By Sikivu Hutchinson
With the final countdown to the election the GOP and the Religious Right are desperately trying to get their compassionate conservatism on. After months of spewing white supremacist Minuteman rhetoric about dangerous illegals, Mitt Romney has come, hat in hand, to Latinos with a “kinder gentler” message. President Obama’s granting of work permits and freedom from deportation to undocumented youth upped the ante for Romney. Speaking recently before the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Romney didn’t dare reiterate his infamous demand that undocumented Latinos “self-deport.” Instead, he trotted out bromides about keeping “strong families” together in a blizzard of limp pandering. Recently the New York Times reported that some evangelicals are (shockingly) advocating a softer stance toward undocumented immigrants. Like those freshly-scrubbed Mormon missionary boys who descend ritualistically onto the third world/inner city, some evangelicals are bug-eyed over the prospect of fresh meat from the “barrio.” The smartest among them have read the tea leaves and checked the collection plates. Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the evangelical population. Latino parishioners are fueling a resurgence of Pentecostalism in the U.S. and filling in the gaps of an aging white demographic in decline. Taking a hard line white supremacist stance on immigration is political suicide for the GOP and the Religious Right. As they continue to do a tortured 180 on immigration policy the Right will ratchet up classic divide and conquer narratives tied to bootstrapping and a racialized mythos of hard work. These messages ultimately pivot on an implicit contrast between immigrant Latinos and African Americans.
In her book Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Toni Morrison argues, “The rights of man…an organizing principle on which this nation was founded…was inevitably yoked to Africanism…the concept of freedom did not emerge in a vacuum. Nothing highlighted freedom—if it did not in fact create it—like slavery. Black slavery enriched the country’s creative possibilities. For in that construction of blackness and enslavement could be found not only the not-free…but the not-me…It is no accident and no mistake that immigrant populations (and much immigrant literature) understood their ‘Americanness’ as an opposition to the resident black population.”
This contrast between the immigrant trajectory of seized opportunity (and earned citizenship) versus the resident black population’s essential otherness, is a subtext of the GOP’s anti-government platform. Every school age child of color has been indoctrinated into Statue of Liberty shtick declaring that somewhere back in the mists of time white people were poor backward immigrants clawing tooth and nail to make it on America’s gold-paved streets. Every child of color is supposed to know that whites who work every day achieve upward mobility against great personal odds. That’s why they don’t see white people living in their neighborhoods or going to their schools. [Read more…]