Friday, May 01, 2009

Immigrant bashing

Talk-radio host Jay Severin has been suspended from Boston radio station WTKK, for racist comments related to the current flu outbreak. His hate speech is the predictable result of a perfect storm to brew xenophobia: in a country that knows little about math and less about geography, a disease outbreak during an economic collapse create perfect scapegoats.

Taking Severin off the air, of course, only draws attention (this post included) to his vitriol. The incident creates a perfect opportunity, however, to address the four underlying factors mentioned above.

First, math: the flu outbreak is serious and the numbers are growing. Public-health officials in the U.S., Mexico, and beyond are rightly concerned and are making recommendations about specific, short-term measures based on evidence. Within two countries covering several million square miles and 400 million people, however, it is important to recognize that most people and most places are safe, at least for now.

Second, geography: Severin's comments reflect a deep failure to understand the interdependencies of the United States and Mexico. I lived for seven years in the borderlands of Arizona and Texas, and have spent several months in Mexico itself. I learned that we are connected in many ways, most of them positive. I also learned that just as some problems in both countries are related. Migration from Mexico may surpress wages in the United States, but drug policies and weak gun laws in the U.S. elevate crime in Mexico.

Third, disease: Because epidemics are inherently scary and difficult to understand, fear and ignorance thrive.

Fourth, economy: Prosperity in rich countries is absolutely dependent on low wages in poor countries. We who prosper work hard, so the illusion is created that we deserve our prosperity and that those who are poor must not be working. The reality is that excessive prosperity in one place requires poverty elsewhere. The economic problems of the middle and working class in the United States are clearly -- CLEARLY -- the fault of giving too much power to the super-rich. It is easiest, however, to blame the poor for our problems, and this is what Severin has done.

Severin and his ilk serve the interests of the super-rich by shifting attention from the real criminals -- at banks and brokerages -- to the "criminal" behavior of economic migrants. When the economy rebounds, the high dudgeon will cease until the next time a scapegoat is needed. And when that happens bottom-feeders will stand ready to exploit the fear and ignorance once again.

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