You Don’t Get to Talk About Immigration Without Talking About Race

On television, on the internet, from members of my family, I keep hearing things like:

“I’m just concerned about the rule of law.”

“I’m just concerned about the drain on our resources.”

“I’m just concerned about the impact on our school system.”

“I’m just concerned that their children won’t have the English skills to succeed.”

Statements like these are usually preceded or followed with some variant of, “It’s not about race.”


We do not ever, EVER get to talk about the U.S.-Mexico border without talking about race. We do not ever get to talk about immigration without talking about race. We do not ever get to talk about second language issues, especially pertaining to Spanish/English, without also talking about race. Why? Because race is a part of the history of The Border, just as it is a part of the history of slavery, of the Holocaust, of the War on Terror, of apartheid, of North American Indian Reservations, and of Jim Crow. It is, in the broadest sense, part of the history of the Western Hemisphere. It is a history in which light-skinned European adventurers came to this hemisphere and displaced, enslaved, and exterminated millions of indigenous people because of greed, because of hubris, because of religion, and because of race, because they believed that the people they found here were less human than they were.

This is not a history in which you personally took part. Your family may not have been directly responsible for perpetuating those insidious crimes. This is not a history that you can go back and erase or ameliorate. It simply is. It simply is a history that resulted in Person A having a nice house in the suburbs and shopping at Whole Foods and Person B enduring a poverty so crushing that they would risk life and limb and personal liberty in order to mow the lawn and clean the house and diaper the children of Person A and harvest the produce that is sold at Whole Foods, making an hourly wage that is less than what Person A spent on coffee this morning. And it is a history in which Person A can say, without paying very many social penalties, that the problem with Person B is that she did not respect the law and hasn’t worked hard enough to perfect his English.

That’s called Privilege. If you are Person A, it is not something that you can relinquish, but it is something that you can be a total dick about if you aren’t careful. And given the history I just described, I have to say that when you say stuff like,

“It’s not about race, I just can’t understand what they’re saying.”

“It’s not racial profiling. I don’t even know what an immigrant looks like!”

You sound fucking ridiculous.

I know you probably weren’t thinking about race when you said it. I know you believe that deep down inside you really don’t harbor any ill will toward those who look and speak differently from you. I know that from your perspective, race probably doesn’t have a lot to do with anything. But that’s because in the Historical Lottery, you hit the genetic jackpot. Whether you are aware of your privilege or not, you have cashed in on it. You benefit from the historical inequities I described, and while that doesn’t mean that I think you should hand over your suburban home to an immigrant family, I do think that you should shut the fuck up until you’ve done a lot of reading and a bit of introspection on the issue.

I’m just saying.

*This post is not directed at any of the commentariat here. It is the product of an ongoing fight with a family member and the headache-inducing results of typing in “accent discrimination arizona” into Google in order to research this post.

4 thoughts on “You Don’t Get to Talk About Immigration Without Talking About Race

  1. Not that race isn’t an issue in the matter, but a lot of anti-Immigrants are just that, anti-immigrant.

    Most of the immigrants around here are Eastern European ones, and the area is mostly white, and I still see the same hateful comments. Hardly anyone batted an eye when a boy in my health class told everyone they were disgusting and lived like rats. And the thing is, as far as I can tell, they’re all legal. Came here through some government plan or something. :/

    I don’t care about race. It’s about respecting a country’s laws. That guy that got beat up in Singapore for graffiti? I don’t feel sorry for him. That’s part of leaving your country-respecting the country you go to.

    Breaking it’s laws and sneaking in isn’t respect. Even if you disagree with the laws, you should follow them. If you start only following the laws that you think are right and fair, you wind up in jail pretty fast.

    And hit the genetic jackpot? How so? Are you writing only for a white audience?

    Myself, I’d like to see more immigration. I like hearing Ukrainian and Spanish in TJ Maxx and school. I wish we could have something like the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, only with Mexico & Canada.

    1. Anti-immigrant sentiment HAS historically been bound up in definitions of whiteness. It was scarcely a century ago that immigrants of Jewish, Italian and Irish descent were not considered to be white and were targeted by white supremacist groups. So in a sense (though I don’t think this is exactly what you meant), you are right that the anti-immigrant sentiment we see today is part of a long history of just that, but race is a part of it too, whether you like it or not.

      Laws are important, although illegal immigration is technically a misdemeanor on par with shoplifting, which makes the rhetoric we hear about the criminality of illegal immigration on par (to me) with being beaten for the crime of vandalism: totally out of proportion, and an egregious offense for a nation that claims to be an example to the world on matters of human rights and justice.

      And I wasn’t so much “writing for” a white audience as I was “ranting at” a white audience that says the kind of stuff I put at the head of the post.

      1. Oh, racial lines are bizarre. There really seems to be no real definition for what makes someone whatever race. Everyone seems to have a different idea about it. Skin color, heritage, geography, genetics 😛

        Race is a part of it, but if everyone was made truly unnoticing of race, they’d find something else to exclude and punish people for. I think it’s likely just another nasty part of human nature. I remember over on The Sexist a while back there was a Craigslist dating ad from a liberal feminist; it excluded conservatives and Republicans. Yee-owch. Definitely not on par with segregation or apartheid or forms of racial discrimination, but it’s still biased in my opinion.

        Ahhh and sorry if I seemed sensitive on the “white audience” thing. It’s very tiring dealing with so many people that assume no POC could ever support the Arizona bill, be a republican/conservative/tea partier, or be mocked as a token if they do so.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s