as pepper is to fly manure, so Mexicans are to al-Qaeda operatives ... for some

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From Ryan Lizza's recent New Yorker article on immigration and the GOP:

Dean Allen, a plump and friendly fellow sporting an American-flag tie, told me that he runs something called Spirit of Liberty; he's also helping Witherspoon's campaign. "Some of these people may be coming in here to get jobs washing dishes, but some of them are coming in here to hijack airplanes," he explained. "If you're down there trying to look at the people coming across the border, maybe a lot of them are just motivated by economics, and they want a job washing dishes or cutting grass. But I can't tell Jose Cuervo from the Al Qaeda operatives by looking at them, because they cut their beard off. It's like trying to get fly manure out of pepper without your glasses on, you know? I mean, not a racist thing, but they're all brown with black hair and they don't speak English and I don't speak Arabic or Spanish, so if they don't belong here and they don't come here legally, I want to know who's here."

Anytime someone prefaces a statement with, "I'm not a racist, but . . ." make sure to turn your bulls%#t detector up a notch or two. 

It's alarming to consider that much of the animus and fear behind anti-migrant politics right now is apparently attributable to a simple case of mistaken identity.  It bears repeating since it hits me in the face like a sledgehammer: "They're all brown with black hair and they don't speak English and I don't speak Arabic or Spanish." 

Translation: They're different from me in ways I don't really understand but that worry me, so they'd better make sure they keep their distance.  

The guy first comes across as an imbecile, but on a second reading, I think he is pretty savvy.  He leavens his remarks with some humor and communicates that air of "straight talk" that plays so well in Peoria.  He seems like he could be charming in person, such that you might have to listen closely to catch the vitriol coming out of his mouth.  It's hard to know whether the "al-Qaeda operative/Mexican day laborer" bait-and-switch is something he actually believes or whether it's a more calculated ploy to disguise race-based animus as a security concern.  Either way, he is saying what many people are thinking.  The idea that brown-skinned foreigners are essentially interchangeable to many Americans seems so outlandish that journalists may not acknowledge in their reporting the idea's persistence.  Lizza performs a service by putting it right out there on the page for everyone to see and discuss.

Much of the anxiety Allen expresses could be ameliorated if Americans knew more about the people who inhabit the rest of the planet.  This would require a national media that reports on international events as though they had intrinsic value (just imagine!), instead of only reporting stories that impact Americans in some way or covering natural disasters where the body count hits a certain magic number and consequently attains newsworthiness.

Part of the problem, too, is that not only is the media disproportionately covering issues of importance to rural, primarily white voters--mainly immigration--but the stories are covered from the perspective of those voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina but are communicated to a national audience as though the conditions that apply in those locales apply everywhere.  Here is another part of Lizza's article that got picked up a lot in the blogosphere:

Anti-immigrant passion also owes much to the disproportionate influence of a few small states in the nominating process. National polls show that, as an issue, immigration is far behind the Iraq war, terrorism, the economy, and health care as a concern to most Americans; a recent Pew poll shows that, nationally, only six per cent of voters offer immigration as the most important issue facing the country. But in Iowa and South Carolina, two of the three most important early states, it is a top concern for the Republicans who are most likely to vote.

Hence it is a top concern for the New York Times and Washington Post, hence it is in effect a top concern for voters across the country who get their campaign coverage from those outlets and outlets that take their cues from them.  It's another reason to equalize the primary process and push for more media coverage of urban issues as national issues. 

Additional progressive takes on the political salience of immigration are here and here. 


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2 Comments

janna said:

"Much of the anxiety Allen expresses could be ameliorated if Americans knew more about the people who inhabit the rest of the planet." Dean Allen is another example of how ignorance begets fear, and fear begets hate.

fash said:

It's interesting how he mixes in the 'they all look the same' ingredient so heavily that you can barely catch the 'all middle easterners are terrorists' bit. Slick.

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This page contains a single entry by David Bennion published on December 13, 2007 12:43 AM.

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