Posts filed under Race

Aspirational History and the Color of American Citizenship

There’s a new political book out by E.J. Dionne, Norm Orenstein and Thomas E. Mann, called One Nation After Trump. Dionne and Orenstein went on Fresh Air the other day to talk about their book, their take and their hopes for a better political climate. Terry Gross asked them to speak a bit about one of the themes of their book — that part of what’s notable and different about Donald Trump and the political movement behind him, as opposed to past waves of right-wing politics, is the extent to which they have embraced ideas from the European far right.

That much is certainly true, and it’s worth noting. But what’s harder to go along with is Dionne’s effort to pivot from the influence of the European far right, into a countervailing political appeal to American patriotism. Here’s what Dionne says:

DIONNE: The idea that Bannon and Trump have imported ideas from the European far-right comes from the notion that there’s been a great historical difference between what it meant to be an American and what it meant to be a citizen in many European countries. . . . American citizenship has always been based on a commitment to ideas. It didn’t matter where you were from. It didn’t matter what the color of your skin was . . . .

–E.J. Dionne, interviewed by Terry Gross. Could The Trump Presidency Lead To An Era Of Democratic Renewal?
Fresh Air, NPR, 19 September 2017

This is just wrong. It would have been nice, and better for America and the entire world, if it had been true, but it’s flat-footedly and literally mistaken. In 1790, when Congress passed the first Naturalization Act in the U.S., the language of that act directly stated that it mattered what the color of your skin was: you had to be a free white person to qualify for naturalized American citizenship:

Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any alien, being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof, on application to any common law court of record, in any one of the states wherein he shall have resided for the term of one year at least, and making proof to the satisfaction of such court, that he is a person of good character, and taking the oath or affirmation prescribed by law, to support the constitution of the United States, which oath or affirmation such court shall administer; . . .

— An Act to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization (March 26, 1790)
United States Statutes at Large, First Congress, Second Session, 103ff. (Source: White By Law: Naturalization Act of 1790)

Whiteness was a condition not only for naturalization, but for both the rights and obligations of citizenship more broadly, at the federal level and at the state level. Skin color prerequisites, nearly identical to the federal prerequisite, were written even more pervasively into the state constitutions and legal codes of antebellum Southern states. For example, in Alabama, the same formulas made white skin color was an explicit prerequisite for the franchise and for political office. At the federal level, to take another example, in 1792 Congress said that the color of your skin (as well as your gender and citizenship) mattered to your eligibility, and obligation, to serve in the militia:

Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective states, resident therein, who is or shall be of the age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia by the captain or commanding officer of the company, within whose bounds such citizen shall reside, and that within twelve months after the passing of this act.

— An Act more effectually to provide for the National Defence by establishing an Uniform Militia throughout the United States (May 8, 1792)
United States Statutes at Large, First Congress, Second Session, 271-274. (Source: White By Law: Uniform Militia Act of 1792)

Every amendment to the Naturalization Act passed from 1790 up until 1952 repeated the free white person formula, or a close variation on it. In 1870, in the wake of Emancipation and Reconstruction, there was a debate in the Senate over whether to remove the racial prerequisite from citizenship; but in the end the Reconstruction drive to wipe out the racial-law legacy of slavery ran up against the rising nativist sentiment against Chinese immigration in the West. And in the event, the bill that they passed never struck out the racial prerequisite; it just added aliens of African nativity and … persons of African descent as a second racial category that could be admitted. For the next 80 years, a series of prerequisite cases in the federal courts — beginning with In Re Ah Yup — repeatedly affirmed that skin color absolutely mattered to a person’s eligibility for American citizenship, and then litigated over and over again the sometimes porous legal and social boundaries of just who counted as white. (For example, Chinese and Japanese immigrants did not; Mexican immigrants did. For many immigrant groups, including Arabs and South Asians, different courts made numerous, sometimes inconsistent rulings. A good, standard reference on this series of cases is Ian F. Haney-Lopez’s White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race.) Gradually Congress added more racial groups in addition to white and black, but this basic framework — of a limited number of racial categories allowed to become naturalized citizens, and everyone else ruled ineligible to citizenship — remained the core of American naturalization law until racial bars were finally repealed by the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1952.

There is no question that for the first century and a half of its existence, the United States government was explicitly a racial state, and that race and skin color were explicit conditions on citizenship and political participation. This shouldn’t be surprising: before the Civil War, the United States was a slaveholding nation. After the Civil War, immigration exclusion and Jim Crow increasingly reinscribed systems of racial categorization into the law.

I hope it should go without saying that this is not any kind of argument in favor of race or skin color as a condition of citizenship. The fact that the United States had a long tradition of racially discriminatory citizenship laws isn’t any reason to think kindly of the traditional, white supremacist approach. It’s a reason to think worse of the United States government, and to be much more skeptical of traditional American patriotism. Whatever deeper values Dionne may think were present in the American system, at some other level, and however much he may think that the old racial prerequisite law was an aberration or an inconsistency, there is no way that you can reasonably pretend that It didn’t matter what the color of your skin was without substituting a sort of aspirational self-identity for the much messier historical fact.

Separation as Political Sadism

From Greg Hadley, Trump administration considering separating immigrant parents from children at border, reports say, Sacramento Bee, March 3, 2017.

In an attempt to deter parents thinking of illegally entering the U.S. with their children, the Department of Homeland Security is considering a proposal that would separate adults and children who cross the southern border together, according to multiple media reports.

News of the policy, which is still being considered by department officials, was first reported Friday by Reuters, who spoke to three government sources, and later confirmed by CNN and MSNBC.

Such a policy move would mark a significant change in immigration enforcement, as families are currently kept together and released until their court date, according to MSNBC. . . . The new policy would mean that adults are kept in custody instead of being released, while children will be placed in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, before they are placed with a relative or state-sponsored guardian, per Reuters. … **We are trying to find ways to deter the use of children in illegal immigration, the official said. We are seeing kids essentially kidnapped and used to get here and stay.

All border controls are violent, and all border enforcement policies are awful. What distinguishes this — if La Migra attempts to go through with it — is the sheer malice. This idea serves no conceivable rational purpose other than deliberate cruelty, and pure political sadism, using the lives and emotions of children and taking them as hostages to punish their parents. The administration’s explicit theory is that the prospect this kind of deliberate cruelty to children might “deter” their parents. That is wrong. It’s not foolish, or mistaken, or ill-conceived. This proposed policy is, flatly, unspeakably evil.

Shared Article from sacbee

Trump administration considering separating immigrant parents fr…

Reuters and CNN say the Department of Homeland Security is considering a proposal aimed at deterring immigrants with children from entering the countr…

sacbee.com


StopDeportation #AbolishICE #NiFronterasNiSuPincheMuro

Start Digging

When La Migra reaches the bottom of the barrel, they pick that barrel up and they start digging.

Shared Article from Jezebel

ICE Agents Target Hypothermia Shelter In a Church to Arrest Home…

Following Donald Trump’s executive order expanding the power of immigration authorities, those affected have included a married mom of two, an indiv…

jezebel.com


Following Donald Trump’s executive order expanding the power of immigration authorities, those affected have included a married mom of two, an individual protected by DACA, and a victim of domestic violence who was in court seeking a protective order. Now ICE has moved on to target people seeking safety from deadly weather.

NBC News 4 reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials surprised a group of men leaving a hypothermia shelter in Alexandria, Virginia early on Wednesday morning. The shelter is part of Rising Hope Mission Church, and thus falls under ICE’s “sensitive location” policy. The policy demands that arrests not take place at churches, schools, or medical facilities. Agents reportedly waited until the men had crossed the street before surrounding them.

–Aimée Lutkin, [ICE Agents Target Hypothermia Shelter]
Jezebel (February 16, 2017).

Shared Article from Washington Post

‘This is really unprecedented’: ICE detains woman seeking d…

“It really was a stunning event,” said the county attorney. “It has an incredible chilling effect for all undocumented victims of any crime in o…

washingtonpost.com


A hearing in El Paso County in Texas went from ordinary to “unprecedented” last week when half a dozen Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents showed up at a courthouse where an undocumented woman was seeking a protective order against the boyfriend she accused of abusing her.

The woman, a citizen of Mexico who was living in El Paso had been driven to the courthouse by a victim’s advocate from the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse where she had been living.

She left under arrest. . . . It was the first time in her 23 years at the courthouse, [El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne] Bernal said, that she can remember ICE agents making their presence known during a protective order hearing. The agents had come to stake out the woman, identified by her initials I.E.G., because, Bernal speculates, they likely received a tip from the only other person who knew the time and place of the hearing — the woman’s alleged abuser.

–Katie Mettler, [This is really unprecedented]
Washington Post (February 16, 2017)

Shared Article from Washington Post

Memos signed by DHS secretary describe sweeping new guidelines …

The documents detail plans to hire thousands of additional enforcement agents and expand the pool of immigrants prioritized for removal.

washingtonpost.com


If these guidelines are enacted, it will be an appalling escalation of this already-terrible situation. It will be a brutal use of state violence to separate families, punish the weakest and the most vulnerable, to destroy livelihoods and literally endanger lives. And all for what? To enforce a ridiculous system of international segregation. To hell with that.

End 287(g). Stop deportation. Abolish ICE. Abolish DHS. Abolish the Presidency. Open the borders, and free the people who cross them.

Students For Liberty Vs. the White Nationalist Bellowing Blowhard Brigade

Shared Article from STUDENTS FOR LIBERTY

White Supremacists Disrupt Students For Liberty Event - STUDENTS…

Yesterday, Richard Spencer and a group of his white supremacist supporters protested the 10th Annual ISFLC: the annual gathering of libertarian Studen…

studentsforliberty.org


What We Talk About When We Talk About (White) Class

To-day, I’m reading: Yet Another Magazine Think-Piece on What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class.. This one is from Joan C. Williams. It’s better than some,[1] much the same as others. Or at times a bit worse worse: The I do not defend police who kill citizens for selling cigarettes. But maneuver of cultivating sympathy by dodging blame is stronger in this than in the average hand-wringing piece. In any case, The Atlantic publishes this article regularly about once every 9-18 months; of course the rate ticks up in an election year.

Shared Article from Harvard Business Review

What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class

The reasons for Trump’s win are obvious, if you know where to look.

hbr.org


But what I want to look at here is where this article is in the Definitional Chairs game for White Working Class. What’s interesting about it is that it’s relatively overt about what talk about class — or, more precisely, white class — seems to be increasingly employed to do, which is not actually to talk about class in the sense of income, wealth, or economic status — let alone something as wonky as relationship to the means of production. If it’s intended to mark socio-economic status, working class here leans very heavily on the socio and not on the economic. So, for example, we find out that William’s subject is not mainly the white working poor (except when it’s convenient to expatiate on their problems); it’s mainly white people making around $64,000 a years:

The terminology here can be confusing. When progressives talk about the working class, typically they mean the poor. But the poor, in the bottom 30% of American families, are very different from Americans who are literally in the middle: the middle 50% of families whose median income was $64,000 in 2008. That is the true middle class, and they call themselves either middle class or working class.

Overtly, constantly throughout the entire piece, the metric that Williams uses for white class is white educational attainment. And the analysis based on data about white educational class is drawn entirely from data, or from stereotypes, about the distinctive white subcultures marked out by spending time in, or avoiding, the culture of four-year colleges and universities.[2]

This definitional move becomes the most thoroughgoing when Williams’ writing simply makes it implicit. For example, her claim that:

But women don’t stand together: WWC [White Working Class] women voted for Trump over Clinton by a whopping 28-point margin — 62% to 34%. If they’d split 50-50, she would have won. (Williams)

… is sourced to a New Yorker election postmortem article by John Cassidy. The passage from the New Yorker article that Williams is closely paraphrasing doesn’t say anything about working-class; what it says is white women without college degrees, which Williams has simply read and re-written as working class:

White women without college degrees, who make up about seventeen per cent of the voting-age population, voted for Trump over Clinton by a whopping twenty-eight-point margin, sixty-two per cent to thirty-four per cent. If the members of this group had split their votes fifty-fifty, say, they would have delivered a victory to Clinton. But, to a large extent, they voted with their male peers. (Cassidy)

I don’t think Williams is an exceptional case here. I think what she is doing is in fact pretty typical. It’s not the only thing we do when talking about class or, more circumspectly, about class divides among American white folks. But it’s one of the things that people do a lot. The class divides or class conflict in an awful lot of recent think-piece writing putatively about socioeconomic class isn’t between employees and owners but rather something consistently spelled out in terms of statistics about the economic, social and cultural gaps between white people who don’t have four-year college degrees and professional-class white people who do. This is a divide that has obvious economic implications (how long you went to school and what you did there affects what kind of jobs you get) but it’s not primarily an economic division. It is a sociological division. If you want to know why people talking about class or especially speculating about white class divides say what they say, — from just about any political standpoint, left or right — then the first thing to do is to keep in mind that they are talking about something that is as much produced by subculture and institutional cultures within American schools and jobs as it is by any measure of income or wealth. If you want to know why the latest magazine think-piece about Class In America says what it says, the first thing to ask is almost certainly not much of anything to do with the means of production; it’s what the author is thinking and saying, first, about race; and second, about college.

  1. [1]Because among other things it doesn’t spend too much time on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men poverty-porn gawking (although it briefly refers to that: … a wave of despair deaths in the form of the opioid epidemic), and because despite the usual difficulties, it is relatively up-front in the fact that it’s stipulating a definition of working class which is not the same as what Progressives might go into it expecting, etc.
  2. [2]For example:

    Class migrants (white-collar professionals born to blue-collar families) report that “professional people were generally suspect” and that managers are college kids “who don’t know shit about how to do anything but are full of ideas about how I have to do my job,” said Alfred Lubrano in Limbo.

    . . . WWC men aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50. What they want is what my father-in-law had: steady, stable, full-time jobs that deliver a solid middle-class life to the 75% of Americans who don’t have a college degree. Trump promises that. I doubt he’ll deliver, but at least he understands what they need.

    . . . Massive funding is needed for community college programs linked with local businesses to train workers for well-paying new economy jobs.

    . . . National debates about policing are fueling class tensions today in precisely the same way they did in the 1970s, when college kids derided policemen as “pigs.” This is a recipe for class conflict. Being in the police is one of the few good jobs open to Americans without a college education. [See what I said about the excuse-making? –RG]