Put the labels away + ethnocentrism and immigration

If there’s one thing I’ve realized lately, it’s that I detest being labeled and categorized. There’s a reason I don’t put “Dreamer” or “Dreamie” in my self-description – it would limit me to writing only about that issue. It would define the persona of this blog; I wish to avoid narrow descriptions and definitions of the self. We are not all single elements; we are many things – we contain multitudes (thanks Whitman).

I do not want to be defined by what I am not: not an equal member of society, not a real person in the minds of many people across the United States.

I exist as a fragment of undefined details: I am a Mexican, and a criminal. I am illiterate and I stole your job. I came here to have children who would be my anchor babies. I invaded your country and stole someone’s identity. I don’t pay taxes.

Nor do I wish to be defined by political orientation. I could care less about conforming to a label. I don’t necessarily consider myself anything other than a liberal; that term is general enough to satisfy me.

Once you are labeled, you have to do things which maintain your status as an individual associated with that label. Despite ideas of individuality, Western culture is very much dependent on categorization and grouping. Individuals are at once feared and respected because they subvert the status quo.

I’ve been thinking about why people dislike immigrants and worry about immigration reform, and I can only come up with one or two reasons. Once we get past the anti-immigrant rhetoric of hatred and lies, the only plausible reasons are xenophobia and ethnocentrism.

Immigrants don’t cause trouble, except in the voting booth. They pay taxes, lower the crime rate in their respective neighborhoods, send their kids to school, and contribute to the cultural diversity evident in any major city in America. If immigrants don’t actually cause significant problems for most people, why are they so feared?

One answer is that behind all the allegations of criminality and assumptions of cultural origin, white people are afraid of losing power. How else would you explain the absolutely ridiculous assumption that every immigrant is from Mexico? Is there any logical reason for people to believe that immigrants come to America to have lots of children and to exploit the system? Why is foreign education undervalued in America, so much so that people with Master’s degrees end up cleaning toilets instead of teaching or conducting research?

Ethnocentrism explains everything. Americans have created a culture of judgment and comparison in which America is the best. This is why America has delegated itself as the enforcer of democracy and fixer of all things. The main aspect of ethnocentrism is entrenched racism. To believe that you are the best means to relegate others to positions of power beneath you. But what happens when more and more people from countries which you consider beneath you come to your country? What happens when white America is no longer white? What happens when, for the first time in your country’s history, the president is not a white man?

Well, for one thing, people become scared that they’re losing their power, even though the power they have is essentially nonexistent. What power do white Americans have now that they won’t have anymore because Obama is president? Voting districts have already been gerrymandered to hell anyway. Does collective power somehow diminish because there is an “other” in the most high-profile position of the developed world? That’s something to consider.

Note that I don’t believe that every American is racist. I believe that people like Lou Dobbs play on the inherently racist undertones of imperialism and ethnocentrism to scare the average person into believing that immigration is a negative thing. It’s funny to me that immigrants from Africa are not characterized as dangerous, at least not as dangerous as Latinos. I don’t really have a clear reason for why this is. Americans are certainly stereotypically afraid of African-American people, just as much as Latinos, if not more. Why isn’t Glenn Beck talking about Africans coming and taking American jobs? Well, I guess now that I think about it, it’s because that would be openly racist, and he’s not really racist, is he?