Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Don't Call It Racism: The Tyranny of Words

Dr. Rudy Acuña has been a national leader in addressing racism and xenophobia in Arizona.

Along these lines, check out this really cool youtube video on Arizona titled, "Are We a Nation?" sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock.


Rough Draft

Don't Call It Racism: The Tyranny of Words


Rodolfo F. Acuña

In Arizona and elsewhere in the country, xenophobes react negatively to the word racism, not so much that they deny its meaning, but that it does not apply to them. They accuse the accusers of trying to raise a smoke cloud. Xenophobes even quote Martin Luther King's "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." For validation, some claim to have walked with King that day.

Reporters advised me that I should not call the racists, racists, and try to educate them instead. However, there is a point that people do not want to listen, for if they admit that they are racist that would mean that they would have to change their behavior and support a rational policies that would bring about a civil society.

I have been an educator for just over fifty-five years, and I recognize the difference between the classroom and reality. Students explore ideas and, as they should, they ask inane questions-that is learning and I have a duty to answer them. However, there is a point when people want to take you for a fool. Show you up. I remember when I first got to Northridge in 1969, I walked into the faculty cafeteria, and a historian called me over, and in front of his gaggle of friends told me he had a question for me. Smugly he asked, "The Jews, the Irish and the Italians have made it, what is wrong with the Mexicans and the blacks?"

I quietly began to walk away, and he repeated the question more emphatically, as if I did not know the answer, insisting that I respond. I slowly turned to him and said that I was going to go out and bury one of the peas on my plate that represented his brain and then urinate on it, perhaps it would germinate it.

People say that I was caustic, unprofessional, that it was a simple question. However, this was not a student; he was a PhD, a historian. In 1955, I bought my first home for $8500, no money down, qualifying on a janitor's salary. Would it be fair, reasonable, to turn around to any working class 22-year old and ask him today whether they owned their own home? If they did not, are they dead beats? You expect a certain amount of critical thought from your peers.

The truth be told, we think and speak in sound bites. We react and most of our questions are meant to justify what we think we know. We cannot criticize the United States but hate the government. We do not vote out of self-interest as much as to justify our biases or dare I call it racism. Workers in Ohio vote Republican because they hate gays and rationalize that they are protecting the sanctity of the family.

Not wanting to offend so-called Arizonans, many of whom have recently migrated to the state, I will not call their attitude toward Mexican and Latino immigrants racist but irrational and contrary to their interests. Any historian will tell you that the three "C's" that build Arizona were climate, copper and crops. However, they forget to add federal subsidies and Mexican labor. They are the machine that has kept the state going-Mexican labor built copper mining and agriculture-without it Arizona would not be what it is today.

This probably does not mean much to the snowbirds and the other white refugees from other states. However, out of self-interest they should know about the the contributions of the Mexicans.

My cousin Oscar died decade ago-he was a paraplegic-a drunken 23-year old white lady hit my cousin's car as he was driving home from bingo. Oscar was assimilated. He believed in the American Dream-called himself Ozzie. He was proud of his Mexican heritage and voted Democratic-otherwise he probably would have been a heretic in our family. However, now this athletic man was shunted from nursing home to nursing home-warehoused until he died. In one of my many visits, Oscar told me that the only thing that made life bearable was the Mexican cleaning ladies and aides. Paid often below a minimum wage, they were always smiling and singing. They had that soft edge that is so distinctive to Mexican women.

A lot of the snowbirds and retirees are one step away from these nursing homes-and there are not hoards of white people standing in line for these jobs.

Mexican birth rates have declined from nearly 3 percent annually in the late 1990s, to 2.31 percent in 2010 and the assumption is that fertility will level off and will stabilize at 1.85 children per woman by 2050. Given the proper support and job creation instead of "irrational" U.S. policies, Mexico has the potential of being a job producing country. But if that happened, who would pick the crops in 120 degree heat? Who would take care of the aging American population?

No matter what you want to call what is happening in Arizona, i.e., opportunistic, irrational behavior or racist, it amounts to the same thing. People gotten killed and race relations have been setback 50 years. These "irrational" people are presumably adults who, according to their mythology, have had every opportunity to succeed.
Mexicans and other brown skinned people are not taking anything away from them.

There are varying degrees of racism. Certainly, more than anything else, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and John McCain are opportunists-they know better-but they want to get elected at any price.
Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne are a combination of opportunist and racist.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Phoenix is a racist; he knowingly lies and acts out sadism. The Tea Baggers are just part of the mob-they are swayed by the emotions of the moment. The lesser degrees are represented by the historian, who asked me, why haven't the Mexicans made it?

It took my cousin Oscar a long time to love himself and those ladies who cared for him in his last moments. Oscar is representative of many Mexican Americans and Latinos who go along with the mob.

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