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.