Like Uncle Walt, I Contain Multitudes

Lil’ Pasture* tried to call me out yesterday.

I would caution, however, that this system only works when there is a benevolent, homogeneous ingroup in charge. Something that wouldn’t be possible if other aspects of her ideology were carried out.

For there to us an us there has to be a them. It just doesn’t seem in keeping with enlightened progressive feminism, in my view, even on a provisional basis.

Donna Locke, in the comments, tries to school me about immigration:

Our legal-immigration system is in a mess because we are taking in and trying to process far, far more people than the system or we can handle. That should be a clue, an alarm, to any thinking American. Our traditional immigration levels, preceding the past 30 years, were far lower. The current massive numbers have defeated our traditional assimilation model. That is why we see everything repeated in Spanish now, and it includes more than the loss of our common language. The problem is not our immigration system. The problem is the numbers that are coming in and overwhelming it.

Then, y’all, Glen Dean is boo-hooing that we Lefties are calling anti-immigration folks xenophobic, racist, and nativist:

Do Mike and his friends, like commenter Ginger, really believe that every one who opposes illegal immigration is a hate filled racist? If they do believe that, no wonder they are so angry.


After hearing this story yesterday, I reacted like most people. A very bright young student, a track star at TSU, and a future law school student, was killed yesterday by a drunk driver. That alone is enough to leave you bothered. Every life is valuable regardless of one’s potential, but it especially hurts when an all American girl like this has her life cut short. Maybe we are wrong to seemingly put more value on this young lady’s life than others. I don’t know, but that’s not the point. The point is, a young person was killed by a drunk driver.

Y’all, seriously. Is it any wonder that, when someone like Mack comes along and just cuts through the crap, my reaction is so over the top? Thank god someone is just willing to say it like it is.

Let’s just take a side-track. First, I’d like to say how much I love and how handy it is for me to have a bunch of different translations of the Bible at my finger tips, but also how frustrating it is when you have a piece of something, say a Psalm, memorized and you go to look it up and it’s not how you remember it and so you have to spend ten minutes you’d otherwise spend on a perfectly good rant trying to find the exact translation you want. In my case, Psalm 62, English Standard Version, “For God alone, my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He is my rock and my salvation, my fortress. I shall not be greatly shaken.”

Isn’t that nice? I was looking for the next part, “How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?” because I was going to work it into my rant about how ridiculous building a wall between here and Mexico is**, but I don’t think it really fits. Still, I didn’t want to not mention it, because Biblegateway is so damn cool.

Okay let’s get back to the points I want to make.

1. Glen Dean

The Random House dictionary defines “nativism” as “the policy of protecting the interests of native inhabitants against those of immigrants.” The American Heritage dictionary defines it as “A sociopolitical policy, especially in the United States in the 19th century, favoring the interests of established inhabitants over those of immigrants.” and “The reestablishment or perpetuation of native cultural traits, especially in opposition to acculturation.”

Glen Dean says, “Every life is valuable regardless of one’s potential, but it especially hurts when an all American girl like this has her life cut short. Maybe we are wrong to seemingly put more value on this young lady’s life than others.” [Various emphases mine]

Glen, hello, that is the text book definition of nativism–putting more value on this girl’s life BECAUSE SHE IS AN AMERICAN/favoring the interests of established inhabitants over those of immigrants. That is it. What you’re saying is nativist.

Calling you out on that makes people like me seem angry? Whatever.

If anything, we’re exasperated that y’all don’t seem to have the ability to type “” into your browser before you start complaining about being called nativist. I mean, not to skip ahead, but look at what Donna Locke says–“The current massive numbers have defeated our traditional assimilation model. That is why we see everything repeated in Spanish now, and it includes more than the loss of our common language.” Now look at the second American Heritage definition of nativism, “The reestablishment or perpetuation of native cultural traits, especially in opposition to acculturation.”

I can’t spell it out for you any more clearly. Donna Locke is a nativist. She advances the idea of the perpetuation of native cultural traits (“traditional assimilation models,” “our common language”), especially in opposition to acculturation (she doesn’t like seeing everything also in Spanish now).

Are all nativists xenophobic racists? No, but y’all have a long history of walking arm and arm with them***.

2. Donna Locke

Donna, for starters, you’re operating under the premise that our immigration system is somehow not troubled by the same bureaucratic nightmares of other government agencies. As nm and gandolph mantooth explained yesterday, it’s a nightmare that doesn’t work well for anyone.

You’re an intelligent woman and so I know you get this and so I am loathe to spell it out for you again, but here goes. The system is broken. They can’t even get as many new people as we need in the country into the country with anything approaching competancy. People who are in the system cannot navigate the system because the system is a nightmare.

This has nothing to do with the people who are here illegally, because they are, by definition, here illegally and therefore not in the system. We could have four billion people here illegally and they would be no strain on the immigration system because they have, by definition, bypassed the immigration system.

So, that is one issue. The immigration system needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed in such a way that people can move through it efficiently, that the numbers of people who come in are equal to the needs we have, and that people who are criminals–like Victor Benitez, when they are identified–serve time (if they’ve committed a crime here) and then are deported.

Right now, though, Immigration cannot process the number of people we need in the ways that we need them. That also must be reformed. If we need a great many unskilled workers, then Immigration guidelines must be changed to let those folks get here with relative ease.

And, if we’ve encouraged folks to come here in ways that circumvent Immigration, because Immigration would not let them in in the first place, we owe it to them to help them get right with the Law.

Right now, we have a situation where there are, for all practical purposes, no slots for unskilled workers and yet businesses all over this country have said, “Well, if you can get here, you can have a job.” There is no legal way for them to take those jobs. And yet those jobs are being offered to them.

We can either start shutting down American businesses who offer jobs to folks who cannot legally take them (and good luck with that) or we can acknowledge that our Immigration system is so broken that, even normally law-abiding businesses must circumvent it in order to do business and fix the system and make a way for folks who are here to be here legally.

This is especially important because many of them have children who are U.S. citizens and we have an obligation to them, if not to their parents, to watch out for them (see, even I can be slightly nativist).

But, second, Donna, and perhaps more importantly, I come from rural America. And I have lived in little towns where church records were still kept in German or where grandmas still spoke Italian. I have lived near enough to Chicago to tell you that there are high schools in Chicago that have English, Spanish, Polish, and Greek signs that point you places. There are neighborhoods in Chicago where you might never hear English all day.

And it can be a little weird, to be in a country you know is ostensibly English-speaking and walk into stores and have to wait for a seven year old kid to come and translate your needs for you.

And I’ll even admit that it can be scary.

But it’s not the end of the world. It’s also exciting and vibrant. And, if you’ve ever been to Chicago on, say, St. Patrick’s Day or over the 4th, to see all these different folks come together to celebrate and enjoy each others’ company, it’s awe-inspiring.

It makes me proud to be an American, that we can be so different and yet all fit under the term “American.” Not because we’ve all assimilated; not because we all speak English; but because we’re all here.

That’s it. That’s all it takes. Just show up.

If that doesn’t inspire Whitman-esque love for this great place, I don’t know what will.

What I want to say to you is that the future you fear is coming. You might be able to hold it off for a little bit, but it’s coming.

You can either continue to be afraid or you can learn to embrace it. But I honestly don’t see how, without resorting to being something that is truly un-American, you can stop it.

3. Lil’ Pasture

You’re so cute. What can I say? I have a couple of visions of how the world should work and those visions don’t work together. Doesn’t mean I’m wrong, just means I’ve thrown my lot in with the poets and the angel-headed hipsters.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops.

*I try, out of respect to him, to remember not to use his immigrant name.

**I mean, seriously, first, who’s going to build the wall? Second, we’re communist Germany now? You’d think all those Reagan-lovers would be a little nervous about acting like a bunch of communists, but I guess not.

***Again, I know, y’all don’t believe in history or being obligated by it, but I don’t know how else to explain to you our reticence to assume that nativists aren’t motivated by racism or xenophobia.

11 thoughts on “Like Uncle Walt, I Contain Multitudes

  1. “You’d think all those Reagan-lovers would be a little nervous about acting like a bunch of communists, but I guess not.”

    This made me laugh until I snorted. Heh. You’re so awesome, B.

  2. B, this is a seriously good smack-down, but I want to challenge one of your interpretations.

    The INS isn’t a nightmare because it’s a huge government bureaucracy; it is a nightmare because it’s a huge bureaucracy, period. In 4 years, I haven’t been able to get the phone company in Nashville to send mail to my correct street address; they insist on sending it to a nonexistent address instead, and only the alertness of the mail carriers gets it to me. The wait to get a cable company to schedule a visit to install your cable in NYC is several weeks to several months, and even then you have only a 70% chance of them showing up when they said they would. The wait to get customer service on the phone for any large company gets longer all the time. I could go on, but the fact is pretty clear that large bureaucracies, especially when they are understaffed, screw up.

    And when bureaucracies are run (as gov’t bureaucracies under the last couple of Republican administrations have been) by individuals who think that the bureaucracies shouldn’t really be doing all that much anyway, and who see their missions as cutting back on services, they get even less efficient.

  3. NM, yes yes yes good goddam yes! That truly is it. If you want to privatize something that isn’t currently privatized, what incentive do you have to ensure it runs smoothly? I used to laugh at Cingular for billing me 70 cents for two years, and spending 40 cents a pop to do so. (And I never had a Cingular account)

    Anyway, I read Glen’s post yesterday at Ginger’s prodding, but then I remembered why I stopped reading his stuff long ago. A strange mix of poorly thought out positions, and lazy research habits.

    Donna Locke is smart, which makes me wonder why she is so obtuse about this issue.

  4. Ha, Mack, I’m relieved to see you here. After my “ovipositor” comment, I was afraid I might have run you off.

    NM, yes, exactly. That’s what I’m trying to get at–the government part of it is that it’s a bureaucracy run by folks who don’t think we really need to be doing that much. I should have been clearer about that. All bureaucracies are ridiculous, to some extent, but bureaucracies managed by people who don’t believe in their mission? That can be evil.

  5. …I read Glen’s post yesterday at Ginger’s prodding…

    Prodding sounds so…animal. I like to think of it as more of a gentle stroking.

  6. Pingback: Nashville is Talking » A Brief Word

  7. Aunt B,
    As far as the multilingual context of this conversation, I’m so glad you brought up the diversity in language that any metropolis offers. We forget that not that long ago there were many grandmas and grandpas that moved here and didn’t pick up the English language at all or used it as a limited secondary option.
    Having always lived in my rural area, that wasn’t as predominant as the many examples of an entire urban neighborhood where a language other than English dominated conversations, but I’m still smart enough to recall stories about recent ancestors who didn’t assimilate 100 percent.
    I told someone just the other day that the United States is still a very young country and English may be a “common language”, to quote Donna, right now, but as the time passes and our nation continues to age and grow, who’s to say what will eventually be the “common” denominator.
    And, on another topic, I’m really so against a “Wall”. That’s just not neighborly. Hee Hee.

  8. First off, I appreciate the link. Secondly, when I said All American Girl, I meant the fact that she was a good student, an athlete, and a future law school student, kind of like “Everydody’s All American”, as opposed to everybody’s all AMERICAN. Basically she was a good citizen. If she was killed by an American drunk driver, I think that most people would probably still put more value on her life. I don’t think the value in this case has so much to do with her being American as it does with here being such a good citizen. Do I think that is right? No, but it is what it is. That’s just the way people are.

    In hindsight, I wish I had not used that term. Obviously it leaves a wrong impression. Not that I think that you will believe me, but emphasizing her American-ness was not my intent.

    Most importantly though, there are some valid arguments made by people who are not racists. As I have said in the past, I am liberal on this issue. I think we should make it much easier for people to come here legally. I do not agree with Donna. I support immigration and lots of it. Donna may be those things, but most others are not. All I am saying is that if you are going to argue this subject, don’t resort to the easy tactic of screaming racism, but actually listen to the arguments and then shoot them down. The thing is, I agree with you more than you know. I just have a less cynical view of my fellow citizens.

    In any event, thank you for the attention. Have a good weekend.

  9. I think the wall is hilarious. I mean, no it’s not neighborly, but worse than that, it’s stupid. Don’t get me wrong, I think Trent Lott is an idiot, but he makes a good point that’s being lost in the effort to make him look like a fool. If goats can find their way out of most fences, what makes us think people aren’t going to be much more sophisticated and able?

    Glen, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being slightly nativist. I think it’s just human nature. But I thought your point was that we lefties throw those words out as a way to shut down discussion, not as an accurate description of what’s being said. I think you’re wrong.

    The other thing is that nativists are on a spectrum with xenophobes and racists and white supremacists. And, when you’re on a spectrum with people who have been known to assault and kill folks, you’ve got to understand that folks who disagree with you aren’t going to spend a lot of time trying to figure out where on that spectrum you fall. That’s not fair, but that’s also human nature. Therefore, it’s really on you to differentiate yourself from similar, but evil beliefs.

  10. Hmmm…. language, racism, and immigration.

    One of the great gifts of the conservative movement to our public discourse has been the ability to bury old social and political pejoratives under layers of plausible deniability and Orwellian rhetorical juxtaposition. Por ejemplo: “Welfare queens” = niggers. “Pampered athletes” = million-dollar niggers. Discussing the inequities in wealth distribution and their effects on democracy = “Inciting class warfare” (formerly “communist agitation”).

    Glen Dean, when I saw that the late Ms. Gardiner was African-American, I knew that you likely intended no chauvinistic overtones to your use of the term “all American.” Whenever I read or hear that term, my first impression is that the user means “white” (which is probably why I so rarely come across the term; it has trouble divorcing itself from the racist implications of its most frequent usage). So obviously I guessed you weren’t going that route.

    However, your characterization of “the easy tactic of screaming racism” looks suspiciously like a Straw Man. Surely you can appreciate the presence racism has in the immigration issue. My semi-serious examples notwithstanding, characterizations of the immigration ‘problem’ are often painted using the kind of language to which I was referring. The frequent dehumanization of Mexican migrants in particular (while other immigrant foreign nationals– especially Europeans– are rarely mentioned) demonstrates that the issue has as much to do with ‘racial’ anxieties as it does with historical, geographical, and logistical concerns.

    If I’m saying anything, I agree with you that there are many valid arguments that aren’t founded in racism. Much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric is steeped in racism, though. More importantly, our government’s policy actions (militarized, community-wide law enforcement raids; concentration camps that even detain children who are citizens; separating families; etc.) often display a viciousness that no peace-loving democracy (ahem) should ever condone from its elected and appointed agents. So it is no wonder that many people’s racism radar goes up in these debates. It’s kind of hard to avoid ‘playing the race card’ when so much of the deck is composed of race cards.

  11. Church Secretary, I disagree. I think most of the anti-immigration rhetoric is aimed toward the govt. Being a white person who hangs around a lot of other white people, I don’t hear a lot of people saying the things you think they are. It’s more like “Damn George Bush or screw Bob Corker”. As for the race of the young lady, believe it or not, I could give a rats ass. What most care about is that she had such a great future ahead of her and it was cut short by a drunk driver.

    Aunt B, I really do think that you all use those words as a way to shut down discussion, or perhaps deflect attention away from the issues, and on to the messenger. That tactic is used on just about anything. It would be different if people said, “even though you are a hate mongering white supremacist, I will go ahead and address the issue of ….” But instead it’s more like, “oh they are just a bunch of xenophobes and racists. Game over, we win”.

    Btw, thanks for the definition lesson. I will probably use it a few months from now to make fun of somebody else. I have done that with the definition of racism, which is probably the most mis-used term in the English language. Bigot should be used in its place most often. Oops, ran off track here. Anyway, have a good weekend.

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