Politicians would rather blame poverty within our communities and low achievement in our schools on the “cultures” of those suffering from the inequities.
I can’t seem to keep count of the politicians who have and continue to tell lies to incite fear and hatred of “the other.” By doing so, these politicians figuratively and literally use the bodies of “the other” as stepping stones for their own political ends. For example, so many people have and continue to call Mr. Obama’s U.S. citizenship status into question, even though proof of the President’s nationality has been well documented.
Conservative radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, has synthesized the Right’s lies in “othering” our President:
“[T]his man hates this country….Barack Obama is trying to dismantle, brick by brick, the American dream….He was indoctrinated as a child. His father was a communist. His mother was a leftist. He was sent to prep and Ivy League schools where his contempt for the country was reinforced. He moved to Chicago. It was the home of the radical left movement….This is what we have as a president: a radical ideologue, a ruthless politician who despises the country and the way it was founded and the way in which it became great. He hates it.”
Poet, novelist, and anthropologist Nathaniel Mackey discusses how “othering” is something people do, and therefore, “to other” must be seen as a verb, an action. An “other” is someone or a group of someones acted upon. Likewise, “to minoritize” is also something people do, and also must be seen as a verb, an action.
Donald Trump has based (in every sense of the word) his entire campaign on “othering” and “minoritizing” entire groups of people, for example, Mexicans:
“The US has become a dumping ground for everyone else’s problems. [Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and they’re rapists.”
Compare this to an article appearing in Harper’s Weekly, April 6, 1867:
“Irishmen…have so behaved themselves that nearly seventy-five per cent of our criminals and paupers are Irish; that fully seventy-five per cent of the crimes of violence committed among us are the work of Irishmen; that the system of universal suffrage in large cities has fallen into discredit through the incapacity of the Irish for self-government.”
Trump wants to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. His campaign press release states:
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Islamophobia routinely surfaced throughout the last presidential election. Members of the political right challenged and spread rumors regarding Barack Obama’s cultural, social, and religious background. Insinuations flew about his supposed Islamic background connected to his explicit Marxist and Fascist (which is a contradiction) political influences.
Opponents referred to him as Barack Hussein Obama – with emphasis on “Hussein” — in their attempts to connect him not only to the Muslim faith, but also to the former ruler of Iraq. In actuality, his middle name is indeed “Hussein,” which in Arabic translates to “good” or “beautiful.” Furthermore, since this country is founded on the principle of freedom of religion, whichever religious or non-religious background any candidate, or any individual, follows should in no way disqualify or call into question their credentials.
But this othering discourse is nothing new. A Butte, Montana editorial in 1870 represents the exclusionist sentiments toward Chinese people held by many U.S. citizens at that time:
“The Chinaman’s life is not our life, his religion is not our religion. His habits, superstitions, and modes of life are disgusting. He is a parasite, floating across the Pacific and thence penetrating into the interior towns and cities, there to settle down for a brief space and absorb the substance of those with whom he comes into competition. His one object is to make all the money and return again to his native land dead or alive….Let him go hence. He belongs not in Butte.”
And in 1893, also in Butte, Montana, “The Chinaman is no more a citizen than a coyote is a citizen, and never can be.”
We must see these sentiments as forms of “xenophobia,” defined as “an unreasonable fear and hatred of foreigners or strangers or that which is foreign of strange.” Like racism and sexism, for example, xenophobia includes much more than fears because they are taught and often learned attitudes and behaviors, and, therefore, fall under the category of oppression. Xenophobia operates through the processes of stereotyping and scapegoating.
Patriotism v. Nationalism
As I travel across our country, I observe a large number of homes proudly displaying American flags, the red, white, and blue flying and rippling in the wind on poles or porches in front yards. But patriotism and true commitment to our democracy takes more, much more; for it demands of us all the needed time, effort, and commitment to critically investigate all aspects of the great gift we have been given in our representative form of government: the gift of our vote. Anything less would be to waste our enfranchisement, to silence our voices, and to slap the faces of all who have gone before to envision and protect our form of government.
A “Patriot” according to my copy of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary is:
- a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests, and
- a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, [and here is the important difference] especially of individual rights against presumed interference by the government. That is the definition of a “patriot.”
A “Nationalist,” according to my dictionary is 1. a person who has devotion and loyalty to one’s own nation, and 2. a person who has excessive patriotism or chauvinism, which is a zealous and aggressive patriotism or enthusiasm for military glory, a biased devotion to any group, attitude, or cause.
I find the current political tenor very disconcerting as candidates attack, demonize, stereotype, and scapegoat not only other candidates, but also entire groups of U.S. citizens whom they blame for causing the problems of our country.
Democracy demands an educated electorate. Democracy demands responsibility on the part of the electorate to critically examine our politicians so they can make truly informed decisions.
But I observe a certain anti-intellectualism within current political discourse. How often do we hear politicians “accuse” other candidates or those serving in public office of being part of some so-called “elitist” intellectual establishment, or talk about some “elitist” media who are all out of touch with “real” Americans.
And what about the gendering of politics when we are told either that women don’t have the temperament to lead or when a politician calls an opponent’s manhood into questions by demanding them to “man up”? Or blaming those who support marriage for same-sex couples as contributing to the eventual downfall of not only the institution of marriage, but for the ultimate collapse of civilization as we know it? Or blaming working class and poor people who occasionally need a helping hand from the government?
During economic downturns, charismatic and not-so charismatic leaders attempt to exploit the fears of the public in their quests for power and control. Conservative political discourse centers on “F” words: Faith, Family, Freedom, and the Flag. This set of buzz words comprise the foundation on which politicians tell us we should decide who is truly worthy of our votes.
We must cut through the coded xenophobic, racialized, sexist, heterosexism, and classist language, for often when politicians use the words “poor,” “welfare,” “inner city,” “food stamps,” “entitlements,” “bad neighborhoods,” “foreign,” they tap into many white people’s anxieties and past racist teachings of people of color. Though white people comprise the largest percentage of current food stamp recipients, 34 percent, the common perception and societal stereotype depicts Black people as abusing the system. In addition, the buzz phrase, “personal responsibility” now has become a catch phrase to justify cutting benefits to people with disabilities, older people, and those who have fallen on hard times and need assistance.
These politicians would rather blame poverty within our communities and low achievement in our schools on the “cultures” of those suffering from the inequities. This “cultural deficit model” detracts us from interrogating and truly addressing the enormous structural inequities, which these “Libertarians” would have us multiply if we were to follow their lead.
So-called “social issues” become wedge issues to attract people to a particular candidate. In the final analysis, though, when middle and working class people vote for these candidates, they essentially vote against their own economic self-interests.
The United States is a beautiful and noble concept, a vibrant idea, a vital and enduring vision, a process and progression toward, but we have not yet attained, not yet reached that concept, that idea, that vision. We are, rather, a work in process.
And this is possibly what separates the patriot from the nationalist, for the patriot understands and witnesses the divide, the gap between the reality and the promise and the potential. The nationalist, on the other hand, is either not aware that a gap even exists or stands in denial between the potential and the reality.
I interpret a true Patriot as one who, indeed, loves her or his country, but also one who sees the way things are, and one who works for change to make things better.
A patriot also views other countries with respect and admiration, as valued members of an interconnected and interdependent global community.
The truth, however, is that a cultural war currently wages with shots fired by the political and theocratic right, a war to turn back all the gains progressive people have made over the years. I believe that until and unless we join in coalition with other groups, the possibility for achieving a genuine sense of community and a genuine sense of equality will be unattainable, and the beautiful and noble concept this country embodies will remain unfulfilled.
To view and download my “Immigration as ‘Racial’ Policy” PowerPoint presentation, click here.
Photo credit: Getty Images