It’s NOT the Economy: Bigotry and Racism Drive the Anti-immigrant Movement

Rev. David L. Ostendorf • Apr 22, 2009

In the canon of American myths resides the notion that “economics” drives bigotry and racism. Nothing could be further from reality.

The contemporary anti-immigrant movement in the US is first and foremost grounded in and driven by the inherent bigotry and racism of white nationalism–the ideology that the US is a nation crafted by, for, and of whites.

The strategy of using economic downturns, job losses, and competition for public resources to build a restrictionist base aimed at curtailing immigration is but a weapon used by that movement to advance its goal of maintaining white control, white dominance, and white political power as demographic change moves the nation towards minority white status by about mid-century.

Even the Department of Homeland Security rested on this myth in its recent (Bush-instigated) report on right wing extremism, alluding to the potential “threats” of extremists due to the domestic economic crisis.

The anti-immigrant movement itself is cultivating the myth in increasingly stark terms, and it is shrewdly using it to wedge and divide progressives, environmentalists, African Americans, workers, and immigrants themselves. They understand that doing so bars those social groups from coalescing to advance and to secure reasonable and just policy solutions to the challenge of global migration.

In 2001 when Suffolk County, Long Island, was tagged by Newsday as “ground zero” of the anti-immigrant movement, the economy was strong and growing.

Immigrant day laborers flocked there to fill jobs that contractors offered in abundance, and home and business owners relied heavily on them during this period of expansive growth. In the midst of that economic boom, though, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) seeded what quickly became one of the most virulent and long-lasting anti-immigrant campaigns in the nation—a campaign rooted in bigotry and racism, one that was eventually marked by violence and death.

During the same period FAIR ran newspaper ads in Iowa linking the influx of immigrant workers to garbage dumps. One of FAIR’s television ads, run under the banner of its despicable “Coalition for the Future American Worker” front-group, was refused by a Des Moines television station due to its racist tone. The ad and FAIR were also roundly denounced as racist by the President of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO in a front-page Des Moines Register story.

Again, this was not a period of economic decline.

Be it a period of economic boom or bust, white nationalists have managed for generations to use the economy for their own ends.

In the 1980s, a period of violent ascendancy for the Aryan Nation, The Order, “Christian Patriots,” and armed survivalist training camps, bigotry and racism were at the forefront of attempts to organize distressed famers and workers. “Blame” for all the ills of that decade – and on into the economically vibrant mid-1990s that brought the rise of the racist, anti-Semitic militia movement – was put primarily on Jews for their alleged control and manipulation of the economy.

Once again, the economy was but a weapon in the racist arsenal.

In 2005 Jared Taylor of American Renaissance – one of the many engines of white nationalism in the US – captured the essence of the bigotry and racism that drives the anti-immigrant movement when he wrote the following:

“Although immigration is today the greatest threat to the survival of Western Civilization on this continent, it is hardly the only threat. Every social problem—poverty, crime, illegitimacy, school failure—has a clear racial dimension that Americans refuse to recognize. There will be no honesty and no solutions until whites clear their heads of cobwebs and start thinking straight again. This will be better for everyone.”

Or at least “better” for whites, who in Taylor’s world – and in the anti-immigrant world – ARE “Western Civilization.”

Among those who stand for civil, human, and immigrant rights it is past time to recognize and counter the anti-immigrant movement for what it is—a movement grounded in and driven by bigotry and racism.

Regardless of where immigration policy moves in the coming days, this movement will not go quietly.

It will morph and transform its ideology in new or reshaped ways; it will continue to fight for the preservation of a white America. Its cynical use of the economy, of race, of workers, and of a myriad of other issues will continue to infect the body politic unless it is countered and called to task for all the myths it has relied on and perpetuated.

This movement can, must be, and is being countered effectively.

The formation of the Black Immigration Network (BIN) last weekend, as just one example, is a clear sign of the renewed fervor aimed at undercutting the contemporary racist movement in America. Such is also the case with the organized, outspoken, and increasingly effective responses of local and state organizations nationwide that are standing up both to the hateful rhetoric and the reality of this movement–to name names, to challenge it, to call it out, to oppose it boldly, to put it to rest.

There is no other choice.

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