Arizona’s Crackers : ‘Illegal is Not a Race’

Image from Reform America.

Arizona’s Crackers:
Jim Crow is alive and well

Maintaining a whip hand, southern politicians once calculated, was the best way to defend white power. The same calculation drives contemporary Arizona politics.

By Char Miller / The Rag Blog / May 17, 2010

CLAREMONT, California — Standing in the middle of a busy rotary intersection in Orange, California, was a clutch of anti-immigrant protesters; these young white males were demonstrating their solidarity with what they presumed to be embattled Arizonans.

As a steady stream of cars revolved around the circle, they held up hand-lettered signs, the most blunt of which read: “Illegal is not a race. It’s a Crime!”

That is a distinction without a difference in Arizona, however, where being Latina/o has become criminalized. When Governor Jan Brewer signed legislation requiring local and state police to demand identification of those they “suspect” are undocumented, she and the state legislature went on record establishing a two-tier caste system: those who look white will get a pass; those who do not will get rousted. Jim Crow is alive and well in the Grand Canyon State.

Like white Southerners’ intense efforts to segregate public space after the destruction of slavery, contemporary Arizona politicians are determined to define who is “legal” and who is not; who looks like an American and who does not; who can walk down the sidewalk without fear of harassment and who must hide in the shadows.

They have also decided — as did their white-supremacist predecessors of the late nineteenth century — that controlling the movement of a suspect people is but one part of the battle to dominate social life. As essential is managing who gets educated and on what terms. In the postwar south this was accomplished through the creation of a flawed and inequitable educational system that received constitutional sanction in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Until repudiated by Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Plessy succeeded in deflecting Blacks’ intellectual aspirations, lowering their economic horizons, and shackling their political ambitions.

In Arizona, legislators are just as serious about cracking down on the educational hopes of what is increasingly looking like a captive population. Within days of the passage of the anti-immigration law, another bill swept through the legislature: HB 2281. Its language is disturbing, for it “prohibits a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that: Promote the overthrow of the United States government. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

HB 2281’s goal is clear — to tar Chicano Studies programs in state universities and public schools as insurrectionary, denounce them as anti-white, and condemn them as sources of suspicious group cohesion. Its rhetoric may be different from the Black Codes that white southerners once enacted to manipulate former slaves, but the legislation’s desires are the same — keep the downtrodden down.

Maintaining a whip hand, southern politicians once calculated, was the best way to defend white power. The same calculation drives contemporary Arizona politics. Three years ago, for instance, Tom Horne, the state superintendent of education, lashed out at ethnic studies programs. As author of HB 2281, and now a Republican candidate for state attorney general, he rails against “ethnic chauvinism” to scare up voters. More inflammatory still is his department’s recent ruling “that teachers whose spoken English it deems to be heavily accented or ungrammatical must be removed from classes for students still learning English.” In Horne’s Arizona, only whites have the right to be chauvinistic.

We have been here before. In his incisive critique of segregated America, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), W.E.B. DuBois recorded the “many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the 20th Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.” That same deeply troubling divide, as Arizona has demonstrated, is staining the 21st.

[Char Miller is director of the environmental analysis program at Pomona College, Claremont, CA. and is the former chair of the History Department and Director of Urban Studies at Trinity University in San Antonio. He is author of Deep in the Heart of San Antonio: Land and Life in South Texas and editor of River Basins of the American West. This article also appears in the Rio Grande Guardian.]

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6 Responses to Arizona’s Crackers : ‘Illegal is Not a Race’

  1. Mariann says:

    The phrase “Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” from the little-heralded HB 2281, prohibiting publicly-fund ededucational classes that meet that description, in addition to the bill’s clear intention of attacking latino/a studies programs, may also be intended to prohibit any English-as-a-Second-Language classes from receiving public funds.

    Que chingadera.

  2. Anonymous says:

    That’s correct – illegal is not a race. illegal is illegal/unlawful, and that applies to any race of people.

    Arizona is doing the right thing, and it’s long past due for the rest of the USA to enforce its immigration laws since race is not the issue, just unlawful immigrants who choose not to obey the law. If they won’t obey that law, what other laws will they also disregard – one can only speculate.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Illegal is not the same as race – that’s certain. Illegal means unlawful and that applies to all races of people.

    Arizona is finally taking a step in the right direction, and hopefully the rest of the states will finally enforce the laws of our land.

  4. Pollyanna says:

    Anonymnous still doesn’t get it. It isn’t “illegal immigrants” who are the only — or even the main — ones disobeying the law. US employers who use undocumented workers to save on payroll costs are an irresistible temptation to people living in hopeless poverty.

    As for those who are technically obeying the law but are morally responsible for the mess in Arizona, those include US corporations who pay less-than-adequate wages in their foreign operations and the remains of feudalism in many foreign power structures.

    Of course it is always easiest to pick on the last or weakest link in the chain… Anonymous won’t take the time to follow the chain to its source and break it off there.

  5. Pollyanna, yours is a tired and discredited argument. It’s a ploy to eliminate having a border. To paraphrase your argument, if people are coming into your home to eat your food, use your shower and drive your car, you would have us believe it’s easier to hide those things that might tempt them, than is would be to buy a big lock for the front door. Gotta call BS on that one.

    Solving this problem isn’t rocket science. It involves employer sanctions AND effective control over the border to determine who can and can’t enter and for how long.

    Border control is not hard. The Israelis suffered hundreds of terrorist attacks on their buses and cafes until they built an effective barrier wall. A similar design would work here in conjunction with stepped up patrols, surveillance, and monitoring.

    Employer sanctions are a bit trickier but can certainly be accomplished. I support them as do most of my tea party friends.

    Once the border is secured, you will find many, if not most conservatives willing to talk about employer sanctions and how to incorporate and integrate the illegals that currently reside here.

    Opposing border security exposes that you, as are most on the left, simply want to eliminate any meaningful borders. But you know that such an open border agenda would not be popular or practical, so you try to obfuscate and manipulate.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hey doesn’t it seems that there are two borders;
    one physical in a geographical sense, and the other “virtual” in a law-enforcement and population-migration point of view?

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