The GOP’s Tired, Poor, Huddled Masses

By Sikivu Hutchinson

With the final countdown to the election the GOP and the Religious Right are desperately trying to get their compassionate conservatism on.  After months of spewing white supremacist Minuteman rhetoric about dangerous illegals, Mitt Romney has come, hat in hand, to Latinos with a “kinder gentler” message.  President Obama’s granting of work permits and freedom from deportation to undocumented youth upped the ante for Romney.  Speaking recently before the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Romney didn’t dare reiterate his infamous demand that undocumented Latinos “self-deport.”  Instead, he trotted out bromides about keeping “strong families” together in a blizzard of limp pandering.  Recently the New York Times reported that some evangelicals are (shockingly) advocating a softer stance toward undocumented immigrants.  Like those freshly-scrubbed Mormon missionary boys who descend ritualistically onto the third world/inner city, some evangelicals are bug-eyed over the prospect of fresh meat from the “barrio.” The smartest among them have read the tea leaves and checked the collection plates.  Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the evangelical population.  Latino parishioners are fueling a resurgence of Pentecostalism in the U.S. and filling in the gaps of an aging white demographic in decline.  Taking a hard line white supremacist stance on immigration is political suicide for the GOP and the Religious Right.  As they continue to do a tortured 180 on immigration policy the Right will ratchet up classic divide and conquer narratives tied to bootstrapping and a racialized mythos of hard work.  These messages ultimately pivot on an implicit contrast between immigrant Latinos and African Americans.

In her book Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Toni Morrison argues, “The rights of man…an organizing principle on which this nation was founded…was inevitably yoked to Africanism…the concept of freedom did not emerge in a vacuum. Nothing highlighted freedom—if it did not in fact create it—like slavery.  Black slavery enriched the country’s creative possibilities.  For in that construction of blackness and enslavement could be found not only the not-free…but the not-me…It is no accident and no mistake that immigrant populations (and much immigrant literature) understood their ‘Americanness’ as an opposition to the resident black population.”

This contrast between the immigrant trajectory of seized opportunity (and earned citizenship) versus the resident black population’s essential otherness, is a subtext of the GOP’s anti-government platform.  Every school age child of color has been indoctrinated into Statue of Liberty shtick declaring that somewhere back in the mists of time white people were poor backward immigrants clawing tooth and nail to make it on America’s gold-paved streets.  Every child of color is supposed to know that whites who work every day achieve upward mobility against great personal odds.  That’s why they don’t see white people living in their neighborhoods or going to their schools.  That’s why some of my students associate white masculinity with Donald Trump caricatures of wealth and privilege.  The white immigrant narrative is privileged as the most authentic version of personal ingenuity and achievement.  Exposed to textbook stories of heroic white historical figures that triumphed against adversity students of color are taught to believe that all white work is hard work.  Dirt poor whites whose ancestors grew up in log cabins, escaped pogroms in Eastern Europe, potato famine in Ireland, and Bubonic plague in England made America the proud beacon of democracy and free enterprise that it is today.  In the late twentieth century Asian and (legal) Latino immigrants picked up the torch.  The blaring message to blacks is, if “those tired, poor, huddled masses did it, why can’t you people?”

As nativist and xenophobic as the GOP’s opposition to the Dream Act is it is still mediated by the perception that immigrant workers are hardworking.  Much of GOP presidential primary messaging about work—from Newt Gingrich’s racist slurs about blacks waiting for handouts, to Rick Santorum’s “I don’t want to make black people’s live better by giving them other people’s money” comment–evoked the myth of black welfare dependency and white industriousness.  Thus, even though immigrants of color will always be perpetual outsiders their citizenship is viewed as being hard fought, hard won, and richly deserved.  For example, golden boy Republican senator Marco Rubio has become the right’s Hispanic du jour because his autobiography seems to fit neatly into the narrative of American exceptionalism and immigrant enterprise.  This narrative dovetails with Latinos’ intermediary racial status.  Despite being of mixed black, Asian, Indian and European ancestry the majority of Latinos in the U.S. identify racially as white.  Clearly the ambiguity of Latino racial identity was a significant factor in Middle American solidarity with George Zimmerman.  Jewish Peruvian-American “white Hispanic” Zimmerman’s $200k defense fund was bankrolled by white fears of the criminal black welfare leeching other.  Had Martin been “white Hispanic” and Zimmerman black not only would there have been no defense fund but Zimmerman would have been arrested, charged, and tried in due course.

A few weeks ago an Arkansas Tea Party official got knee-slapping laughs after telling the following widely publicized joke at a gathering:

A Black son asks his mother what democracy means.  Her response was, “Well, son, that be when white folks work every day so us po’ folks can get all our benefits.”

“But mama, don’t the white folk get mad about that?”

“They sho do, son. They sho do. And that’s called racism.”

So while undocumented Latinos “steal” American jobs, blacks wait for handouts and white people toil for the American dream.  Blacks believe living on the dole is “their” birthright; whites and bootstrapping family values minorities fester under the yoke of a welfare state that wants to kill free enterprise with taxes and enslaving regulation.  The kinder gentler GOP will exploit this racist propaganda in an explicit appeal to Latino voters’ provisional model minority status.  And it will be the soundtrack of 2016.





The GOP’s Tired, Poor, Huddled Masses

12 thoughts on “The GOP’s Tired, Poor, Huddled Masses

  1. 1

    Interesting old poster there with its ugly mix of racist caricature and the supposed “sin” of envy* (hey, that lucky guys is getting to laze around happy while I’m working!) combined with a Buybull verse – as a curious Aussie, I’m wondering what the historical context for that was and where you found it?


    * Funny how many of the “sins” are actually emotions – pride, wrath, envy, etc .. isn’t it? Because emotions aren’t exactly things peopel can choose toexperience usually and the Bibble does believe in punishing “thought-crime” too.

  2. 2

    The DREAM Act is a good thing, and I wish Congress would pass it. It would help a significant number of young people to get lawful permanent resident status and a path to citizenship. However, it doesn’t go nearly far enough; it would legalize only a small subset of “deserving” undocumented immigrants, while several million other undocumented people will still have to live in fear of arrest and deportation.

    What is really needed is a path to legal status for all undocumented people, without any limits or exceptions. No one, no matter how or why they came to the United States, should live every day in fear of being arrested because of their ethnicity, turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and put into a hellhole detention centre in which abuse is rife and medical care is inadequate, and left to defend themselves in Immigration Court without any legal assistance, knowing that they face deportation and permanent separation from their families in the US. (More than 80 percent of immigration detainees have no lawyers.) The US immigration laws are an atrocity, and they are destroying lives and tearing families apart.

  3. 3

    […] What would be the point of posting all that if there were not a thought behind it? I’ve been trying to do some of that listening lately. In case you’re interested here’s a link so you can too: Black Skeptics over at Free Thought Blogs […]

  4. 4

    The “work hard and get rich” meme has never been nearly as true as some people would like it to be – after all, it’s possible for everyone to work hard, but it’s not possible for everyone to get rich. Our economy runs on the assumption that many people will hold low-paying jobs. But the meme is especially untrue when unspoken barriers are placed between some people and economic success.

    Had Martin been “white Hispanic” and Zimmerman black not only would there have been no defense fund but Martin would have been arrested, charged, and tried in due course.

    Is that second “Martin” a typo? I may be misunderstanding but I expected you to say “Zimmerman” there.

  5. 5

    The kinder gentler GOP will exploit this racist propaganda in an explicit appeal to Latino voters’ provisional model minority status.

    The whole idea of a “model minority” makes me wince. Not that I deny it is a phenomenon, just that the phenomenon is repulsive. Have the GOP also decided that pitting Latinos against Asians for “model minority” status is a fun and profitable way to bring out the vote?

    1. 5.1

      It is repugnant but a hard reality in the sweepstakes to anoint good upstanding assimilated people of color to distinguish them from the underachieving pathological people of color. As the GOP rhetoric indicates, Afr-Ams continue to be perceived as being on the bottom of this socioeconomic/cultural totem pole. So the comment was designed to highlight how MM status has now become even more relative with Latinos being granted provisional MM status (out of political expediency) in right wing discourse.

  6. 6

    Dirt poor whites whose ancestors grew up in log cabins, escaped pogroms in Eastern Europe, potato famine in Ireland, and Bubonic plague in England made America the proud beacon of democracy and free enterprise that it is today.

    Those people were (almost always) treated like shit. Especially when factory work became the norm. The Jungle was a work of fiction, but was based on widespread exploitation of the work force. They don’t teach the part about labor rights being fought for (and died for) in school. At least they never taught me any of that.

    Erasing the class exploitation that poor white immigrants suffered is probably why white people can see the same thing going on today towards non-white immigrants and blame them for it. Capitalists found a perfect population to exploit, as long as most whites are unwilling to extend rights to undocumented workers anyway.

    1. 6.1

      One thing that always gets elided over is that the labor history of the US is one of the most violent of any industrialized nation.

      The repeated shootings of labor organizers in this country would have been beyond the pale in most of Europe.

      The purges of the 1950s circumscribed the labor movement, making it into a wages-and-benefits system and leaving it institutionally unable to deal with issues of racism, for instance. The left labor movement actually did try — inadequately, but they tried — to deal with those things, and were punished for it. Then there was the massive, massive failure to organize people (mostly Latino) in the new cities of the western states after WW II.

      It was a long time before the AFL CIO got behind civil rights issues, and it’s no accident that it happened just as the population of many unions became less white. The SEIU is one of these, and the Transit Workers in NYC.

      All this contributed to the narrative that white folks are hard-working and black folks are not. (It’s also no accident that as the population of teachers and government workers became less white, the GOP narrative of lazy government employees gained strength).

      1. Very good point. It’s probably also worth noting that the public sector, which is heavily unionized and is probably policed for racism better, is one of the few places where Black people are not screwed out of advancement from day one.

        And on labor history – plenty of anti-union Republicans like to portray unions as violent thugs, which is a lie. Labor history in the US is violent not because of the actions of unions, but of their murderous employers and the thugs (who were frequently the police or national guard) who were called in to use violence to keep the movement down. Too few people show enough interest in the real history to get that though.

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