Originally published at the anthropology blog, Savage Minds, responding to their call for short commentaries on “anthropology in the Trump era”.
In late January, President Trump signed three Executive Orders concerning immigration. The “Muslim Ban” galvanized attention, from protests and Op-Eds to legislative action. Given the patently unconstitutional practices sanctioned by that Order, the maneuvers promised by the other two—including increased agency powers to profile and criminalize immigrants, mass raids, detentions, and deportations—possibly appeared less immediately pressing.
Academics’ responses hint at a more worrying reality. An open letter to the President signed by 43,000+ scholars, including prominent anthropologists, concludes:
“The unethical and discriminatory treatment of law-abiding, hard-working, and well-integrated immigrants fundamentally contravenes the founding principles of the United States.”
The qualifiers here are alarming and counterproductive. Racialized groups of people have been systematically criminalized, exploited for their labor, and marginalized in the United States since its founding. Terms like “law-abiding,” “hard-working,” and “well-integrated,” are furthermore malleable to pernicious ends, and frequently deployed by right-wing voices.
As scholars, teachers, and activists, we must refute, not echo, the “good” vs. “bad” immigrant rhetoric of this (and earlier) administrations. As anthropologists, we must reflect critically on governmental categorizations of people, not take them for granted. We must expose the xenophobic constructions at the heart of each policy statement. As Trump makes good on his promises, we must advocate for all immigrants—regardless of taxes paid, skill sets, or ascribed work ethics; regardless of faith, language, or family ties; regardless of records, status, or papers. Lines drawn in the sand around state-approved “deserving” immigrants will only fortify the foundations of future border walls.
People want answers. On social media timelines, in newspapers and blogs, in private conversations, those who cannot understand how Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States are desperate to make sense of it all. Too many people are accepting easy answers. It was neoliberalism. It was misogyny. It was white supremacy. It was fear. It was Hillary. It was the media. It was the FBI. It was Facebook.
In truth, there is no single person, group, ideology, or media moment to “blame”. Ignore the thousand Think Pieces telling you otherwise. No one “let” this happen; there is not one “cause”. Desire for straightforward answers reveals only the depth of denial we face in the United States today. The voting public chose this. Across income levels, across numerous states. We chose this. That is how democratic society works. We are all complicit.
People are asking the wrong questions. “How did Donald Trump win marginally more support in three particular U.S. states?” “Why were pollsters wrong?” “Did Democrats choose the wrong candidate?” The question we are too afraid to ask is simple: “What is our society, such that Donald Trump could be President?” But this is the question we must ask as we plan the necessary fight back.
The answers, like the United States of America, can only be understood in fragments. Continue reading
As commentators have noted, Brexit campaigners are ramping up their focus on immigration as the key debate in the referendum. Pushback from the left has been largely cloth-eared, and unsuccessful. In my extended circle of friends and family, there are also people keen to leave the EU because they are worried about immigration. Dismissals and statistics are not going to convince anyone who feels exploited and exhausted by contemporary UK life that they are wrong to be angry about immigration.
We are witnessing the result of years of scaremongering and scapegoating, led by the Conservative Party and other right-wing elements in the UK–tactics that have not been effectively challenged by the Labour Party. People in the UK are absolutely right to be angry that life has become increasingly painful, difficult and expensive; that those who are not rich are being squeezed and hung out to dry. The public has been actively misled, however, and encouraged to blame “immigrants” for social outcomes that were not only caused by, but were always intended by policymakers.
The question to ask those concerned about immigration-now, but also long after the referendum has passed-is this: What are you worried about, and who really is to blame? What would improve if we closed our borders?
The word “genuine” proliferates
In comments threads and candidates’ speeches
As 1,500 are lost at sea
(A conservative estimate)
(The highest on record)
And we ask: How authentic is your desperation?
Ignoring the calculation of risk
That precedes stepping onto a precarious float
Teetering on the edge of submersion
How authentic is your desperation?
Reading a lot of Op Eds this week calling for Executive Action on Immigration Reform. Some are written by people directly affected by deportations, others are by organization leaders/ advocates, but featuring example stories of those similarly impacted. While it’s extremely important that those voices are heard, I’m frustrated by the increasing common framing of the issue around a politics of pity, rather than of justice. Immigration reform advocates are relying far, far too heavily on emphasizing individuals’ suffering and making impassioned, heart-string tugging pleas for compassionate action. While there’s space for testimony in the movement, it seems to be coming at the expense of a more forceful critique, which I believe is much-needed right now.