Thursday, June 21, 2018

It Is Who We Are

(Rob Rogers cartoon)

 As I watch the horrifying human rights violation unfolding in my country, where children are being taken from their parents and sent to various locations around the country, I keep hearing, “This is not who we are.” That, unfortunately, isn’t true. It’s exactly who we are. It is who we’ve always been. 

A number of our founders owned slaves, and they wrote a founding document that counted those slaves as three-fifths of a person. From the very beginning, the US was okay with white people owning non-white people. The plantation system allowed those white owners to abuse the non-white slaves.  Eventually slavery ended, but the long-term effects continue to resonate in this country where black men are shot by police, without reprisal. 

Beginning in the late 1800’s Indigenous American children were forcibly taken from their parents and sent to boarding schools where they were given European style haircuts, European style names, and were forbidden to speak their native languages. There are many documented cases of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse that took place in those schools. Children were taken from their families and communities and tortured. Sound familiar?

In June of 1954, the US began what was charmingly referred to as “Operation Wetback.” This resulted in the arrests of over 100,000 people in a two month period, and as many as a million were affected during the life of the program.

We’ve always had a tortured relationship with Mexico. The US has interfered mightily in the political affairs of South America. We have always relied on undocumented workers to do the work we don’t want to do ourselves. Undocumented workers built Trump’s hotels. Undocumented workers clean our houses, care for our children, mow our lawns, and work in our meat packing factories, our hotels, our farms, and vineyards. And despite all that, we have nothing but contempt for these people who do all this work at considerably lower wages than white people would command.

The mythology sprung up that undocumented workers are taking jobs away from “real” Americans. (Real = white.) There hasn’t been a flood of white workers moving to California to pick lettuce. White Americans aren’t lining up at hotels to scrub bathrooms. The myth was useful though, because it allowed for the perpetuation of anger against all brown people. That anger simmered for decades, but reached full boil when Barack Obama was elected president. The ideological divide also became an ugly racial divide, which allowed the far right to blame Obama for inciting their racism.

For years we heard that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, he was born in Kenya. One of the loudest, crudest proponents of that belief is now the president of the United States. Trump has always been a racist. In the 1970’s, Trump the landlord fought against complying with the Fair Housing Act. He took out ads urging the death penalty for the black and Latino teenagers who became known as the Central Park Five, who were accused of raping a white women. A decade after they’d been exonerated by DNA evidence, Trump continued to insist they were guilty. 

Trump began his run for the presidency calling Mexicans criminals and rapists. He’s surrounded himself with white nationalists like advisor Stephen Miller, the architect of family separation at the border. Like Jeff Sessions, career racist.

That has led us to this place, where we have children being kidnapped by the US government at the border. We’ve seen footage of boys in repurposed Walmarts. What we haven’t seen is footage of wherever it is they take the girls and the babies. We don’t see where they take the girls and the babies, because that doesn’t fit in with the propaganda. Trump and Sessions talk about MS-13 all the time, to create the illusion that every brown person who crosses the border to escape from the hell their own country has become is a burgeoning gang member and criminal. Even the most hardened member of the Trump cult would have a hard time selling that story over footage of toddlers crying for their mothers. 

A nation that proudly declares itself Christian is allowing this to happen. A party that pretends to be pro-life is encouraging the torture of children.

The rest of the world is watching us in horror. The United States, is engaging in a massive human rights violation and no one dares step in because we have a lot of nuclear weapons, and our president is an angry, unpredictable toddler who lacks impulse control. The country that liberated concentration camps in WWII is now building them, right here at home.

It’s been an interesting experiment, the United States. We had a lot of lofty goals. Could we rise above now, and give voice to our what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature? I wish I thought we would. Racism has broken us. It is who we are. It is who we’ve always been. 

published as an op-ed in the June 22 edition of the Conway Daily Sun 


Chris Collier said...

I remember 'Operation Wetback." 3rd grader, living in South Texas, Alice, attending St. Elizabeth Catholic School. The reason it is memorable is many of my partners in crime were Mexican kids. Fortunately 'wetback' is not a word we were allowed to use since we were informed "it's like the 'n' word, children, it's only meant to hurt people and that's not what we're put on earth to do, is it?" "NO SISTER" was the choral like reply. Then we all rushed out to recess to discuss what the 'n' word was, since most of us had never seen an African-American in person, National Geographic was popular for the next couple of weeks.

Lana Vick said...

You called it. One interesting item that has been overlooked it what role the US has played in the Central American countries refugees are fleeing from.

For decades the US policies, outright and overtly, have been detrimental to the stability of these nation's. Destabilizing democratically elected governments, propping up despots and dictators has long been the handy work of mostly Republican administration's.

My.opinion, but based upon facts. Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, and even Chile.

Jason said...

The first American slave owner was a black man though...