One of the responses to my last immigration blog was that I had made strawmen out of GOP candidates Phil Bryant and Delbert Hosemann, for interpreting their anti-illegal alien rhetoric as merely anti-immigrant (and, more to the point, anti-Latino). In a recent column for The Clarion-Ledger, however, Bill Minor sees the real straw men of the immigration debate as Latinos, in an extension of the Southern Strategy race politics that exclusively targeted blacks.
"Now in 2007, the black race card for the moment has been replaced with a brown race card, namely undocumented Hispanic immigrants," Minor writes.
The circumstances have changed, for sure. No one is saying Latino immigrants are enduring what blacks did under Jim Crow (that would be making the JFP the straw man). What we have said, insistently, is that much of the political response to undocumented immigrants in Mississippi—which, as Minor points out, has suddenly become an "issue"—reeks of the same race-baiting tactics, adjusted for the propriety of the times.
As Minor points out, "illegal alien" has powerful, racial connotations—much as "welfare queen" did in the 80s. There were white women on welfare in Brooklyn, just as there are undocumented immigrants from Vietnam in Biloxi. But these terms have been aimed to stir up fear and hatred of other, specific ethnic groups (blacks and Latinos, respectively.)
It is not beating a straw man to recognize the connotations of language, particularly in the context of the first election cycle after the explosive immigration bill debate—which collapsed largely because of the false semantics of "amnesty." The strategy of xenophobia isn't exclusive to Republican candidates; Hosemann and Bryant have simply made the most obvious thwacks at Latino straw men as of late. With each unsubstantiated threat of "illegal alien criminals" and—worse—"illegal alien voters," their blindfolded swings veer toward an imaginary piñata full of votes. (Get it? Straw man—piñata? I suppose I can make that joke because I'm half-Mexican.)
Bad metaphors aside, politics like that simply cannot play.
The strategy of xenophobia isn't exclusive to Republican candidates; Hosemann and Bryant have simply made the most obvious thwacks at Latino straw men as of late. With each unsubstantiated threat of “illegal alien criminals” and–worse–“illegal alien voters,” their blindfolded swings veer toward an imaginary piñata full of votes. (Get it? Straw man–piñata? I suppose I can make that joke because I'm half-Mexican.)
Tee, hee. And great post. We need a public discussion about this mess, and I'm glad we started that ball rolling when we refused to endorse Hosemann for climbing on Lott's anti-immigrant bandwagon. And I don't give a damn if he did it in order to beat a more conservative candidate. We've heard that before. He did it. That's what matters.