(OpEd – Feb. 13 edition)
When my niece was a baby, my mother started avoiding town. “I’m so embarrassed when I take the baby to Walmart,” she would say, “because all the women, they think she’s black or a Mexican, and then I have to explain that the mother is Polynesian, and they’re looking at me like ‘what’s a Polynesian?’ and I just want to scream and get the hell out of there.”
I was reminded of this—of the shame my mother felt among the so-called friends she’d known her entire life—when I heard Tom Brokaw’s comments about immigration. Hispanics, he said, should work harder at assimilation, adding, “Also, I hear, when I push people a little harder, ‘Well, I don’t know whether I want brown grandbabies.’ I mean, that’s also a part of it. It’s the intermarriage that is going on and the cultures that are conflicting with each other.”
Brokaw’s remarks about assimilation is a commonly repeated lie. Research shows that Latinos acquire English just as quickly as Asians and Europeans who arrive here. But it was the part about brown grandbabies that got me.
Is it really taxes and jobs and fiscal responsibility that drive your politics, or is the browning of America the real fire alarm going off in your heart?
As much as my mother adored her first grandbaby, her fears of being shunned and shamed at Walmart (and all over town, really) for the child not being pure-enough white are sickeningly common. What will people think? What will they say about me behind my back?
Shame, fear, and bigotry are extraordinarily powerful, and our president is a master craftsman in control of his favorite tools.
Illegal immigration is at a 45 year low. But instead of taking credit for this, the president sticks with story after story about thousands of brown people in caravans breaching our southern border. Terrorists, drugs, rape, crime! Why? Because it works; because he knows these stories, these images, are what keep his voters’ attention.
And yet, when his national security team testified last week before Congress about all of the dangers we face, guess what none of them mentioned: our southern border.
Where, then, lies his great national emergency?
In a Jan. 30 interview, the president’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, told the Christian Broadcasting Network she believes that God wanted Donald Trump to be president, which prompted musician Rosanne Cash to respond, “So he could separate mothers and babies, deny health care, kill people w/ previously banned pesticides, destroy the environment, redefine domestic violence in favor of the abuser, give voice and legitimacy to racists, bigots and dictators and bully the world? Maybe her God, not mine.”
The week before the November midterms, I was at our Senior Citizen Center setting up for a meeting when an elderly man I’d never met advised me there was no need to vote. “You know who’s going to fix all this? Not you. The man upstairs, that’s who. You ask me, we got to get rid of all the Mexicans and all the blacks—and you know that other thing we call ‘em, the blacks—we got to get every last one of ‘em out of this country, that’s what we got to do.”
Yeah. Maybe his God, not mine.
Democrats want border security as much as Republicans. To say otherwise is a lie.
But a wall? Even the president doesn’t want a wall. What he wants is a fight about the wall; a fight with your favorite new boogeyman, Nancy Pelosi; a fight about the brown people he has demonized from day one; a fight that feeds your bigotry and fuels your worst fears.
My mother died before her grandbaby got to Kindergarten. As my giggling niece regaled our family about having so many new friends, my brother (her father), put on his worried face and warned her not to befriend the black boy at her table of six year-olds. “You know what little black boys do to little white girls?” he ribbed.
Then she was afraid to go to school.
This—the fear and bigotry and shame we continue install in our children—is our real national emergency.