Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama

07
Apr
10

Stand Up and Be Counted… Or Not

I am not an overly paranoid person.

Why, have you heard otherwise? And who told you?

Never mind, I’ll just move on to my main point, which is that I have never understood the deep mistrust of the U.S. Census. I’ve written about this before.

Apparently, a noticeable segment of the population is terrified that filing out this form will allow the government to stick them in internment camps, Christopher Lambert style (and yes, displaying a clip from “Fortress” is officially the most obscure pop culture reference to date on this site):

In any case, it seems that right-wing nuts aren’t the only ones who believe the Census is all a plot… a slow-moving, bureaucratic, cumbersome, and tedious plot, but a dastardly scheme nonetheless.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, just 57 percent of native-born Latinos believe that census participation is good for their community. This means a large number of Hispanics distrust, or at least dislike, the Constitutionally mandated exercise.

Strangely enough, it is foreign-born Latinos, many of whom may not even be citizens, who are more accepting of the process. The Pew Hispanic Center says 80 percent of them believe the Census is a good idea, adding that “the foreign born are also more likely to correctly say that the census cannot be used to determine who is in the country legally [and] more likely to trust the Census Bureau to keep their personal information confidential” than Latinos born in America.

Once again, this proves that assimilation is definitely taking place. Just as foreign-born Latinos tend to get obese and unhealthy the longer they live in the United States, so are their offspring more likely to turn into government-hating paranoids who can’t be bothered with facts. So to everyone who says Hispanics can’t assimilate – in your face!

But aside from the inherent hatred that the Census provokes, there is also the messy racial element on the form itself. As many people have pointed out, the form does not list Hispanics as a race. Instead, we are an ethnicity.

This is because, as I’ve stated before, Hispanics may be of any race. We can be light-skinned, brown-hued, or as dark as any African American (although Torii Hunter might say such individuals are imposters).

However, to say that we are not a separate race has adverse consequences. It’s very easy to find a Latino who is annoyed that he’s being forced to pick “white” or “black” for his race. This irritation is not unjustified.

Furthermore, with distrust of the Census so high, an unnecessary racial jab is not the way to increase Hispanic participation. It’s also an ineffective sidestep. For example, Time magazine reports that “more than 40 percent of Hispanics, when asked on the Census form in 2000 to register white or black as their race, wrote in ‘Other’ — and they represented 95 percent of the 15.3 million people in the U.S. who did so.”

I can personally back up this fact. Last week, when I filled out the Census for our household, I checked Hispanic for my ethnicity. But I was stumped over what to mark for race. Strictly speaking, white is my closest option. But I checked “Other” and then wrote in “Hispanic” in the space provided to explain this otherness. This wasn’t a political act. It just seemed to make the most sense at the time.

However, in retrospect, my answer was, at the very least, redundant. Why write in “Hispanic” when I had already checked it off on the ethnicity box? More interestingly, I was now insisting that “Hispanic” is a race and not just an ethnicity. Did I really mean to do that? Perhaps I should have thought it out better. But images of “Fortress” were playing through my head, and I panicked.

So maybe critics are right to say that we should do away with the whole sloppy system of assessing the racial makeup of this country. Even President Obama had to make a stand when confronted with the Census’ limited options. Witness all the tittering and twittering that accompanied his decision to checkmark the box that says “Black, African Am., or Negro.”

It’s clearly not so easy anymore to stick people into fixed racial categories. And it’s only going to get crazier as each generation becomes increasingly mixed and mingled.

I have to wonder what the options will be for the 2100 Census. Regardless, I’m sure plenty of Americans will fear and hate it.

02
Mar
10

The Problem with a Faulty Spam Filter

I have a racist in-law. But then again, who doesn’t?

I don’t see a lot of this guy, because my wife only begrudgingly let him back into her life after a decade of exile. She has not exactly done cartwheels over the decision, but we’re stuck with him now.

Clearly, this man is not particularly close to his relative, my wife, or else he would have noticed that she disgraced the master race by marrying a Latino. My guess is that he thinks I just spend a lot of time in the tanning booth.

It’s important to note that my in-law is not overt about his bigotry. He either isn’t as virulent as, say, 1950s Strom Thurmond, or more likely, he doesn’t have the cojones to be upfront about it.

Of course, this brings up the uncomfortable truth that we now have degrees of racism. In the old days, a person was either a hate-filled redneck with a noose in one hand, or he was a progressive, love-thy-neighbor type who was incapable of seeing race, much less discriminating against someone.

But a more nuanced view has come into play in recent years. This viewpoint holds that everyone has some level of unconscious prejudice. At its lowest level, it may be the white woman who grips her purse a little tighter when a black man passes her on the street. From there, we ratchet up the intensity until we reach Klan level.

My in-law is somewhere between those poles. His dancing around the issue makes his prejudice less obnoxious in person and, on occasion, even unintentionally hilarious.

Recently, he sent us a forwarded email that slammed Obama’s immigration-reform plan. Perhaps I should have pointed out to him that there is no Obama immigration-reform plan, per se, but that would have prevented me from savoring the deeply astute political viewpoints that the email expressed.

  • There was a lot about English being under attack.
  • There was something about immigrants breeding out of control.
  • There were a few lines about Mexicans stealing our jobs.

Yes, I learned a lot from my quick glance at the missive. Most interestingly, the email detoured into how Anglo-Saxon culture was the only basis for American values. The email gave white people credit for ending slavery in America (neglecting the obvious fact that white people were responsible for slavery in the first place). I must admit that this was an interpretation of history that I had never considered.

The forward ended, rather ominously, with the declaration that white people can, at any point, take back everything they have generously given the rest of America.

I wasn’t sure what response my in-law wanted. Like I said, I barely know the guy.

Is it more proper to call him on his bullshit? Or would that just be a waste of time that does nothing but jack up everyone’s blood pressure? Is it standing up for oneself and La Raza to go on the counteroffensive? Or is it more dignified to dismiss idiocy with the split-second contempt that it deserves? Like many things in life, dealing with racists offers valid arguments for contradictory courses of action.

In the end, I just deleted the man’s rant and made a mental note to do the same whenever he sends us another email.

He’s since forwarded numerous other manifestos, but I’ve deleted them automatically, declining the opportunity to learn how Obama is a socialist who wasn’t even born in this country and wants to give all my money to gay, flag-burning immigrants.

All that can wait until my next face-to-face discussion with my in-law, whenever that is. I’m sure he’ll start the conversation with “I’m not racist, but…”

Yes, good times are coming.

19
Jan
10

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Once again, I’ve been far too lax about thanking people for commenting on my recent posts. So let me give a shout out to Stephanie, Louis, Emma, and Pipil for their contributions to the site. Now that my rudeness has been addressed, let’s take a look at my cynicism.

Despite my frequently cynical viewpoint and occasional outbursts of rage (always justified, I assure you), I consider myself a fairly optimistic person. But I’ve just found out that my positive attitude has made me a psychological minority within an ethnic minority.

This is because my fellow Latinos are a little down on the world right now, especially regarding how well we all get along with each other. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that “one year after the election of President Barack Obama, black optimism about America has surged, while Hispanics have become more skeptical about race relations.”

Basically, African Americans are still feeling pretty good about their place in society, while Latinos are, as the headline to the story puts it, “wary” about our status in this country. It doesn’t appear to just be self-loathing or paranoia, either.

Among the interesting tidbits in the poll is the finding that “Hispanics, not blacks, now are seen as the ethnic group facing the most discrimination. Twenty-three percent of all respondents say Hispanics are discriminated against ‘a lot,’ compared with eighteen percent for blacks, ten percent for whites and eight percent for Asians.”

So what do we take away from this finding, besides the facts that black Americans are on the upswing and that everybody loves Asians? Well, it would appear that the unwanted title of most feared ethnic group in America – long held by blacks – is being passed to Latinos.

Clearly, the relentless media attacks – and occasional overt violence – directed toward immigrants has taken a toll, even upon perceptions of Hispanics who are legal residents. Indeed, the article states that “there have been a number of recent attacks on Latinos that advocates say are hate crimes fueled by anti-immigration rhetoric.”

So it’s not just that blacks are feeling better about their status. They’re also perceived better by the majority culture.

It may be that whites are more likely these days to scowl at Latinos than to clutch their purses when an African American walks by. As a result, according to the poll, “Hispanics are less optimistic than other groups about interracial relations. When whites and blacks were asked how well their group gets along with Hispanics, more than seventy percent say ‘very’ or ‘pretty’ well. In contrast, only about fifty percent of Hispanics feel the same way.”

Of course, another reason for the current depression among Latinos is our sky-high unemployment rate. While the overall percentage of Americans without jobs stands at 10 percent, for Hispanics it’s an even more impressive 12.9 percent. That doesn’t lead to cheery feelings.

In essence, we Latinos have backslid. We are now more likely both to be out of work and to be discriminated against than just a few years ago. As such, cartwheels may not exactly be called for.

In the face of this dismal pessimism, however, I remain optimistic. Things will get better for both Latinos and for all Americans. I can’t give you a concrete reason for my feelings. I guess I’m just audacious about hope… or has someone used that phrase already?

14
Nov
09

Wading into the Great Debate

I’ve avoided commenting on the healthcare controversy too much because, first, it’s a massively complex issue that would require several posts to do justice. And second, I have no desire to spend time purging my inbox of illiterate screeds that insist I’m a socialist under Obama’s evil spell.

However, I do have to make a few points about the legislation that Congress is considering. Because my focus is on Hispanic culture, let me throw some information about Latinos’ healthcare at you.

Hispanics are younger than the general population, and therefore enjoy the health benefits that come with youth. Also, when compared to white people, we tend to have healthier hearts (yes, despite our infamous hot tempers) and are less likely to suffer a stroke.

However, these pluses must be balanced against the fact that we tend to be fatter, have a greater risk for diabetes, and are less likely to be fully immunized when compared to the majority culture.

Most interesting is that Latinos are the group most likely to be uninsured. A stunning 40 percent of Hispanics don’t have insurance, which no doubt accounts for a large chunk of the overall uninsured rate of 16 percent.

Of course, one reason for that is because the current system makes it difficult for immigrants to get insurance. And since we’re on that subject…

It’s telling that despite all the problems, controversies, conspiracy theories, and whacked-out distractions that accompany the healthcare debate, only one concept provoked a U.S. congressman to shatter decades of political etiquette and indulge in a childish outburst. You no doubt remember this magical moment:

What got Congressman Wilson so up in arms was Obama’s statement that illegal immigrants would not be covered under his plan. Now, it’s one thing to shout insults at the president on live television. It takes even more cojones when you’re wrong.

In fact, illegal immigrants are not covered under any public option. Nor would they be provided with vouchers to help them pay for insurance. The Senate version of the bill even prevents them from buying insurance on public exchanges.

So it seems pretty clear that they’re not covered, right? Well, what has Wilson supporters screaming that their man was right is that the House version of the bill does not specifically bar illegal immigrants from buying insurance with their own money at full cost.

Regardless of political ideology, it strains logic to say that this provision means that taxpayers will have to pay for illegal immigrants’ healthcare. Actually, it seems to me that it would be the other way around, in that illegal immigrants would pay full price and help lower the costs for everyone. But I’m not an economist, much less a right-wing one.

The only way to appease the nativist crowd is if illegal immigrants are not allowed to buy anything in this country with their own money. Their cash,incidentally, is usually earned by repairing your roof, picking your vegetables, and raising your kids. But that’s another story.

By the way, one late amendment would send the bill for illegal immigrants’ healthcare to their countries of origin, which is at least a creative (albeit farfetched) approach. I’m sure, however, that this idea will go nowhere.

In any case, we can have a legitimate discussion about how much all this costs, and if it’s the best way to address the problem, and how to address the healthcare of non-citizens. But we’re not having that discussion, because too many people are busy shouting “Communist!” and accusing Obama of setting up death panels while dishing out free healthcare to illegal immigrants.

In a decade or so, after all this is sorted out and the United States has some kind of public healthcare, we’ll be stumped over what all the screaming was about. That’s my hope, anyway.

03
Sep
09

Is 2010 OK for You?

As we know, President Obama has announced that immigration reform will have to take its place in line behind a sputtering economy and a faltering war.

At the risk of showing off, or lapsing into complete egomania, I will now quote myself. Months ago, I wrote that, in the near future “not much will come of the new president’s apparently sincere desire to make this country a better place for immigrants. There simply isn’t the bandwidth.”

I would like to think that this means that I am smarter, or at the very least, display psychic abilities. In truth, it just means that I made an educated lucky guess, or I’m just more cynical than other commentators.

But let’s not beat up on the president too much over his reprioritization. He still has three years in which to help right-wingers morph into irrational fear mongers with bulging carotid arteries who lash out at anyone who disagrees with them. Of course, when immigration reform happens, it will make the healthcare melee look like a junior high debate.

little-girl-w-flag

26
May
09

Scotus

So President Obama has announced his pick to replace David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court. It is Sonia Sotomayor, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals. She would be the third woman and – yes it’s true – the first Hispanic to become a Supreme Court justice.

sonia_sotomayor

There’s some debate about that, actually, because Benjamin Cardozo, who served in the 1930s, was Portuguese-Jewish. I’ve written before about the complexity of pinpointing exactly who is Hispanic (my first post, in fact).  However, I’m going to be bold here and say that referring to Cardozo as Latino is the stretchiest of stretches. And I’m well aware that “stretchiest” is not a word; that’s how much I mean it.

Therefore, Sotomayor would be the first. That’s enough to get my attention. A brief look at her record indicates that she’s slightly liberal, which pleases me (a fact that will surprise no one who has read this blog).

She seems to have the respect of her colleagues, a fierce work ethic, and a solid, fairly noncontroversial record. So why isn’t she a slam-dunk for the job?

Well, some commentators have questioned her intelligence. I find this perplexing.

If someone can graduate from Princeton and Yale Law School (with honors), work as a high-level judge for seventeen years, be considered for one of the most important jobs in the country, and yet still be considered dim… well, it either means that there’s something seriously botched in our educational and political system, or the standards for regular Americans to be considered “bright” are appallingly low (I don’t know anybody who has her credentials, yet I mistakenly thought I knew some smart people).

One has to wonder if her supposed tendency to be “kind of a bully on the bench” and the assertion that she “has an inflated opinion of herself and is domineering” have influenced the opinion of her intellect.

Of course, I have no idea if Sotomayor is really a bully or not. But Antonin Scalia regularly gets cranky, and people respect his assertiveness. Perhaps we just don’t like to see that behavior in Hispanic women.

Maybe the description that one of her former clerks offered –that “she’s not shy or apologetic about who she is” – provides sufficient ammo for her critics. But she just sounds to me like a confident Latina.

As such, I hope she gets approved for the gig.

23
May
09

A Nation of Laws?

Just like President Obama, Dick Cheney, and many other Americans, I’ve been thinking a lot about torture lately. I’ve been thinking how bad it is… unless it’s, like, you know, really needed and stuff… to stop bad people… right?

In any case, we’ve all heard the wobbly rationales justifying the waterboarding of terrorists (thanks for making us fall in love with you all over again, Mr. Cheney!). We’ve also heard the yowls of people upset that President Obama won’t release the latest batch of torture pictures. Let’s not go over those issues here.

What interests me – the guy who deals with Latino issues – is how this latest debate over illegal activity relates to immigration.

You see, conservatives who want to arrest every undocumented worker in sight often make the following argument: “They broke the law, so they can’t be integrated into American society. That would be rewarding illegal behavior. It’s the principle of law and order.”

Of course, I’m sure these statements are uttered only by virtuous souls who never steal office supplies, cheat on their taxes, or speed on the freeway (that would be illegal!).

The implication is that many Americans would be only too happy to accept millions of Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and so on – if only the newcomers followed the rules.

“I’m most dreadfully sorry,” the right-winger says. “But you didn’t fill out the correct paperwork and stand in line. So I’m going to have to demonize you, force you into the shadows, and kick you out of the country if I can. It’s the law, you know.”

Now, as I’ve stated before, I’m not in favor of throwing open the border and letting anyone who’s interested just climb aboard. Having millions of undocumented workers in the country is not good for the nation or for them. Furthermore, immigration reform will require a combination of liberal and conservative ideas to pull off.

But let’s stop with the self-righteousness.

For many Americans, this isn’t about respecting the law. This isn’t some principled stance for fairness.

It’s about lots of dark-skinned people speaking a funny language while crowding them at the grocery store.

The irony bludgeons me. Many conservative commentators identify jumping a fence as a heinous crime that must be punished. We can’t talk about issuing amnesty or making the undocumented pay a penalty or taking a creative approach to the problem. It’s zero-tolerance time.

illegalimgmay14aweb9qt

However, many of these same commentators – in a truly astounding display of having it both ways – then turn around and say, “But torturing someone until they talk, that’s ok. Sometimes, you have to break the law, you know.”

waterboard

Yes, there is a difference. For starters, crossing into America illegally is a federal offense. Torturing someone, however, is against the laws of the nation, prohibited by the Constitution, banned under international treaties, forbidden under the rules of war, and both ethically and morally repugnant.

So it’s clear which one is worse. Hey, it’s right there in the term: illegal immigrant.




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