Think Arizona Is About Immigration? That’s What the Right is Counting On… plus a word on the Gulf Disaster

Think Arizona Is About Immigration?  That’s What the Right is Counting On…

plus a word on the Gulf Disaster


Starin' hard at the postcards
Isn't it odd and unique?
Seein' people smile wild in the heat
120 degree
'Cause I wanna be free
What's a smile in fact
When the whole state's racist…

From By the Time I Get to Arizona from Apocalypse 91…the Enemy Strikes Black

When Chuck D. recorded those words nearly 20 years ago, Arizona was already enshrined in the minds of many African Americans as the “new Mississippi.”  With its Minutemen and penchant for states’ rights, this border state seems to have always leaned more toward Dixie than diversity.  Yet, that’s only a part of the story.  New age disciples are sprinkled among the old school adherents of Manifest Destiny – all of whom, ironically, squat among the indigenous peoples that have been living on either side of the border centuries way before the border existed.  

This mix has fostered several, seemingly contradictory political trends: a diverse, progressive leadership core, a historic stronghold of Chicano movement, a tight knit and highly political Black middle class and a mostly white, reactionary base of voters and legislators.  For the right, this mix was a perfect testing ground for advancing local “wedge” policies; policies that seek to isolate and, when possible, disfranchise people of color while leveraging fear and racism to activate conservatives’ predominantly white base.

Sure, the four Arizona laws that set the blogosphere on fire last month seem disconnected at first glance.  There is the infamous SB 1070 that adds an extra layer of bureaucracy by forcing law enforcement resources to be spent on racial profiling and rounding up suspected “illegal aliens;”  the “ethnic studies ban,” initially designed to target high school classes that teach Latino studies (in spite of data proving that kids who take these classes do better academically overall; the “accent” law, which bans teachers with “foreign” accents from teaching English; and perhaps the most bizarre, the ban on human-animal hybrids (incidentally, patterned after a 2009 Louisiana law).   Yet, these bills are tied together in a comprehensive strategy to strengthen the Right’s hold on conservative white voters and divide the traditional Democratic coalition as we head into midterm elections.  The fact that SB 1070 will help ensure that Latino communities are sufficiently intimidated so that they do not get counted during the Census is just icing on the cake.

What’s At Stake

All of these policies, in their own way, are designed to polarize communities and create a sense of fear and outrage among whites that already feel beleaguered by their sense of losing ground.  By fanning the flames of fear – of a Black president and a Brown planet out of control – these policies are providing an outlet for people to coalesce their sense of lost privilege and place into an old school battle narrative of “real” Americans versus the rest of us folk who just happen to live here. 

It was the same rhetoric that fueled Jim Crow policies after Reconstruction and provided the basic building blocks for every major setback in social policy from this nation’s beginning.  Immigration is only the most recent wedge issue designed to mobilize whites around racial solidarity and protecting white privilege.  Sure, the anti immigrant language is thinly coded around law and order but the logic isn’t all that tight.  It is after all, a law that makes illegal immigration, well… illegal.  Of course, there are extra bells and whistles that step up racial profiling, force municipalities to spend resources on this boondoggle whether they want to or not and basically rob localities of local control, but it doesn’t make illegal immigration any more illegal than before.

The most recent case of an Arizona elementary school being asked to repaint faces in a mural so that there are no Black and Brown people represented, underscore the real issue.  This is an effort to reinforce and consolidate white privilege and white power in order to undermine a Democratic majority in the midterm elections.  By creating widespread concern among the Democrats tentative base of older whites and creating fear among immigrant communities during the Census and elections, the Right is doing significant damage to the 2008 Democratic coalition. 

Of course, this is a bit ironic because the basic idea behind the Obama Administration’s compromise on health care reform and more was to work toward a kind of bi-partisan political cease fire.  However, the Right is clear that they have no intention of beating those swords into ploughshares.  Add those attacks to the fact that millions of new voters of color formerly excited by the Obama candidacy have expressed their discontent by staying home primary season, and you can see that this strategy is definitely working for the Right.

Bottomline: we have to continue to build independent civic engagement infrastructure that takes these issues head on and is unafraid to name privilege and racism as driving forces in these policy initiatives.  There’s some great work going on, some of which is documented in our report on grassroots civic engagement.  We’ll need everyone to throw down to beat back this latest tide of white supremacism.  For tools and resources on voter organizing, check out our civic engagement site.   To download our new book on racial justice communications, visit our main site at

A quick reflection on the Gulf Disaster.  We at Praxis don’t have the words for how horrible and widespread and serious a catastrophe this is for the planet.  As part of our ongoing work to support organizing related to just and comprehensive recovery in the Gulf, we have launched a section on our Katrina Information Network (KIN) site to help connect you to advocacy on these issues.  Click here to act now for just recovery and cleanup in the Gulf.

We will, however, note briefly, and with more than a little irony that many of the same conservatives who railed against oil industry regulation and general government “busy-bodiness” seem to be all over the Obama Administration for not doing enough to have stopped the spill.   Although the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been heaping fines on BP over the last few years, the laws don’t have much bite.   It’s virtually impossible for a big corporation to be debarred or blocked from getting government contracts no matter how horribly they perform.  Perhaps this awful tragedy can serve as a wakeup call for Congress to pass corporate regulation and accountability laws with real teeth.