Uttering the word Arizona anywhere in the world nowadays creates a visceral reaction. For some, it evokes the specter of Nazi Germany; for others, a totalitarian regime. For some, legalized and mandatory racial profiling represents a return to the Jim Crow south, and for still others, it conjures up apartheid South Africa.
The 2010 elections have inflamed passions even further. For instance, Jan Brewer was elected governor, riding primarily on the wave of anti-Mexican sentiment prevalent in Arizona. Actually, with her hysterical and false statements about beheadings in Arizona, she was actually creating that sentiment. State Sen. Russell Pearce – the author of Arizona’s new racial profiling measure, SB 1070 and a host of most of the state’s anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican bills – is now majority leader of the state Senate. State school superintendent Tom Horne – the architect of HB 2281, which seeks to ban ethnic studies in Arizona’s K -12 schools – was elected the state’s attorney general. His successor, state senator John Huppenthal, has one-upped him, vowing to carry on Horne’s fight at the university level. Ward Connerly, who isn’t from Arizona, brought his anti-affirmative action initiative to Arizona – Proposition 107 – and successfully packaged it as a civil rights initiative.
Couple all this with Sheriff Joe Arpaio and well, he’s not going anywhere except national; next to Sarah Palin, he is the darling of the extreme right wing.
For the above politicos, these initiatives and movements represent greatness (Pearce’s words) for other states to emulate.
Hyperbole aside, does all this equal a literal doomsday for people of color and progressives in Arizona when the new legislative session begins in 2011? On Nov. 3, the answer seemed to be a resounding yes! But this answer is actually illusory. This steady backwards march into pre-human history is not new… and it is not limited to Arizona. It is national in scope.
Despite all the national turn inward – toward the border and a fear and loathing of Mexicans – all this has served to keep our eyes off – through misdirection and subterfuge – the even more onerous picture.
As is well-known, the nation is up in arms over the massive economic disaster (caused by the previous administration), which has translated into both high unemployment and underemployment. All this has fueled the hate and fear that Arizona signifies. Here, blaming all the problems of the world on Mexicans isn’t just a thought, slogan or movement; the local police and the federal government and its myriad of law enforcement agencies, plus the military, have been teaming up to go after our friends, neighbors and students and their families – on the border, on Arizona streets and in the courtroom (Operation Streamline).
This economic disaster and the fear-exploiting politicians have made it easy to scapegoat “illegal aliens.” In these parts [all of the United States] that’s a dehumanizing term and code word for red-brown peoples. As has been noted, what does English-Only and forcing a Greco-Roman curriculum into the classroom have to do with legalities?
They want us out, and for those of us that remain, they want our spirits.
So what’s the subterfuge? War. Since 2001, this nation has normalized the “right” of the United States to wage permanent war anywhere and at anytime in the world. Iran and North Korea seem to be next. The president no longer uses the Bush-era “War on Terror” rhetoric, but the Bush doctrine survives. It permits the United States to wage war and launch missiles anywhere, manned or unmanned, on anyone deemed to be an enemy. War makes trials unnecessary. With drone technology, no one gets their hands dirty anymore, notwithstanding civilian casualties. This is the Obama doctrine.
This is what has bankrupted the nation in bipartisan manner, financially, but even more importantly, morally as well. But rather than debate the morality of permanent war, of waging illegal wars that lay waste to entire nations and wars we can’t also either afford, instead, we are all directed to focus our anger or energies 24/7 around issues related to economic despair.
So blame the Mexicans. It always works. Just don’t call them that. Illegal aliens will suffice. The question remains: Are we living in an apartheid state? Not really. The red-brown populations of the state are not in the majority. But make no mistake; the repressive legislation is predicated on that fear and thus can be considered pre-apartheid. Whatever this system is called, those who believe in social justice are not sitting idly by.
Roberto Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com