By: Catherine Besteman, Elizabeth Cullen Dunn, Tricia Redeker Hepner, Carole McGranahan, Nomi Stone, and Marnie Thomson
The Racist Gift of Immigration and Citizenship Bans, Again
How can we understand Donald Trump’s executive order banning the entry of immigrants from Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Iran and Iraq, as well as all refugees? As an act of national security, the ban makes no sense. Rather, I read them as a racist gift to the white Christian alt-right that formed President Trump’s initial core base. The United States has a history of bans and color bars to entry and citizenship, about which we are rightfully embarrassed in hindsight. The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted citizenship to only white immigrants, a law that remained on the books until 1952. Entry to the US remained open to anyone, however, until the implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and then the Johnson Reed Act of 1924, which imposed the first comprehensive control over immigration. The Act placed a cap on the number of people to be admitted, set national origins quotas based on the 1890 census for entry, and barred anyone ineligible for citizenship from entry. By using the 1890 census, the national origins quotas intentionally favored immigrants from northern Europe and restricted Jewish immigrants because of anti-Semitism and fears of Communist influence.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court declared ineligible for citizenship everyone from Japan to Afghanistan, with the exception of the Philippines, then a US territory, thus creating a new racial category of “Asian” to be universally banned. When comprehensive immigration reform in 1965 removed national origins quotas and bans, it was heralded as a rejection of racist barriers to entry and a victory for American values of justice, human rights, and fairness. A dog whistle to those lusting for white Christian hegemony, the bans are an initial step to return America to a time when Muslims were barred from entry and immigration to the US was controlled by and for whites only. Continue reading
Ever since the pioneering work of Mary Douglas on risk back in 1992, anthropologists have understood that there is a difference between what is actually dangerous and what people think is dangerous. Scientists can measure the probability of you being struck by a bolt of lightning or getting hit by a car. But our fears are not based on extensive scientific study, nor are they the results of our own idiosyncratic psychology. They are shaped by the culture we live in and the history we’ve collectively experienced. The sad thing, anthropologically, about Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration is that it does not make Americans safer, just makes some Americans feel safer. The tragic thing about the order is that forces others to suffer for the sake of our own false sense of security.
In the next week or so, many of us will celebrate the year of the rooster. The year of the monkey, which we are just saying good bye to, had a lot of stuff going on inside of it. But looking back at the anthropology end of things, it’s pretty clear that 2016 was not the year of the monkey, but of the mushroom.
“Racism” is such an unwieldy concept. Living in a world in which racism is one of the fundamental building blocks that shapes all our relationships, calling someone racist is somewhat akin to a fish accusing another fish of swimming in water. This is how I felt when I saw Democrats claiming that the election was won because of racism. If I were to make a list of racist things in American politics it would be just as likely to include welfare reform as the southern strategy, just as likely to include drones as border walls, and just as likely to include super-predators as a muslim registry.
I don’t want to create a false equivalency. There is a very important difference between a political party which relies on minority votes and one which tries to suppress them. There is an important difference between a party which engages in dog-whistle politics to win over swing voters and a party for which such voters are their electoral base. But that doesn’t get us away from the fact that – in American politics – we are always talking about relative racisms. Many of those supposedly racist voters voted for Obama in the last election, and many minority voters handed the election over to Trump in their state simply by staying home on election day. I don’t write this because I want to assign blame, but simply to illustrate how crude a tool “racism” is when trying to make sense of this all. So, if racism can’t help us, how do we talk about this phenomenon which is so central to contemporary politics?
It is not an easy riddle to solve, but one important part of the solution can be found in in the writings of Michel Foucault. Just a part of the solution, mind you, but for my own thinking on the matter it has been key. For that reason I was very happy when a bunch of anthropologists announced that they wanted to read read Michel Foucault’s lecture eleven in Society Must Be Defended as a means to think through “the interplay of sovereign power, discipline, biopolitics, and concepts of security, and race” on inauguration day. This is because the concept of biopolitics is a very useful addition to the analytical toolkit we have for talking about the diverse phenomenon grouped under the term “racism.” As with any such analytical tools, the benefits of highlighting certain features necessarily obscure others, and there are entire books written to try to sort out exactly what is lost and what is gained by using these tools; however, today I would like to simply focus on one aspect of this lecture which has been particularly useful to me: Foucault’s use of the term “population.” Continue reading
(This occasional post comes from Edgar Rivera Colón, Ph.D. Dr. Rivera Colón is a medical anthropologist and teaches at Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine program. Dr. Rivera Colón is also Assistant Professor of Sociology and Urban Studies at Saint Peter’s University, The Jesuit University of New Jersey. He does spiritual direction with activists as a ministry of the Ecumenical Catholic Church (ECC), an LGBT-affirming faith community, based in Guadalajara, Mexico.)
“No hay mal que dure cien años — ni cuerpo que lo resista.” (Popular Puerto Rican saying).
“There is no evil that can last a century — nor bodies equipped to endure it.”
The last weeks have been a marathon (Trumpathon?) of despair, grief, resistance, and mobilization in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory. I’ve spent part of time having long conversations with younger activists — folks in their 20’s and 30’s — about their feelings of disorientation and anger at what seemed to many to be an impossible electoral outcome. One of most dangerous, hate-spewing, fear-mongering, and vulgar presidential candidates in the US history is about to take over one wing of the state apparatus. Whatever one’s take on the whys and wherefores of the 2016 presidential election results, the negative effect on many bodies, spirits, and minds is palpable and worrying. What to do in such a crisis with so many layers and consequences that could warp even further the American polity for two or three generations hence? Continue reading
For some people, the election that just took place might seem like just another choice between the lesser of two evils. One more election that we all learn to deal with, but that won’t fundamentally change much about their daily lives. But this isn’t everyone’s reality. For many people around the country the results of this election, which was fueled by messages of hate, bigotry, racism, and intolerance, has devastating implications. It’s not a matter of if it will affect their lives, but when and how. It is a privileged position to see this as “just another election” that we lament, accept, and endure. Many people here simply do not and will not have this choice.
Shaun King’s Twitter timeline this past week was just one indication of what these election results portend: a surge of racist, bigoted attacks across the country. This election has empowered and emboldened many people to express their contempt, disdain, and hate. According to local news reports, a Muslim woman at San Diego State University was attacked and robbed by two men who made comments “about President-elect Trump and the Muslim community.” This incident took place at 2:30 pm on Wednesday (November 9th). In a separate incident on the same day, a swastika and the words “Heil Trump” were painted on the sidewalk at a UC San Diego bus stop. Continue reading