A Washington Post report makes it official. The Department of Justice lawsuit against Arizona, as I suggested in wondering what could possibly be motivating the administration, is a cynical bid for the Hispanic vote, a strategy to turn red border states purple. How very pre-post-racial.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) speaks to protesters attending a rally:
“We’re going to overturn this unjust and racist law, and then we’re going to overturn the power structure that created this unjust, racist law.”
The Arizona law is not racist — unless the actually stricter immigration laws of virtually every other nation on the planet, including Mexico, are even more racist. That the law is so glibly condemned as “racist,” and that the White House so cynically promotes that narrative, is perhaps the most disappointing failure to date of President Obama to live up to his tremendous promise as America’s first African-American president and the man who could take America into post-racial politics.
What would an actually post-racial President, instead of a cynical pre-post-racial President, say about the current controversy over the Arizona law? Here’s my vision of post-racialism in a less cynical White House.
“My fellow Americans, of every race, color, creed, and religion produced by our shared planet, our strength is our diversity. We are home and beloved country to the greatest diversity of human beings that human history has ever produced. Our diverse people are proud to be Americans, and millions of people from every continent of the world profoundly wish to be Americans, because we stand as a nation for something so much larger than simple racial identity.
“We stand for the twin freedoms to celebrate our own particular racial heritage, and to dwell in mutual respect for the racial heritages of all the others.
“Arizona’s recent immigration law has ignited another racial debate in this country — and it is another strength of our nation that we actually have genuine racial debates, that we tackle this minefield forthrightly, that we argue so much and try so hard to get it right.
“I don’t believe Arizona’s law is sound policy. But I understand the impulse that gave rise to it. It is not ‘racist,’ as some detractors claim. It is, in the view of its promoters, rational self-defense, an effort to address illegal immigration in a state with around 450,000 illegal immigrants.
“Unfortunately, the current debate too often pits people who dwell exclusively on anecdotes of illegal immigrant crime and cost to Arizona against people who dwell exclusively on anecdotes of hard-working, sincere, often-persecuted migrants who desire only the betterment of their families.
“My fellow Americans, both narratives are true. The protesting camps on both sides that dwell exclusively in a single narrative about the human beings who cross our borders without the legal right to do so are both missing the more textured, human, complex reality.
“I am committed to comprehensive immigration reform that acknowledges both narratives. Let me be clear. Illegal immigration, first and foremost, is illegal. It is against our duly-enacted laws. We cannot treat it as other than illegal. But let me be equally clear: our nation has been complicit in luring illegal immigrants to this nation to do jobs at wages, and with fewer protections, that citizens do not accept.
“Illegal immigrants are not bad people. In most cases, they simply want the dream of America. People vote with their feet, and we should all take pride in the fact that so many people want to live and work in America.
“Comprehensive immigration reform therefore look like this: (1) we strengthen the borders and stop the lawlessness; (2) we simplify the process for legal immigration so that legal immigration is not so difficult; (3) we create a fair procedure for illegal immigrants to become citizens if they can show that they truly want to be here and pay taxes and join the American community.
“It should never be the case that an illegal immigrant has an easier time of becoming an American citizen than an individual doing everything lawfully to become an American citizen.
“And that is my bid to you, my fellow Americans. This is not a racial issue. It is an American issue. We thrive as a nation on acceptance. We can make this work. We can make immigration reform a testament to the greatest American values, and we can prove again that America does some things so profoundly well that millions of people elsewhere wish to be Americans.”
I wish President Obama would deliver that speech. That would be post-racial. That would deliver on his promise. Right now, we’re in pre-post-racial America, and that is sad.
Kendrick MacDowell is a lawyer and writer in Washington, D.C.