The running joke between friends of mine over the past few weeks was that if I let my hair grow out a little bit and then hit the ground in Arizona, I may find myself deported to Mexico—that is, if Arizona’s new SB 1070 racially profiled as much as people said it may once it’s enacted.
After having a chance to talk to many fine Arizona Republicans that support this law, I know that it is not centered on racial profiling or hatred against brown-skinned people. Further, after seeing some of the horrifying documents concerning the violence that border cities in Arizona are incurring (including machete-hacked, headless bodies being cast into the streets along with unattached limbs being placed in various positions), it is clear that Arizonans felt that action was needed immediately in order to save lives just as much as it was to save a sense of statewide civility and lawfulness.
However, without articulating these points graphically in verbal and non-verbal channels, the message supporting this Republican-driven law falls upon deaf ears that refuse to see facts surrounding the issue. Instead, many will continue to look towards the potential of racial profiling while listening to the rhetoric of mostly East Coast-biased pundits and other non-border states residents that evaluate the situation from viewpoints thousands of miles away.
What conservatives—and perhaps many others—are missing is that the platform of racial profiling provides a perch high enough to see such possibilities of race-baiting, especially as we continue to see the percolating poison of racism bubbling up on all sides in America due to—among other things—a bad economy for the past 2 years, unaddressed immigration issues for decades, and unsecure borders during our war on terror. Many Americans wrongly choose to see opposition to President Obama’s big government policies as opposition to a Black president—and resent it. Many Americans wrongly believe that President Obama is jaded towards the interests of African-Americans over other Americans—and resent it. Polls show this. Shorter tempers throughout America reflect this.
Just as with the Tea Party Movement, the effectiveness of conservative actions for securing the borders against the threats of illegal immigration and terrorism is limited to conservatives’ ability to articulate the message past these limiting parameters of race—especially as there is also a concurrent swell of racism attempting to interweave itself within all aspects of American political activism.
And, in the process, they bring along their unique brand of addressing “wetbacks,” “towel-heads,” “greedy old, rich White crackers,” and—as I recently heard on a plane from Cleveland to Philadelphia due to my hair texture—“sand niggers.”
Sadly, many conservatives and Republicans miss the point, failing to see how many Americans can easily view their positions as racist, even if positions are—at their factual core—absolutely not racist. It is much easier to listen to the Rev. Al Sharpton’s calls for “freedom riders” to swarm Arizona in an inaccurate effort to emulate the Civil Rights Movement when conservatives fail to shape the issue themselves through consistently and convincingly articulating their positions on the merits—not on emotion—while also understanding legitimate concerns based unrelated issues from both past and current times. As well, there is a gap for ineffectiveness when we conservatives fail to take on the challenge of debating others on their concerns for racial profiling so that we can highlight the laws preventing such occurrences (as found in SB 1070, for example) or determining methods to put into place should none currently exist. There is nothing wrong with securing the borders through asking about legal status (at the discretion of law enforcement) upon detention or arrest in Arizona. Yet, as Republicans in Arizona support this law, they must also acknowledge the legitimate concern in today’s America about racial profiling and heated racial tension, highlighted by current events such as recent studies showing that Black and Latino men in one locale are 9 times more likely to be frisked by police despite being arrested at the same rates as White men (6%). By highlighting conservatives’ awareness of people’s concerns during this period of heightened racial tensions, we will show solidarity against discrimination. In turn, conservatives will effectively create opportunities to diffuse misguided opposition to their efforts and, perhaps, find new advocates for their policies in the process.
Conservatives rightfully have a focused eye on national security—both through stemming illegal immigration and corralling terror suspects—but the other eye but also be focused on building consensus in America to undertake this huge task. This accomplishment is unattainable without gaining a measure of support from moderates, independents, and liberals that are more focused on ensuring civil rights than ensuring national civility and security at this time. As long as there are too many incidents for this segment of Americans to draw current experience from—ranging from continued incidents of “driving while Black” to being called “sand niggers” and other slurs—they will not side with controversial conservative policies that address our 21st century concerns, regardless of how necessary those policies are as long as those policies elicit the perception of discrimination based on race. The lack of addressing this misperception about conservative thought on border security and illegal immigration must be filled with articulated viewpoints that diffuse emotions, educate the masses, and build consensus—and this void cannot be filled by ethnic conservatives alone, as this method often is rejected as the efforts of Republican puppets to manipulate the masses.
What conservatives have to take to heart immediately is that racial profiling is a real occurrence that impacts more than just those perceived as being “sand…”—well, you know. When isolated racial incidents are found within the Tea Party Movement, it can be called a tea party “problem”; when racial incidents center around 25-year-olds of varying races within America, it becomes an American problem—and an obstacle that could impact our ability to resolve bigger Americans problems. Racial profiling—and the group of Americans willing to inject it into the issues of national security and immigration—is enough to prohibit America from accomplishing the right tasks before us: securing the borders and securing our American Way of Life. It is time that we conservatives take the issue on directly and not allow our positions to be defined through the filter of race unnecessarily. That takes us being direct with our abhorrence of discrimination, articulate with our positions based on fact and presented with empathy but conviction, and convinced that dialogue will build a kindred with others that will elevate this country—as a nation more secure for its citizens as a land that race is not enough to inhibit triumph over 21st century challenges.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator, podcast co-host, and the author of the book, “Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative,)” purchased online at www.tinyurl.com/lennysdiary and www.amazon.com. Catch Lenny on an upcoming Friday episode of “The Civil Right with Natalie Arceneaux” on CNN Radio 650 AM Houston (www.cnn650.com) and “The Marc Steiner Show” (http://www.steinershow.org/radio/the-marc-steiner-show/may-10-2010-hour-2). Follow him at www.twitter.com/lennyhhr and on Facebook at www.tinyurl.com/lennyfacebook .