Archive for the ‘Immigration’ Category


“Who controls the past controls the future.”

March 7, 2017

Today, Dr. Ben Carson, the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, jaw-droppingly said this:

“There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great grandsons, great granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

The reaction has been swift, incredulous, and mocking. Slaves weren’t immigrants, WAR & CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  CIVIL WAR/BACKGROUND:  SLAVERY & ABOLITIONISMpursuing the American Dream. They weren’t working “harder for less,” they were considered to be PROPERTY, they were allowed none of the opportunity, none of the freedom, that this country prides itself on. Slavery was not pursuit of the American Dream. Slavery was our original sin, the great stain on our national conscience, an abomination. How could anyone, much less a black neurosurgeon, say something so ridiculously wrong?!?

But while I get people’s dismay, I just do not get the shock. This isn’t Ben Carson being an idiot. This is Ben Carson repeating a Republican talking point that’s been gaining momentum for years. A couple of years ago, Texas approved textbooks that referred to slaves as immigrants. Last year, when Michelle Obama dared mention that the White House was built by slaves, Bill O’Reilly rushed to claim that those slaves were well-fed and well-housed; contemporary accounts say that that was absolutely not the case, but regardless, it’s the same toxic suggestion that slavery wasn’t that bad. That it was alright, if slaves were well cared for. The argument that somehow the realities of slavery – being bought and sold at auction, ripped from your children, beaten, raped, denied the right to learn, denied basic bodily autonomy, denied your own name, being forced to labor and denied any compensation – could be made okay, as long as we believe the slaves were housed and fed adequately.

I used to think it was guilt that drove some people to sugarcoat the horror of slavery, guilt and an unhealthy dose of “American Exceptionalism” taken to an extreme (if America did it, it can’t be that bad). But now I feel differently.

None of this is accidental. There’s diversion, there’s obfuscation, and there’s a constant, relentless attack on reality, on science, on history, and on our capacity for outrage. As Stephen Colbert once joked, “Truth has a well-known liberal bias” – which is exactly why the GOP is trying to destroy our understanding of what is true. None of this can be laughed off, because it builds over time, until all of the parameters have changed while we were standing still.

16996196_1288946147879217_1699203292099169521_nCarson didn’t misspeak, any more than Trump misspoke when he said “You think we’re so innocent?” Carson is taking this argument and making it mainstream, to make us more accepting of the unacceptable. The hyperwealthy would love openly legalized slavery. Already, all of us own things that were made by prison labor in our booming for-profit detention centers, by undocumented people who are exploited for next to nothing, or by slave labor around the world. An economy that only serves the wealthiest depends on slavery. The Trump administration, and the GOP controlled Congress, are only interested in making the rich richer, and to that end, they are interested in warping our past, so that we aren’t outraged when it becomes our present, and our future. If they can convince us that slaves were living the American Dream, they might convince us that children in ICE custody harvesting tomatoes are lucky, because they’re housed and fed. Constant Vigilance, my friends. Never laugh so hard at the idiocy that you don’t see it’s part of their agenda, that they are trying to rewrite our reality.


The GOP Wakes Up with the Fleas

August 29, 2012

There was a time, not very long ago, when bigoted people in this country tried to hide their racism. They recognized that it was something appalling, something people would judge them for and find them wanting. They still believed they were absolutely right in their hatred, of course, but there was enough pressure from right-thinking people that it was kept quiet, expressed only in places where you knew you were “safe” to be your backward, Neanderthal, racist self. The Republican establishment fed Southern whites’ resentment against the Civil Rights Act with code words and dog whistles until the Solid South turned solidly Republican – but again, it was done through code, transparent as it may have been. On the surface, Republicans were professional and civilized and would have been shocked (SHOCKED!) at the suggestion that they were stoking racial fears. The problem with rabble-rousing, though, is that eventually you end up with a lot of highly agitated rabble who don’t just sit quietly – they make a scene, and feel great about it. That’s what we’re witnessing in Tampa.



That clip has been interpreted differently by people who were there. The reporter from Harper’s Magazine saw it as an ugly show of immigrant-bashing, while Buzzfeed asserts the crowd wasn’t reacting to the heavily-accented Latina at the podium at all; instead, it was trying to drown out the Ron Paul supporters. For my part, I can maybe believe that it may have started out as Buzzfeed suggests (though “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” seems an odd choice for people arguing about rules changes), but I’m sure that most of those who joined in were directing it at Puerto Rican woman on the dias. Reince Priebus, at least, recognized that this might not be the image his party wants on television – but it’s a bit too late for that. For decades, the Republican party has courted, cajoled, and condoned unapologetic racists, and fed them a diet of conspiracy and paranoia. You reap what you sow. You sow hatred of women, gays, blacks, homosexuals, Muslims, Jews, the poor, the highly educated… and you end up with a party full of hateful, angry, scared, ugly, stupid people, shouting down the Gentlelady from Puerto Rico. It’s your party. Cry if you want to.


Christlike Christians

December 2, 2011

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” 

–  Mahatma Gandhi, as quoted by altogether too many people who comment on Daily Kos or HuffPo.

You know, it’s true. I know no one who truly is thoroughly Christlike; it’s a very hard ideal to attain. But in the aftermath of the incredibly moving Clergy for Tolerance breakfast this week, I feel the need to go to bat for Christians and their leaders. American Christians make up a huge and incredibly diverse group. Yes, there are people who call themselves Christians who believe in shooting abortion providers, who blame hurricanes on homosexuality, who use their beliefs to justify hatred of gays, Hispanics, and anyone else who is “other.” These people are what we call “crazy.” The hate-mongers are the fringe of Christianity. Unfortunately, those who hold these fringe beliefs are loud and hard to ignore. Too often, they are seen as representative of all Christians, simply because they are likely to claim that their faith justifies their hatred. Politicians listen because they see things through the distorted lens of money and press. That is precisely why, as I said yesterday, we need to make our own voices heard over the din.

Listening to Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal ministers speaking out against the extreme legislation in Alabama warmed my heart. As a liberal Catholic, I often feel that my own church leaders – to say nothing of evangelical Christian leaders – do not share my ideals on public morality. When Robert Parham finished his moving remarks, I turned to my neighbor and said, “Baptists! Who knew?” The reality is that most American Christians really do strive to be more like our Christ. For every Fred Phelps there are hundreds of ministers, reverends, sisters, priests, youth-group leaders, and church ladies who seek to love their neighbors and to care for the downtrodden. Seeing those leaders step up and speak out against the anti-immigrant movement reaffirmed my faith in institutional religion. It’s not for everyone, but it can and should be a powerful force for social justice. If each of those 300 leaders (not all of them Christian, of course) preaches and teaches that immigrants – like all other people – are Children of God and that laws like those in Arizona and Alabama are morally wrong, this will be a better state. It is time for the silent majority of Christians to be heard, and to show that we do not share the values of the hateful fringe. We may still be “so unlike [our] Christ,” but we’ll be closer.


Giving Christianity (and other faiths) a Good Name

December 1, 2011

On Wednesday I spent a wonderful  morning at the Clergy for Tolerance breakfast, with approximately 300 faith leaders from across Tennessee. This diverse group came together to talk about fighting anti-immigrant legislation in our state. (I am not a clergywoman, of course. I just know the right people.) From the opening prayer by a Jewish rabbi, to the closing by a Muslim imam, it was a moving, powerful, and inspiring show of solidarity across faiths, traditions, and cultures. Seeing Buddhist monks in conversation with Islamic women and Catholic priests about this crisis gives me hope for my city, my state, and my country.

This is the Tennessee I want to live in:

Photo by Mike Dubose, United Methodist News Service.

Fifty years after Jim Crow, does the State of Tennessee really want to go down the Alabama farm row of Juan Crow? I hope not, but what happens depends in no small measure on what the faith leaders in this room do.

– Dr. Robert Parham, Executive Director, Baptist Center for Ethics

Our various faiths and belief systems tell us exactly what to do: extend kindness and welcome to the “stranger among us.” Our country’s history tells us that this nation is built on immigration. Every sane, objective reading of the statistics tells us that undocumented immigrants pay more in taxes than they cost in services, and that every job filled by an immigrant creates three additional jobs further up the chain of production and services. So why is there this push to demonize undocumented immigrants? Economic arguments don’t hold water. This is, as Dr. Parham suggested, “Juan Crow.” Racism by any other name still smells as putrid, and this is simply racist scapegoating of the least powerful in our society. Anti-immigrant legislation is about who we are, who we want to be. These laws raise powerful moral questions, and come down to issues of right and wrong – and the legislatures of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, et al, are on the side of wrong.

There are powerful groups pushing anti-immigration legislation in many more states, and Tennessee is in their sights. The legislative session that will pick up in January includes several such bills. If passed, they could result in the same kind of inhumanity we’re seeing in Alabama today: families fleeing the state, abandoning the homes they have slaved to pay for. Utilities cut off unless the residents are documented; families living without running water, lights and heating. Children afraid to go to school. Rank and file state employees having to inform upon their neighbors who cannot provide documentation when they come to title a car, or a mobile home. Bigotry, suspicion, and fear.

The keynote speaker at yesterday’s breakfast, William H. Willimon, Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, urged those attending – and all Tennesseans of goodwill – to act now to speak out against this legislation. “Please don’t leave these matters to your politicians. It has proven to be infinitely more difficult to speak against a law that has been duly constituted.” He should know; one provision of Alabama’s HB56 made it a crime to provide food, clothing, transportation, or other aid to someone undocumented. This horrific provision has been struck down by the courts, but Alabama is using taxpayer money to fight to reinstate it. This is real. This is coming to Tennessee and many other states. Fight it. Your legislators believe that their constituents want this type of legislation. Show them they are wrong. Show them the Tennessee YOU want to live in.

If you are a Tennessee resident, click here to find out who represents you in the state legislature, and then call and write, write and call. Speak now, before it’s too late.


The Message of 2011

November 9, 2011

I started a post all about the Republican vilification of government and their elevation of free-market capitalism to fundamentalist, gospel truth (I know, I know – you can’t wait to read that, right? Riveting stuff!) – but then last night happened. Democratic VOTERS happened. And that can’t be pushed aside for another day.

In case you missed it, there were some pretty huge issues elections yesterday. In Maine, voters supported their long tradition of same-day registration, overturning a Republican-backed law that required voters to register at least two days before the election. In Mississippi, voters rejected an amendment which would have made a fertilized egg a “person” under the law. In Ohio, voters trounced the Republican-supported law gutting unions for state employees (including teachers, of course). And, most sweetly of all, the GOOD people of Arizona recalled the self-proclaimed “Tea Party President” and architect of AZ SB1070, Russell Pearce.

This is big. This is HUGE. The major news story out of the 2010 election was the triumph of the Tea Party. The Republicans were already the party of no-tax pledges and small government, but after 2010, they completely bought into the lunatic fringe. Many Democrats in Congress quaked in their boots, too, believing that the country was veering sharply right. But yesterday’s elections show that Democratic voters can be just as passionate as the far right when our principles are on the line. We will fight for democracy by tearing down barriers to voting. We will fight for reproductive rights because these issues are far too complicated and personal to be bound by cartoonishly over-simplified mandates. We will fight to ensure that the people who work FOR US are allowed to organize for fair wages and benefits. And we will fight to remove politicians who make careers out of dehumanizing our neighbors.

Is this a great Democratic victory? Only if Democratic elected officials decide to stand with their constituents again. These are not fringe positions; this election was all about REJECTING extreme opinions. Of course, the money may not be as good. The unholy alliance of corporate interests, racists, the 1%, and religious fundamentalists, has allowed the GOP to raise ridiculous money while espousing ridiculous positions. So, Democratic officials, the ball is in your court. The People don’t like the fringe. The people want their voices heard – through voting rights, reproductive rights, rights to organize in unions, rights to due process for all residents. Will you listen to actual Democrats, or chase the money?