Why They Hate Us
“I think I was one of those people that believed, yes, there was still racism, but it wasn’t as bad as a few years ago. But after all of this [the elections], you realize, no, this is just as bad as a few years ago. Regardless of the Civil Rights Movement and all of the other progress we’ve made so far, racism is deeply embedded in this country” (Gomez, Vigil, Pérez Huber & Muñoz, 2021, p. 148).
This discourse has become common among many kinds of people, especially after the election of the forty-fifth president, Donald Trump. Racism has been a driving factor in shaping society far too often throughout the United States history, and unfortunately it remains visible today. This essay serves as a conversation about racist nativism against immigrants. It also discusses a framework to understand victims of racist nativism and how structural racism perpetuates racist nativism. It will further discuss what we as educators can do to change both.
Anti-immigrant hate has been deeply embedded in this country and it continues to rear its ugly head. Racist nativism explains how perceptions and constructions of whiteness allows people to perceive people of color to have non-nativeness in the United States. These false perceptions push the notion that people who do not fit into the construct of whiteness (this includes people who are white-passing) do not belong in “the monolithic America” (Pérez Huber, 2021, p.7). Pérez Huber (2021) states that racist nativism is “a tool used by white settlers to define their own racialized native-ness, creating their own laws and systems to sustain their domination” (p. 8). In reality white settlers are also immigrants in this country; however, they’ve created their own laws and systems in order for it to look as though they (white settlers) belong here in America, and everybody else besides them are immigrants.
Racist nativism as a framework has two goals: to understand the experiences of Immigrants of Color who are targeted by racist nativism and to challenge prototype narratives forced upon Immigrants of Color. Being a target of racist nativism has “mental, emotional, and behavioral effects” on people’s mental health and livelihoods (Gomez, Vigil, Pérez Huber & Muñoz, 2021, p.153). Policies that have been put in place by government administration range from detainment of people who have lived in the United States for decades to the inability of families to return to their home country. During Obama’s presidency, he incited the "Muslim ban" list and handed it to the Trump administration, who then enforced it. And now that Biden is president he is still turning people away at the border and have made no efforts so far to make legal immigration better or remove any of Trump's rules. These policies have also instituted bans on countries who have not been banned before. These policies have also been justified by “using the perceived threat that immigrants take work from American citizens, and that these policies will serve to protect Americans from foreign workers taking their jobs” (Gomez, Vigil, Pérez Huber & Muñoz, 2021, p.156). Studies have shown that these justifications are unwarranted because immigrants strengthen the economy and are not in competition with Americans.
Within racist nativism, Black immigrants fall into a category of their own. Anti-Blackness that is prevalent in the United States allows for immigration policies to “uniquely punish and restrict access to Black refugees and immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, and other places throughout the diaspora” (Hassan, Casanova, McGuire, 2021, p. 167). Due to anti-Blackness, Black immigrants are racially profiled like their African American brothers and sisters in the United States. There is also less attention on Black immigrants. For example, the U.S./Mexico border is highly politicized while Black Haitians seeking refuge in 2021 largely went unnoticed in national discourse. There was not a lot of attention or speaking up for the Haitians who were trying to cross. When it was spoken about, there was little to nothing done for the Haitian refugees seeking shelter in our country. There is a spectrum of racist nativism, but racist nativism is a part of the larger structural racism in the United States.
“White supremacy is never incidental; it is always carefully calculated to strategically ensure white dominance” (Pérez Huber, 2021, p. 16).
Racist nativism is a part of the United States immigration system, which is one way that shows how white supremacy is a part of the foundation of structural racism in this country. Policies instituted by the United States presidents have shaped the nation’s narrative and practices that impact Immigrants of Color. Fear of deportation has been instilled in immigrants in the country due to political discourse that justify racist nativism. I know that undocumented immigrants are breaking the law, however, there are immigrants who are documented with the same fear of being deported since they know the laws can change instantly which can cause their documentation to be invalid. The United States border entry points “serve as sites of white supremacy where power is created, maintained, and justified for the advancement of whites” (Gaxiola Serrano, 2021, p.135). Racist immigration policies in the United States allow for the continuation of “othering” in this country.
Another form of structural racism includes racial microaggressions, or as I like to call them macroaggressions, since there is nothing small about these interactions. Racial microaggressions can be verbal and or nonverbal assaults that are done automatically or unconsciously, they are also based on race, gender, class, immigration status, accent, and take a toll on those targeted by the microaggressions. Immigrants of Color receive microaggressions ranging from being told to go back to where they came from to having to learn English quickly and fluently to fit into an American identity. This push to learn English stems from “hegemonic language ideologies within American culture in which English is used to create a unified homogeneous cultural marker” (Hassan, Casanova, McGuire, 2021, p.170). White settlers have used language since the acquisition of Native Americans land to strip the Native Americans of their culture. The learning of English and the disregard for an immigrant’s native language continues to be perpetuated through immigrants being stigmatized if or when they use their native language.
Immigrants of Color are stigmatized as criminals and as people who steal jobs from American citizens. In reality, Immigrants of Color are “committing fewer crimes and contributing to the economy, while they receive fewer social benefits” (Hassan, Casanova, McGuire, 2021, p.168). Immigrants of Color and the undocumented sometimes end up working in low paying jobs. These jobs were deemed as “essential” during the Covid 19 pandemic. These jobs included, but were not limited, to “packing workers, grocery store clerks, janitors, delivery people, [and] truck drivers” (Pérez Huber & Muñoz, 2021, p.188). The labor from the immigrant community allowed the United States to keep functioning during the pandemic. However, since “othering” is engrained in our systems of society, these workers were paid low incomes and were placed at the highest risk for contracting the disease.
Understanding Social Justice Education: Intersectional Oppression
As a Black, Caribbean, second generation immigrant, woman I can experience racism, sexism, and racist nativism all at the same time. I descended from a Lucian mother and an Anguillan father who migrated to the United States from two different Caribbean islands. Being raised in Houston, within a Caribbean family means I am neither completely American nor entirely Caribbean. I was never “Caribbean” enough for either island or considered “Black” enough to be African American.
I implore you to take the term “double consciousness” coined by W.E.B. Dubois a step further- to “triple consciousness”. I experience triple consciousness. Juan Flores and Miriam Jimenez Roman use the term in reference to Afro-Latinos/as, however, Afro Caribbean folk also feel a Threeness—feeling Black, American, and Caribbean. Essentially there are two forms of culture and nationality/regionalism that meet race: being Caribbean and American. The Caribbean form is also broken into two subjections of being a mixture of Lucian and Anguillan, because of course, each island is unique and different. With that being said, I am not Black one day, Caribbean the next day, and American on the third day. I carry these minoritized markers every day with me in whatever spaces I choose to enter (Boveda, 2019).
Caribbean Americans feel as though we are second-class citizens. The systematic racism in America causes us to be traumatized by our racial identities. I cannot imagine being cut off from my family in the Caribbean due to immigration policies denying my right to enter my homeland. This text by Pérez Huber & Muñoz has caused me to reflect on my own intersectional oppression as well as the intersectional oppression of others. Being able to relate to others will be an asset to me as an educator and activist for social justice.
Why They Hate Us: Teacher Education
“Now the fear’s growing and I know that every time I walk out of the house, she [my mom] sees the possibility that I might not return or that they [my parents] might not be there when I come back” (Gomez, Vigil, Pérez Huber & Muñoz, 2021, p.151).
Students enter the classroom with different fears. Undocumented immigrants who may also be Immigrants of Color come to school with the fear that they and/or their parents will be deported, especially when the nation is in crisis. National and economic crises increase racist nativism against immigrants who are perceived as a threat to America. Also, being marginalized in multiple ways leads to more feelings of unsafety. Policies that protect whiteness and the American way of life continue to “other” immigrants. It is the responsibility of teachers to create a safe space in the classroom for these students. Schools reflect society, so when political discourse is heard throughout the nation that is dehumanizing and negative toward immigrants, it shapes students’ rhetoric towards one another in schools. During the Trump era, teachers and administrators observed an increase in uncivil discourse and bullying incidents in the classroom. That rhetoric mirrored what was being said from the president’s podium. Therefore, I present two ways the education system can prepare teachers to help students feel safe in their classroom and decrease the number of adverse incidents, regardless of who is president.
One thing that teacher education programs can do to prepare teachers is to institute racial justice programs (RJPs). RJPs are “spaces that advance racial justice by centering race, disrupting Whiteness, reframing preservice teachers’ understandings of race, and preparing and sustaining candidates for anti-racist action” (Picower, 2021, p. 111). When entering the RJPs students are explicitly told that race will be centered in the program. Students are expected to discuss racial justice in all spaces which reflects how racism lives everywhere in society. This helps with disrupting Whiteness. Whiteness relies on “being masked, invisible, and unspoken,” so being explicit about racism helps to dismantle it (Picower, 2021, p. 114). The teacher education program must transform beliefs and not just curriculum. Teachers who are teaching educators must allow time for the students to self-reflect and make a “racial reframe”. Students must be able to look at what they were taught as being right, which might be infused with racism, and reconstruct their way of thinking. This process will be uncomfortable, but it will allow future teachers to understand how their future Black and Brown students feel in schools every day.
Another thing that teacher education programs can do to prepare teachers is allow students to define, on their own terms, who they are and what they value so that in turn, the future students of the future educators can be allowed to do the same. This can be done by employing “more participatory research that actively co-produces knowledge with…students directly, as they are the experts in their own lived experiences” (Hassan, Casanova, McGuire, 2021, p.183). Teacher educator programs must move beyond just the rhetoric of antiracist stances, methods, and curriculum design courses but instead toward institutionalized action. This action must center humanity and liberation through accountability. Teacher educators must prepare our future teachers to critique sources that are known as foundations of education that may contribute to reproducing systems of oppression.
As a future university professor, I have a great responsibility not only to my students, future educators, but also to their future students. I must model in my classroom how to promote an all-inclusive climate, center equity and justice and embrace those who are vulnerable. I must create a supportive environment that embraces al students, including those who are undocumented. Educators need to see the importance of providing a support structure for all students in their classrooms. There are many ways in which this can be implemented. I can be sure that the university and its surrounding district schools are providing information on how undocumented students can have access to equal opportunities. I can also make sure that the university and the community schools have multicultural centers that help immigrant students who are seeking help. This will mean building a relationship with the counselors at the school to know what resources are available to students and getting insight into what challenges may occur when providing support.
These resources will most likely be available through the internet. Students who are undocumented are more likely to experience a digital divide at home. I can reach out to different companies that support and fundraise for the local schools to focus on providing technology for those students. This will help those students who have to complete online school assignments but are not able to afford the necessary equipment to do so. By doing so, I will try to help students feel as if they have a presence in this country and have access to educational opportunities.
As a future professor, I also plan to focus on under-researched topics. One gap in the research is the development of “assessment tools to gauge the mental health needs of [documented immigrants and] undocumented students and their families” (Gomez, Vigil, Pérez Huber & Muñoz, 2021, p.158). There are emotional and mental health effects from racist nativist microaggressions, and students need to know what they are as well as the knowledge of coping mechanisms to heal from the discrimination. I would like to incorporate artistic and expressive methods that include performative and visual tools for students to be reflective on what they learn about themselves through the process. These artistic and expressive methods can also boost their academic performance, interpersonal development, and critical thinking skills.
“The lives of all undocumented people matter” (Valdivia, Clark-Ibanez, Espino & Lopez, 2021, p. 114).
All lives matter. When this statement is said in contradiction to groups highlighting that their specific group is being targeted, the people saying it never look at how their actions contradict these words. All people should have the opportunity to have an education regardless of their citizenship. The white settlers who push racist nativism and structural racism were immigrants themselves, yet they intentionally and unintentionally make immigrants feel as if they don’t belong. As educators, we must find ways and means to make sure all of our students feel as if they belong and are safely educated, without fear, in our classrooms.
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