"The Good Life"... for Everyone?
At a recent state soccer championship match, a group of students from the overwhelmingly white and affluent Lincoln East High School made dozens of homemade “green cards” which were then thrown in the air on the field after their team defeated the majority-Hispanic Omaha South team to win the title. The incident was reminiscent of the days when watermelons and black cats were thrown on the field to belittle and denigrate African American athletes. It underscores the highly charged atmosphere surrounding undocumented Hispanic immigration to this country, the anxiety among many regarding the growing presence of Latinos in the U.S., and the easy potential for these attitudes to turn mean-spirited and racist.
Nebraskans for Peace commends those students, parents, administrators and teachers from both Lincoln East and Omaha South who have sought to turn an ugly incident into a transformative teaching moment. The recent meeting in Omaha between students from both schools, as well as the creation of the Student Coalition Against Racism at Lincoln East, are important first steps. However, given the broader national context of rising anti-immigrant sentiment, we must all oppose the nativist impulse and those who seek to divide us along lines of difference.
The “green card” incident reflects a rising xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment around the country fueled by dramatic economic, technological and social transformations taking place today. In times such as these, many in the majority can feel destabilized and threatened, and tempted to scapegoat immigrant communities. Numerous national politicians have issued dozens of statements trading on the fears of the majority and designed to manipulate the strong subterranean current of racial reaction in the Anglo population against Latino migrants.
In Arizona, state lawmakers recently passed the most restrictive anti-immigrant law in generations, giving the police broad powers to detain anyone ‘suspected’ of being in the country illegally. A broad array of constitutional scholars have argued the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s provisions against unreasonable search and seizure, and will encourage racial profiling of all Hispanics, as well as other minorities. On the heels of this measure, Arizona lawmakers went further, banning the teaching of “ethnic studies” in public schools, while the Arizona Department of Education officials announced a new policy threatening to remove or relocate teachers with “heavy accents.” Taken together, these measures set a divisive and adversarial climate for dealing with the immigration issue.
Like the nation as a whole, Nebraska finds itself at a crossroads over this issue. Nebraska legislators have put forth a series of punitive measures against undocumented residents of the state, including a failed measure to levy hefty taxes on wire transfers of money sent abroad. In 2008, large moneyed interests from outside the state successfully mounted a ballot initiative campaign to outlaw all state-level affirmative action in Nebraska. That same year, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning first refused (then relented) to prosecute alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act targeting undocumented Latino immigrants. This summer, residents of Fremont, Nebraska, following the efforts of several communities across the country, will vote on an ordinance to ban the “harboring” of, and hiring and renting to, undocumented immigrants. And just last week, state Sen. Charlie Janssen, whose district includes Fremont, and who sponsored last year's legislative attempt to repeal the law which allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition, announced his plans to introduce an “Arizona-style” immigration bill next year. The anti-immigrant push in Arizona and Nebraska is backed by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization with strong ties to white supremacy and the modern eugenics movement. It is impossible to divorce the “green card” incident in Lincoln from this broader, troubling and expanding anti-immigrant context.
Following the episode at the state soccer championship in Lincoln, some have attempted to minimize the incident, dismissing it as a harmless juvenile prank, an isolated anomaly, or media hype. In fact, it is none of these. The plain truth is that many Latino student-athletes report being subjected to racialized taunts, threats and other abuse on a regular basis in Nebraska. African American athletes have long encountered racist hostility on playing fields and ball courts across our state as well, and homophobic epithets hurled at athletes from all-boys schools are routine. It is a shameful culture of acceptance of these dehumanizing displays, newly stoked by a growing nativist impulse, that enables these and future incidents. It is the role of the community – parents and teachers, school administrators and coaches, civic leaders and everyday citizens – to step forward and make clear that these behaviors are unacceptable and antithetical to the ideals of sportsmanship and democratic citizenship.
Nebraskans for Peace suggests the following immediate actions:
- Write a letter to your local newspaper in praise of the students, parents, administrators and teachers at Lincoln East who have made a stand against intolerance and in favor of a constructive way forward.
- Organize to create and support a broad coalition of organizations and individuals across the state opposed to divisive appeals that trade on fear and derogatory stereotyping and committed to a humane and just immigration policy.
- Urge our public schools to develop and implement strong multi-cultural education to equip students with the skills necessary to navigate an increasingly diverse and global society.
- Publicize and attend the forum "Brown Person, Show Me Your Papers! A Discussion of the Resurgent Face of Racism and the New Civil Rights Struggle," on June 2, 2010, from 7:30-9:00pm, at the Lincoln Unitarian Church, located at 6300 A Street. The event, co-sponsored by Nebraskans for Peace and the Unitarian Church of Lincoln, is free and open to the public.
We are at a critical juncture, torn between the strong pull of a historically-powerful and divisive nativism on the one hand, and the promise of a truly just, multi-racial and multi-ethnic democracy on the other. Which way will we turn? Will Nebraska provide the “good life” for all residents, or is that promise held out only to a privileged segment of the community? Will we embrace the reality of an increasingly diverse and global society, or hide behind the myths of racial and cultural purity? We will determine the direction of our future. Won’t you join with Nebraskans for Peace and its many friends to do this important work?