Firm Identities and Loose Borders

by Darryl Hart on June 29, 2012 · 6 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Articles,Politics & Power

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Hillsdale, Michigan. A drive back from New England to the upper mid-West on Tuesday gave me ample time to hear the journalistic accounts of the Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s immigration laws. The first item of note was the availability of Al Jazeera English on FM radio in Connecticut. The coverage of the Middle East was more extensive than NPR’s, but the ambiance was remarkably similar — soothing voices (some with accents), bouncy bumper music, and a generally progressive perspective on politics in the United States. I understand why folks with Muslim sympathies would take the side of undocumented residents in Arizona as opposed to the state’s law enforcement officials. Still, the words used to describe the problem with Arizona’s law and the Court’s decision — racial profiling, divisive, violation of civil liberties — were remarkably the same on both Morning Edition and Al Jazeera. That’s not a knock against NPR. It only shows how powerful the rhetoric of progressive libertarianism is — personal freedoms good, states and their laws bad.

The second arresting wrinkle in the broadcasts was the use of the phrase racial profiling to describe what police in Arizona may likely be doing if they enforce the contested law. I know it may seem like a small point, but when did Mexican become a race? I can well imagine that many of the undocumented residents of Arizona come from a variety of races (as contested as that category is). In all likelihood, the illegals in Arizona come from European, African, and Native American lines of descent. Some might even have more European blood in them than African-Americans living in Phoenix. But to show how much we disapprove of an outlook or policy, we need only raise the specter of racism and thereby the evil is underscored and debate finished.

The word profiling is also a curious development since it seems to have replaced the honorable term discrimination (as in a discriminating palette or a form of discernment). Apparently, when police or the government categorize people, it is bad, but when advertisers or internet vendors do so, it’s fine. For instance, during my brief perusal of the NBA finals I witnessed numerous commercials which let me know that young men in their twenties and unattached still drink a lot of bad beer while ogling pretty young scantily clad women. Advertisers and network sales staff make lots of money based on the viewer profiles that ratings agencies produce.

But it’s not just bad beer that flows according to gender and age profiles. It is also online travel agencies. A story repeated and repeated and repeated yesterday on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Marketplace — it was a long drive — reported that users of Macs tend to book more expensive hotels online than PC owners do. For this reason, Orbitz is now featuring upscale lodging alternatives for those browsing with a Mac.

Of course, no one likes to be profiled negatively. Some women back in college declined my invitations to an evening of fun simply because I looked like a dumb jock. They had the athletic part right but not necessarily the intellect (mine is supposedly above average).

But race, discrimination, and the politics of identity hardly do justice to some important legal and policy matters confronting the United States. Do laws govern immigration and naturalization or is the United States a global village that includes all people? What powers do states have to enforce laws governing citizenship or do states take a back seat to federal agencies? Beyond this are important financial considerations about cheap labor, even cheaper food prices, the abuse of undocumented workers, the unwillingness of Americans to perform what Wendell Berry called in The Hidden Wound “nigger work,” and basic human greed. But if all you listened to was FM radio and heard the national news broadcasts you would think that Arizona’s plight is simply the result of nativists who fear people of color, as if reporting on the dilemmas of illegal immigration is free from profiling Arizona’s governor or police.

People are different. People disagree with other people. And laws, policies, and courts are part of the way we try to live with and manage differences in a free society. At the same time, Arizona is not New York City or Washington, D.C. Federalism used to be the way that Americans tried to live with such differences. But in an age of heightened global economic ties and inveterate individualism, the prerogatives of states like Arizona look anachronistic. Still, that’s not exactly racist.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar JD Salyer June 29, 2012 at 9:57 am

“[I]s the United States a global village that includes all people? [...] [D]o states take a back seat to federal agencies? ”

It seems those questions have long since been answered by the powers-that-be.

avatar Localist June 29, 2012 at 11:22 am

“Some might even have more European blood in them than African-Americans living in Phoenix.”

It depends.

The CIA World Fact Book figures Mexico to be:

30% Amerindian
60% Mestizo
and
Less than 10% European

Regarding Mestizos, Rubin Lisker did a genetic analysis of lower-class Mestizos in Mexico City. Their average was:

59% Amerindian
34% European
and 6% Black

Good article.

avatar RockLibertyWarrior June 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Progressive Libertarianism? Is that a new term? Last time I checked most libertarians were for state’s rights, even libertarians who find the immigration law at fault. Progressive Libertarianism, that sir is a complete oxymoron. Progressive liberal would be more like it, they want the Federal to trump the state or local, sorry for the nitpicking but that term just doesn’t work in any sense. Libertarians are far from progressive in that sense.

avatar Lee Lauridsen June 30, 2012 at 2:22 pm

JD Salyer wrote: “’[I]s the United States a global village that includes all people? [...] [D]o states take a back seat to federal agencies?’” “It seems those questions have long since been answered by the powers-that-be.”

No responses to this post? I should just shut up and say nothing, but having just had a disturbing discussion with some of my conservative Christian friends about related racial and government-authority issues, and generally being in a foul mood, I can’t seem to listen to my better judgment.

I, frankly, have had it with so-called states’ righters. Where was the outrage from all of you when last year, in AT&T v. Concepcion, Scalia and his conservative cronies told the state of Arizona and every other state that Congress supposedly had preempted states’ authority to decide as a matter of state contract law and policy that a corporation cannot ban preclude a customer from seeking a civil remedy in state court via a class action? Federal preemption, of course, is just a fancy phrase for allowing Congress to forbid states from having a different policy. And yet I have not heard or read a single criticism of that decision by any conservative/states’ righter of that decision. (I’m not here taking a position on whether the decision was fundamentally good or bad, just trying to look at it from a states’ rights’ perspective.) At least the civil rights’ decisions that I fear are the source of JD’s unhappiness about Court decisions requiring states to accept that the U.S. is a “global village” (and in any event doubtless are the decisions that gave birth to the modern “states’ rights” movement) were based on federal constitutional law. And it’s hard to imagine a coherent argument that states had a constitutional, sovereign right to deny the right to vote to U.S. citizens who had black skin. In contrast, the Court in Concepcion pretended that Congress, when it passed a mere federal statute, the Federal Arbitration Act, had silently but effectively usurped centuries of states’ authority to decide what types of contracts and contract terms could be enforced in that state or that are contrary to state public policy. Yet, again, there was virtually no conservative criticism of that decision. How can one avoid the conclusion that the Scalia/Roberts’ Court’s decision in Concepcion, and the conservative acceptance of it, are based entirely on the fact that the ruling was exactly what large corporations (to a large extent for good reasons) wanted? I can’t avoid the conclusion that conservatives and states’ righters (like liberals) really want states to have their way on issues only when and if they like the states’ policy choices. If Diogenes were searching for an honest, consistent, non-hypocritical states’ righter, he certainly would keep looking if he met Scalia or any other conservative I’ve ever met.

I will add only that I truly hope I misread JD’s post and that he wasn’t intending to raise the long-standing conservative complaint about the Court’s civil rights decisions. If I did, I apologize, though my underlying point about states’ righters’ inconsistency would remain. If I didn’t, the irony of that post in the context of an article bemoaning conclusions about racial motivations would be startling.

avatar Jerry Salyer July 2, 2012 at 8:57 am

I can tell when I’m defeated; I take it all back.

Clearly the powers-that-be don’t regard the U.S. as a global village. Clearly they don’t regard the states as mere administrative units of the federal government.

avatar R. Salyer July 13, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Actually some of us having decried anti-States Rights opinions of whatever stripe, whether they involved arbitration (interestingly it was the conservative justices, O’Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, that cried “foul” the loudest in Southland v. Keating when the Court imposed the FAA on not only States, but State courts) or Bush v. Gore.
But as far as the Civil Rights litigation is at issue, jurist Raoul Berger wrote a book, Government by Judiciary, that pretty much conclusively established that the 14th A did not intend to de-segregate schools. That is, Plessy v. Ferguson was “federal constitutional law” usuped by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education.

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