We must see these sentiments as forms of “xenophobia,” defined as “an unreasonable fear and hatred of foreigners or strangers or that which is foreign of strange.” Like racism and sexism, for example, xenophobia includes much more than fears because they are taught and often learned attitudes and behaviors, and, therefore, fall under the category of oppression. Xenophobia operates through the processes of stereotyping and scapegoating.
As I travel across our country, I observe a large number of homes proudly displaying American flags, the red, white, and blue flying and rippling in the wind on poles or porches in front yards.
But patriotism and true commitment to our democracy takes more, much more; for it demands of us all the needed time, effort, and commitment to critically investigate all aspects of the great gift we have been given in our representative form of government: the gift of our vote. Anything less would be to waste our enfranchisement, to silence our voices, and to slap the faces of all who have gone before to envision and protect our form of government.
I find the current political tenor very disconcerting as candidates attack, demonize, stereotype, and scapegoat not only other candidates, but also entire groups of U.S. residents whom they blame for causing the problems of our country.
Democracy demands an educated electorate. Democracy demands responsibility on the part of the electorate to critically examine our politicians so they can make truly informed decisions.
But I observe a certain anti-intellectualism within current political discourse. How often do we hear politicians “accuse” other candidates or those serving in public office of being part of some so-called “elitist” intellectual establishment, or talk about some “elitist” media who are all out of touch with “real” Americans.
And what about the gendering of politics when we are told either that women don’t have the temperament to lead or when a politician calls an opponent’s so-called manhood into questions by demanding them to “man up”? Or blaming those who support marriage for same-sex couples as contributing to the eventual downfall of not only the institution of marriage, but for the ultimate collapse of civilization as we know it? Or blaming working class and poor people who occasionally need a helping hand from the government?
During economic downturns, charismatic and not-so charismatic leaders attempt to exploit the fears of the public in their quests for power and control. Conservative political discourse centers on “F” words: Faith, Family, Freedom, and the Flag. This set of buzzwords comprise the foundation on which politicians tell us we should decide who is truly worthy of our votes.
We must cut through the coded xenophobic, racist, sexist, heterosexist, cissexist, ableist, and classist language, for often when politicians use the words “poor,” “welfare,” “inner city,” “food stamps,” “entitlements,” “bad neighborhoods,” “foreign,” they tap into many white people’s anxieties and past racist teachings of people of color.
Though white people comprise the largest percentage of current food stamp recipients, 40.2 percent, the common perception and societal stereotype depicts black people as abusing the system. In addition, the buzz phrase, “personal responsibility” now has become a catch phrase to justify cutting benefits to people with disabilities, older people, and those who have fallen on hard times and need assistance.
These politicians would rather blame poverty within our communities and low achievement in our schools on the “cultures” of those suffering from the inequities. This “cultural deficit model” distracts us from interrogating and truly addressing the enormous structural inequities, which these “Libertarians” would have us multiply if we were to follow their lead.
So-called “social issues” become wedge issues to attract people to a particular candidate. In the final analysis, though, when middle and working class people vote for these candidates, they essentially vote against their own economic self-interests.
The truth, however, is that a cultural war currently wages with shots fired by the political and theocratic right, a war to turn back all the gains progressive people have made over the years. Until and unless we join in coalition with other groups, the possibility for achieving a genuine sense of community and a genuine sense of equality will be unattainable, and the beautiful and noble concept this country embodies will remain unfulfilled.
To view and download my “Immigration as ‘Racial’ Policy” PowerPoint presentation, click here.