and cause violence.

What Is a Microaggression in the Era of Black Death?

A few days ago, I noticed one of the trending topics on Facebook was a story about a Black actress who tweeted something after getting a patronizing greeting while boarding her flight in first class. I recognized it as a microaggression on the part of the employee, but I thought it was not just petty for that employee to respond in such a way, but also petty for the actor to tweet about it, and petty for it to become a trending topic.

I’ve lately been caught up in the political measures and actions that disproportionately and devastatingly affect material realities for people and communities of color, particularly poor ones. The ways that Midwestern governors are stripping the social safety net on a daily basis. The Blue Lives Matter law when the practice of police lynchings of black people has become public. The recent gutting of the Fourth Amendment by five of eight Supreme Court Justices. Using capitalist-style competition (which is not how the Capitalist Class operates but merely how they have us operate) to dismantle and destroy public schools in Detroit and, frankly, everywhere else. Islamophobic police strip searchesPre-crime policing of black and brown youth in Chicago. The Puerto Rican debt crisis. The fact that gun control is being used to further police and surveil Muslim and Muslim-misidentified communities and people.

These stories were not trending on Facebook.

And this isn’t even hinting at the militarization of security at airports that targets people of color and people with disabilities.

And so I continued the trend of pettiness and surpassed the previous levels of petty pettiness by posting the story and pettily adding the petty lines “BFD” [“Big Fucking Deal”] and “*rolls eyes*”. A friend confronted me on it, and I’m grateful to her because it re-grounded me.

I had to confront what in me (outside of just a crappy mood for personal reasons) positioned me to such pettiness. Part of it was the material realities outlined above. But then there were three other takeaways as well:

  1. While microaggressions themselves may seem minor, a thousand papercuts are lethal, and dozens take their exhaustive toll on an already-exhausted public body.
  2. The metaphor is reality. I say this as an English teacher and as a student of society and racial realities. In this case, the metaphor denying and policing space for People of Color is intricately connected to the public and societal policies denying and policing space for People of Color. A black woman feels a patronizing slight against her having a seat in first class? Look into who tends to occupy those seats; they are rarely black people. While the employee may not have intended to send the message that  Danielle Brooks doesn’t belong in the luxury portion of the airplane*, that is still the message. A White Christian makes a joke about a Muslim woman being a suicide bomber, but it’s a joke get it – no harm done! Except that the harm is done and that is to publicly police private people whenever and wherever the State and corporations have yet to exclude, detain, or kill them. In point of fact, the whole Donald Trump campaign is wish-fulfillment to turn microaggressions into public, perpetual policies.
  3. This one is just a reminder for me and all the other white (and white-passing) people: I don’t experience racial microaggressions** so maybe I should be reverential around the issue?

*Intentions are often a red herring that center the story back on white people and their presumed innocence rather than on the system of White Supremacy and how it daily affects people of color

**Being called “white ass” in grade school and having people stare me down in my own neighborhood because I don’t look like I belong doesn’t really count. While they happen, they’re far too infrequent to be at the level of irritant and they are not connected to, say, lynchings or redlining, respectively.

The Threat of Melanin and Property

This morning, a Black pregnant woman walking on the sidewalk was shot to death by a white man who warned her and two brothers to get off his property. She was shot in the head and one of the brothers is paralyzed from trying to shield her. She was, because of the color of her skin, seen as a threat to the man’s property even as she was not on it. To further cement the idea that property and white people are more important than the lives of Black folk, the woman’s name isn’t even released in the initial story.

White people of all political persuasions all over the interwebz are arguing that Zimmerman had his time in front of Lady Justice, that the courts were fair and unbalanced, that the jurors objectively weighed the evidence and found Zimmerman innocent of murdering Martin. But the fact that this outcome is based on a very selective whitewashed reading of the law and evidence that the court and the judge forced upon the jurors – one that erases everything leading up to the decisive killing moment – tells those with ears to hear and experience to know that the verdict is not fair, Lady Justice is not impartial, the justice system is not just.

Trayvon Martin

If we pull back to see the prevailing trends in the US in terms of racial profiling, we see that Zimmerman was deemed – as most privileged White people are – innocent until proven guilty; but people of color are condemned guilty until proven innocent. Often, like Trayvon Martin, the innocence of people of color is taken from them by innuendo even after justice is denied. And justice denied after lives are nullified.

So we find ourselves, again, where the White man’s property – not just the rich white man’s, but the poor white man’s as well – becomes more important than the lives of black and brown people*. This we see in justification, still, for the slave-holding American South and its secession. This we see in the strange fruit of violent mob actions – Black bodies lynched for the slightest infraction. A glance, a whistle done upon the white woman, who’s “purity” is also a property of the white man and must be protected at all costs from the Black man, who has been treated and projected as a sub-human, irrational beast so much that there is no escape from that imagery in the popular White imagination. This is Emmett Till. This is Trayvon Martin. This is Texas Death Row. It matters not how one behaves or acts in US society – we are judged on the basis of our skin color. The lighter skin projects more innocence; darker skin projects evil intent.

So, somehow, Trayvon posthumously becomes a thug, a thief, a criminal, a drug-selling and -abusing threat to society.

And Zimmerman, according to the Black Threat narrative, had the foresight to see him as the thug he was.

In other words, George Zimmerman had the foresight, in his delusional visions of White culture vengeance, to see Trayvon Martin, in his hoodie and black skin, to be a potential threat to White male property rights. The capitalists and their lapdogs see these threats and try to neutralize them through closing down schools, through apartheid and gentrification, through disinvestment, through psychological warfare portraying Black people as criminals, buffoons, or entertainers – but rarely as fully-realized, embodied, intellectual human beings. Poor white people see these threats and justify direct or indirect, physical or economical, solitary or social violence – and sometimes commit it. Sometimes fatally.

We expand the circle and we see this violence enacted upon not just the African American man, but upon the Black woman, upon the indigenous, upon the Latina, the Chicano, anyone who appears Muslim or Arab. Upon all those with a deeper shade of melanin.

From the moment the first colonist Europeans jumped off the Santa Maria, the indigenous was seen merely as a means to or a hindrance to property – whether as a route to gold for the Spaniards, trade for the French, or land for the English settlers and the official US policy. The First Nation woman was such a threat that she was wiped out, lied to on paper after paper after war after war. Dislocated and then disempowered. Even now, she is blamed for her high poverty state when she is seen at all – except as a cartoonish sports mascot or through colonial gazing movies that center on White protaganists, her people are not recognized. They are depoliticized, for though they are promised autonomy, they are denied the ability to self-rule by a White Supremacist US government threatened by their presence and political voice, by ghosts and ever-present evil. For even when she complains about how she is denied agency to seek justice for the unfathomably high occurrences of rape (most by White men), she is ignored or pushed aside. She is seen as a threat to the very property she was large-scale murdered and vanquished for.

The Muslim is seen as a natural terrorist, prone to violence by nature of his culture, nationality, place, skin color. He is deemed suspect and a threat to US property not due to his or his family’s actions, but by the thinnest connection to a small subset of a fraction of a percentage of a population by the fact that his skin color is roughly the same shade  or who carries a vaguely similar name as a handful of men that blew some shit up. And by extension – because White Supremacy does not deal with precision of any sort – any person who appears to look Middle Eastern, North African, South Asian is suspect. No one suspects that all White Christians are Klansmen or Inquisitors. We blow up entire countries. And yet, the price of being the Orientalized Other remains and one-fifth of the entire human race is deemed too dangerous to be allowed on public transport vehicles without intense scrutiny.

Shocks of Recognition

The Latin American migrant is deemed a threat to US property and is denied access, though her property and work has been stolen by that same nation. She is deemed dangerous and interrogated at every turn, always under watch, always terrified of being detained. She has fears that the European immigrant does not need concern himself with. But again, the fears of her are not merely placed on her, for the animosity given to her is spread to all Spanish-speaking, Brown folk. Whether their families have been in the current United States since before the borders passed over and incorporated them or they are born US citizens by Constitutional right (a Constitutional right so-called Constitutionalists are consistently trying to repeal), or whether they have risked all for the treacherous, lethal pathway to the United States proper, they are deemed a threat in need of detainment, in need of lock-down, in need of fear, in need of separation from family, in need of depoliticization, in need of removal. Always a suspicious eye upon them. Always seen as a threat.

Stand your ground

The person inhabiting the dark skin is perceived a threat. Her experience negated by popular opinion, reviled as a Welfare Queen, despised as a negligent mother, rumored to be on crack, thrown to the nether regions by socio-economic practices. Depoliticized by courts and legislators afraid of her anger and ballot, disinvested by banks and financial institutions afraid of her gaining control of property. Underemployed for her worth is undervalued, underpaid for her work is devalued, bodily imprisoned for her skin is a threat to property.

Families of people of color have been and are being ripped from each other due to violence rained down upon the people of color. Because they are seen as a threat.

These are the sad realities of a nation of people raised to believe that property defines us, rather than character or humanity or justice or love or mercy. And when black and brown lives are perceived as less important than mere property, what makes white people with little property believe that their lives will be sacrosanct by those with much property – who through land and economic use “own” most of the property we inhabit? When will we all be shot for trespassing on their land?

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*This post was completely influenced by/cribbed by a twelve year old bell hooks’ quote you may have seen spread on the internet this week. An interview with Jet just happened, so you should also read that.