Category Archives: Black Brown and Beyond

Today Obama meets with Brewer. Will leadership ensue?

By guest blogger, Elisabeth Lesser.

Today, Governor Jan Brewer will meet with President Obama regarding border security and Arizona’s SB 1070. This will be the first meeting between Governor Brewer and the President since the Governor signed SB 1070 into law in April, and the tone set tomorrow by the President will send a clear message about his priorities and agenda in the face of such blatant disregard for social justice and basic civil rights.

Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, released the following statement regarding the meeting:

“We don’t expect much from a governor who’s clearly more interested in winning a primary election than she is in protecting her state. She’s firmly dug her partisan heels into the Arizona sand, and will only use the meeting with the President as a platform for even more political grandstanding.”

I’d like to add that there are plenty of good reasons why Governor Brewer doesn’t inspire confidence. She stands beside Sarah Palin in the ranks of smug, uber-conservative female politicians. Asked by CNN how she would respond if the Department of Justice attempted to challenge SB 1070, Brewer responded firmly:

“We’ll meet you in court… I have a pretty good record of winning in court.”

And even when confronted with proof that her reasons for enacting SB 1070, namely increased crime, are not true, she dismisses the facts and sticks to her misrepresentations.

Back to Bhargava’s statement:

“But from the President we do expect action. He should immediately cancel the 287 g and Secure Communities programs that opened the door to the racist, divisive law Brewer signed last month. By ending local law enforcement’s role in immigration law, the President will leave no doubt that immigration law is solely the federal government’s purview.  The President must also call for an immediate moratorium on deportations until comprehensive immigration is enacted, thus making a statement that hardworking men and women will not be separated from their families simply because Republicans have chosen to continue obstructing progress.”

Fortunately, the fight against the startlingly discriminatory Arizona law has been flooding national headlines. Yesterday, nonviolent civil disobedience in New York reached a pinnacle as 56 protesters were arrested, the latest in a campaign of civil disobedience that has led to the arrests of people in DC, LA, Chicago and Seattle. And in Los Angeles County, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to join the Arizona boycott. CCC pledged to join this boycott on May 6th, and you can learn more about why you too should join us here.

As we watch the immigration debate rekindle in full force and Arizona strips its residents of  adequate civil liberties, it is clear that the people of this country are up in arms, and that the federal government needs to act. Let’s hope the President has heard the united voices against SB 1070 and will finally deliver on his campaign promise to actively reform our nation’s broken immigration system, once and for all.

No racism to see here, folks.

Some of my favorite blog commentors are back. You know the ones. You can spot them pretty easily by the ALL CAPS and the constant use of the words “illegal”, “criminal” and “amnesty”. While I take great issue with the use of each of these words within the specific context of their rhetoric, I want to focus on the first two for a few moments.

While many of the anti’s that argue the most adamantly against comprehensive immigration reform claim that there is absolutely no racism behind their stance, most of us that are working in and for the communities most affected by this legislation beg to differ.

In the past three days I have seen two different news items come across my desk that are seemingly unrelated, but I think they speak to the current environment of the immigration debate today.

The first was the story of a Dallas, TX police officer who wrote a ticket to Ernestina Mondragon for being “a non-English speaking driver”. The Dallas police department is embarrassed and has since issued an apology, saying that the officer who ticketed Mondragon was a rookie and was probably confused. However, it has since come to light that the agency has written 39 tickets for this “offense” in the last 3 years.

The second story broke today,  hotel owner Larry Whitten who forced the Latinos working in his New Mexico hotel to speak only English and “anglicize” their names. Employees who had Latino names like Martin (mar-TEEN) where told they must change them to the more familiar (mar-TIN) or from Marcos to Mark. Whitten, however, claims that his actions were not racially motivated, rather:

“It has nothing to do with racism. I’m not doing it for any reason other than for the satisfaction of my guests, because people calling from all over America don’t know the Spanish accents or the Spanish culture or Spanish anything”

Let me first set aside my frustration with the conflation of “Spanish” and “Latino”. They are, simply, not the same thing. But the ignorance doesn’t stop there.

The idea that this has “nothing to do with racism” is an all-too familiar argument that I hear regularly from people who think that I am promoting the “illegalz” takeover of all of our resources and our culture. However, going back to my original point, the use of terms like “illegal” and “criminal” and “alien” by folks like Lou Dobbs have served to criminalize and “other” the entire Latino population, no matter immigration status. Its not about immigration here, guys, its about race.

From RaceWire:

For this reason, we cannot be fooled by the claim that there are simply talking about “language.” Rather, we must see through this to the core of what is at stake — the assault on the rights of the people who speak the languages, and today we see this in the assault on immigrants of color.

We are all familiar with the Latino scapegoat that has taken such strong hold in the minds of many Americans and some of the most dominant media frames. (Ahem… Lou Dobbs). But we have to connect the dots between this and the criminalization of an entire population and culture.

A recent CNN poll conducted found that people are “more familiar with Latinos” than they used to be, whatever the hell that means. But the findings that are the most shocking, and the least talked about from the survey:

But nearly half of people we questioned said they assume that Latinos who they have never met are immigrants, and one in five believe they are illegal immigrants

So, according to this poll, for many Americans, Latino has become synonymous with the concept of “illegal”. How is that not racism?

As we work towards reform of our immigration system, its not just bad policy that we are fighting, its the increasingly dangerous forces that criminalize and dehumanize entire populations, including but NOT limited to Latino immigrants.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio: Can we shut this guy down yet?

Though I caught wind of this story last week, I just sat down to do some research this morning and all I can say is “Are you KIDDING me?!?!”. Last week Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has made a name for himself by hunting down the “illegals” of Maricopa County, Arizona, admitted that clothing, conduct and speech are the characteristics that help him determine the immigration status of potential targets. He may as well have said “Well, I racially profile people. That’s how I know”. Incredible. Check out the clip below:

Arpaio is facing ever-increasing scrutiny over his immigration enforcement practices and is currently under a Department of Justice investigation for the countless allegations of racial profiling leveled at his agency. Apparently, Arpaio’s biggest defense was the Federal law he mentioned in the video above. The irony is, the Federal law that Arpaio cites as giving him the power to use these characteristics in his enforcement practices isn’t a law at all. In fact, its a legal analysis that was published by none other than FAIR, the anti-immigrant organization designated a hate group by the SPLC.

However, Matt Bunk of the Arizona Capitol Times points out that no such language exists in any federal immigration law and that the document that Arpaio continuously referenced and passed out at a press conference is actually a legal analysis published by a designated hate group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

When questioned about this, Arpaio admitted that it “might not be a law” but that there was “definitely a law out there” that gave him the power to do this. Basically, Arpaio is admitting that he is operating OUTSIDE of the law and has pledged that he will continue to do so, regardless of how far the administration goes in reigning in his powers.

In fact, even though the government has stripped Arpaio’s authority to conduct immigration raids in Maricopa County, he has promised that today he will be conducting one of his famous sweeps. No word yet on if that’s happened, but it’s clear that this man’s power needs to be taken away. Senator Jose M. Serrano had a letter to the editor published in today’s New York Times, where he gets to the heart of the issue:

…Extremists like Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, are just part of the problem; federal policies that empower these men represent the underlying threat to immigrant communities.

The system is broken. And the longer it waits to be fixed, the more dangerous this threat will become.

[via Andrea Nill at Think Progress]

GOP: This is Your Future Calling (and Sorry, It’s Brown)

This week, the GOP launched their new website and it was like a little gift to the progressive blogosphere. The site was riddled with bugs, went down almost immediately and had some interesting (if not wholly factual) content.

I’ve been thinking about blogging about it, but America’s Voice beat me to the punch. They did such a good job I’m just going to cross-post here (with their permission).

Yesterday the GOP launched a trendy, new website at

Only one problem: the GOP, according to the Politico’s Ben Smith, completely forgot about its future.

Smith reports:

This is, a youngish Republican points out to me this morning, a bit of an unfortunate place for an empty page on the Republican National Committee’s nifty new website.

That would be the “Future Leaders” page.

Liberal bloggers had a field day with the news—so much so that the page was updated that same day to include an interactive, “Who are the future leaders of the Republican Party?” section.

So, who/what is the future of the GOP—a great question as we brace ourselves for the crucial next leg of a national immigration reform debate.  Coincidentally, that debate started in earnest yesterday, too, with a rally at the U.S. Capitol where Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) laid out the principles for real reform.

As we’ve argued consistently at America’s Voice, Republican politicians have been guilty of using immigrants as a wedge issue for so long that they are in real danger of sacrificing their future with Latino, minority, and swing voters. With Representative Gutierrez and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) laying the groundwork to move forward on real immigration reform in the weeks and months ahead, the question takes on renewed importance.

GOP leaders have used the “ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT” bogeyman to derail progress on a number of critical issues, from health care, to the flu pandemic, to economic recovery, but they’ve mainly succeeded in further marginalizing themselves among Latino voters and other swing demographics who want policymakers to solve tough problems — not pander with cheap scare tactics.

Florida’s Republican Senator Mel Martinez, who retired in August, consistently argued that the GOP must change course if it cares at all about the future:

“Republicans risk their political future since Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the US.”

As George W. Bush’s former speechwriter, Michael Gerson, pointed out in  “Suicidal Policy:”

Now hearings are beginning on another immigration reform bill, with a legislative debate likely to ripen in 2010. For Democrats — pledged to comprehensive reform but weighing union opposition to a temporary worker program — the debate will be difficult. For Republicans, it may be an invitation to political suicide.

Some conservatives dismiss electoral considerations as soiled and cynical. They will make their case, even if that means sacrificing Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and . . . Indiana. Yes, Indiana, which had supported Republican presidential candidates for 40 years before Obama captured it on the strength of Hispanic votes. This is a good definition of extremism — the assumption that irrelevance is evidence of integrity. In fact, it is a moral achievement of democracy that it eventually forces political parties to appeal to minorities and outsiders instead of demonizing them. The scramble for votes, in the long run, requires inclusion.

The political cost of losing Latino and minority support in exchange for short-sighted, dog-whistle rhetoric could mean a very, very empty “future leaders” section for decades—and elections— to come.  Over the next few months, we’ll see which path they choose.

Cross-Posted at Huffington Post.

Robert Gittelson: Immigration Reform and Racial Tensions


Another guest post from Robert Gittelson. My apologies to Robert for not getting this up sooner – he submitted it Friday!

The taboo subject of racism in this country was served up on a silver platter for President Obama to address this week, (by former President Jimmy Carter, among others), and the President passed. I am positive that on some level, he probably wished that he could take this opportunity to address that important subject, but because of sensitive political considerations, felt that the time wasn’t right for him to speak. I, on the other hand, am not restrained in that regard, so I will not have to pass. Therefore, I wish to put in my two cents.

First of all, let me be clear. There is no question but that racism is alive and well in this country, and around the world. In some, it is a deep seated hatred, and in many, it is a subtle bias. In most, it is something that we dare not talk about in mixed company. By the way, mixed company in this case is a perpetuation of that very bias, because mixed company means “others,” or people that are, in some way, shape, or form, differentiated from ourselves.

Let me explain what I mean. When I was a kid, my parents got very upset with me for telling a “Polish” joke. At the time, polish jokes were the rage. They explained that Polish jokes were offensive to Polish people, and so I stopped telling those types of jokes. Nowadays, the same jokes are often repeated as “blond” jokes. I myself am blond, but I turn the other cheek.

Similarly, being white, I dare not ever use the “N” word. Of course, black people are free to use the word all the time, but if a white person says it, he can literally be taking his life in his hands. Being blond, (okay, a little grey), and having blue eyes, (okay, a little green), in my lifetime I have heard many, many Jewish racial epithets or racially insensitive slurs against Jews, but only because I don’t look particularly Jewish, (I am). However, if you want to hear a really good Jewish joke, ask a Jew. In fact, my mother – the one who told me never to tell Polish jokes – just e-mailed me about 30 of them to me; (Example: “There is a big controversy on the Jewish view of when life begins. In Jewish tradition, the fetus is not considered viable until it graduates from medical school”).

The point that I’m trying to make, is that until the day when a black man can tell that joke to an Asian American, in front of a Jew, and they can all chuckle about it without being self-conscious, there will exist an element of racial tension.

So, what does all of this have to do with Comprehensive Immigration Reform? Everything. I know in my heart, and in my mind, that racial intolerance is behind a percentage of the “anti’s” resistance to CIR. How high of a percentage? I don’t know, but does it really matter? The fact is that to a degree, there is an element of racial bias that is behind the “anti” movement. Ironically, it will not be until long after CIR passes, perhaps not until a generation or two has passed, that we will see real progress toward the assimilation of immigrants into the “accepted” mainstream of our culture, and the seamless fabric of our society. That is the way it is, because that is the way that it has always been in America, and around the world.

People are, as a species, wary of the members of another tribe, or strangers from the next village over. Call it a healthy skepticism. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up – much less people that are strangers – because we acknowledge that a difference exists. Human nature dictates that until we get to know these people on a personal basis, we will be cautious of them. Perhaps in many cases, we are automatically predisposed to distrust a certain race or culture through previous bad experiences, or through an upbringing that preaches against tolerance of certain “others.” That is tough to break, because we have to unlearn what we are raised to believe. The only chance that we have, as a society that wishes to tear down the walls of racial insensitivity, is to first tear down the physical or metaphysical walls that separate us.

Until the day when the 12 – 20 million undocumented immigrants amongst us are free to work, live, and fully participate in our society, full assimilation is impossible. We cannot and should not be a country that has a “caste” system, similar to what was the accepted norm in India. In this case, the “illegal” caste is stigmatized, and if the anti’s succeed in obstructing CIR yet again, they will perpetuate a caste of “untouchables” right here in the land of the free.

So why me? Why am I working so hard to get CIR passed? After all, I’m here legally, and nobody is asking to see my papers. Is it because of my long work experience with immigrants? Partially. Is it because I see this struggle on a daily basis because of my wife’s Immigration practice? Partially.

The other day, I spoke at a press conference about CIR, and particularly about the role of the census, and it’s importance. Afterwards, I was mingling with many of my fellow speakers. One of them was an Hispanic inner city teacher, and we had an interesting discussion. However, one thing that she said goes to the heart of why I am so involved in speaking out about this issue. She thanked me for speaking out about CIR, because, in her words, “people needed to hear about this issue from someone like me.” She wasn’t talking about my work experience, she was talking about the fact that I am white. Of course that is true, and that is, in fact, one of the main reasons why I speak out. Call it an unfortunate fact.

People need to hear white people like me advocate for CIR, because we look like we could be Republicans. It’s not that my “white” words carry more weight than “brown” words, but we carry different weight. A brown person can say many convincing things about the urgent need for CIR, but some white people won’t be as receptive to his or her arguments coming from a brown person as they would be if they came from a white person. Call it another unfortunate fact.

Let us remember all the way back in history to last year. Among the “progressive” Democrats, 90% of women voted in certain primaries for Hilary Clinton, where in the same primaries, 90% of Black people voted for now President Obama. There were no major or fundamental differences between their positions on the issues. The blacks voted black, and the women voted women. That is racial or gender bias that is measurable, and it is real. Therefore, the Democrats should not feel that they have a monopoly on moral indignation when it comes to issues of bias. There exists in this country a “healthy” fear of the “other.” The problem is that the fear is not actually healthy at all. Our racism holds us back from our potential for greatness. We are, as a country, less than we should or could be, through our biases, and because our minds are not as open as they should or could be.

This is a time of great possibility for our nation. We took a tentative first step toward the moral high ground, and voted for change. Now we have to have the courage to embrace it. We stuck our toe in the water when we voted for Obama. Now we have to be brave enough to go “all the way in.” There is nothing easy or comfortable about confronting racial issues. However, doesn’t that fact make these conversations all the more important?

The Cure for Racial Intolerance

Here is the latest from our guest-blogger, Robert Gittelson:

The power of the Presidency to shape debate in this country is not to be underestimated. In the midst of attempting to forge ahead with his reform of our nation’s healthcare industry, President Obama answered one question that touched on the issue of racism, and that’s all that the mainstream media of this country has been talking about for the past 48 hours. When the President implied that the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Gates at his home was “stupid,” it set off a maelstrom of social commentary about the state of racism in America.

Well, the way that events unfolded at the home of Professor Gates may very well have been stupid, and it was certainly avoidable. However, I can’t help but wonder, where has all of this mainstream media coverage and mass social commentary been, in the face of the real and true racism that has both subtlety and overtly been associated with the issue of Comprehensive Immigration Reform over the past several weeks?

Continue reading

ACTION: News Briefing on Rise in Hate Crimes

stop_hate11This Monday, national civil rights organizations will hold a news briefing to denounce the rise in hate crimes affecting communities of color across the country.

Last Friday, November 14 at 7:00 p.m., members of the community held a candlelight vigil for Marcello Lucero at the Patchogue Train Station.

Calling it a “wake up call for America,” four national civil rights organizations will hold a joint news conference on Monday, November 24 to denounce the recent wave of brutal hate crimes against communities of color.

Representatives from NCLR, the Asian American Justice Center, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) will address the recent FBI report on the rise in hate crimes nationally, as well as a number of other incidents of hate during and since the election.

The event will include streaming video and telephonic dial-in capabilities.

Raul Yzaguirre Building
1126 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036


(866) 835-8893

Read the complete WCBS-TV article:

ACTION: Building Bridges Between African American and Immigrant Communities

Yesterday, I posted on an op-ed piece written by the president of NCLR that talked about the current opportunity to mend relations between the Latino and African American Communities. So – let the work begin!

Nearly 200 Activists, Academics, Youth and Community Members Engage in Critical Dialogue on Building Bridges Between African-American and Immigrant Communities

The New York Immigrant Coalition will be hosting a free conference tomorrow that will work on “Building Bridges Between African American and Immigrant Communities”.

Saturday, November 22nd. Join us for the 2nd Annual Building Bridges Conference where activists, academics, youth, and community members will work together to develop a better understanding of the distinct and common challenges our communities face and explore ways of working together to build a stronger movement for social, racial and economic justice.

Congresswoman Yvette Clarke will provide special remarks on the post-elections political landscape and the potential for moving forward progressive policies that strengthen African-American and immigrant communities.


WHEN: Saturday November 22, 2008, 9:30am-4:30pm

WHERE: The Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies at CUNY, 25 West 43rd Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues), 18th Floor

For more information click here.

The Latino Voter Surge – and What it Means

vote-aqui2I’ve talked a lot recently about the Latino vote and the integral role it played in this month’s election. Latinos turned out in record numbers at the polls, claiming their spot as a political force to be reckoned with. Yesterday, Janet Murgia, president and CEO of NCLR, had a great op-ed published on this same topic.

Murgia notes that the historic Latino voter surge doen’t only mean a place at the table for Latinos, but it also signifies an opportunity to heal some of the historical tensions between African American and Latino communities.

Though our journeys in this country have been different, we have more that unites us than divides us. Both the African American and Hispanic communities have relied on hope for a better tomorrow for future generations, hope for the elimination of hate, and hope for a stronger nation for all Americans. On November 4, this hope translated to votes as President-elect Obama captured 66 percent of the Latino vote. On November 4, our common concerns and hope for the future trumped whatever tensions exist between our communities. On November 4, we came together and rose above our differences.

Throughout his campaign, President-elect Obama reminded us of what it means to hope. He energized a multitude of new voters with his call for Americans to hope for a better tomorrow and to come together to bring about change through collective responsibility. It is our obligation as Americans to not only believe in our power to accomplish this change, but to continue to turn our hope into action like we did on Election Day.

Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric = Political Suicide

From Simon Rosenberg’s Blog at NDN:

[Sunday} on Meet the Press, Tom Brokaw cited NDN in asking Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) whether the weak showing of the Republicans these last few years with Hispanics was endangering their Party’s ability to be a majority in the 21st century.

Regardless of your party affiliation, it is clear that Latinos were the decisive vote in this past election. It is also clear that they swung towards the Democrats. An excerpt from the full transcript of the interview (which is posted at NDN):

Senator Martinez: The fact of the matter is that Hispanics are going to be a more and more vibrant part of the electorate, and the Republican Party had better figure out how to talk to them. We had a very dramatic shift between what President Bush was able to do with Hispanic voters, where he won 44 percent of them, and what happened to Senator McCain. Senator McCain did not deserve what he got. He was one of those that valiantly fought, fought for immigration reform, but there were voices within our party, frankly, which if they continue with that kind of rhetoric, anti-Hispanic rhetoric, that so much of it was heard, we’re going to be relegated to minority status. (bold added). 

The nativists and anti’s can no longer get away with their language of hate and their scapegoating of Latinos. Politically speaking, it is suicide. And realistically speaking: it is aiding and abetting in the murder of innocent immigrants. Stop the hate.