"In a spirit of openness, we explore how we are classified, stratified, ignored and singled out under the law because of our race, sex, gender, economic class, ability, sexual identity and the multitude of labels applied to us. . . . [W]e welcome all viewpoints and ideas that are expressed with respect and collegiality. . . . [W]e are a journal that promotes living discussion."
This blog is the brainchild of the Journal of Gender, Race & Justice at the University of Iowa College of Law. It is intended as a forum for people to discuss their personal views concerning topical issues. Posts reflect the opinions of the authors and not necessarily the Board or the Student Writers as a whole. We encourage well-rounded debates and discussions.
Alex Christian, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
It seems as though American greed and lack of accountability has reared its ugly head. Again. I would hope that by the year 2011, people would have more regard for one another. But unfortunately, as I have found so many times, I completely overestimate people; especially large corporations. According to the federal government we are in the midst of the “largest case of alleged forced labor of farm workers in the United States.” www.cnn.com (search for California forced labor).
The accused is Global Horizons Manpower Inc. and eight farms in Hawaii and Washington state. The accusation? Luring over 200 men from Thailand to work at farms where they were subject to abuse, unsanitary work and living conditions, and little compensation. www.cnn.com. Global Horizon told the Thai men that they would be earning 70-80,000 baht—coming to about $2,340 to $2, 680 per month—and the ability to secure “lucrative jobs” in the United States. What really happened? These men were paid barely $9.00 an hour. Men had to take out loans to get to the U.S. and then pay large “recruitment fees” once they were hooked up with Global Horizon. As it turned out, work wasn’t even guaranteed for these men; one Thai man reported that some days, he didn’t work at all.
How could this even be possible? Wouldn’t we think that after the last huge human trafficking scandal that went on after Hurricane Katrina and Signal International (if you are unfamiliar with the store click here) that corporations would stop abusing human beings in the name of making more profits. Instead of the H2-B Visa that allowed Indian guest workers back in 2006 and 2007 to be trafficked to the United States, these Thai men were ushered here under the H2-A Visa that places foreign workers on farms in the United States. Why are there still such mechanisms that allow people to be exploited? And why doesn’t our government do something to ensure that people who are coming into our country with these Visas are given the same rights and abilities as every other American citizen? When are corporations going to stop the exploitation of human beings just so that their profit margin can be that much bigger?
These are all questions that have been asked before, and that I am sure will continue to be asked for some time to come. I know that some initial reactions will be to ask, “Why didn’t they just leave?” Imagine taking out overwhelmingly large loans to come and work in the United States under a false belief that once here, things will be better. That there will be an ability to make money and send it home to their families. But instead, on arrival, these men were threatened with deportation, met with abuse, and even enduring physical assaults. Something has to be done to remedy this situation, and to ensure that American corporations aren’t exploiting foreign workers just because they can.
Kayla Casey, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has promised to introduce a bill that would offer undocumented youth a path to legalization before the end of the Congressional session. Known as the DREAM Act, the bill allows undocumented youth who 1) have graduated from high school, 2) have been in the United States for at least five years, 3) have no criminal record, and 4) complete two years of either college or military service to apply for a nonimmigrant visa that will eventually allow them to apply for permanent residency and citizenship in the United States. The Migration Policy Institute has estimated that in California alone approximately 550,000 undocumented students would be eligible to apply.
Students demanding the reform called on Congress to pass the DREAM Act when Congress bypassed immigration reform this past year. Students have hosted actions on college campuses, in military recruiting centers, and in the offices of their legislators. Leaders within the Democratic Party have also supported the bill. President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have issued statements supporting the bill. Secretary Duncan acknowledged that these students “have played by all the rules, gone to school, worked hard, [and have had] full attendance.” Additionally, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said that the bill would help the Department of Homeland Security focus its resources on deporting dangerous criminals.
The current state of immigration laws punishes these youth for decisions made by their parents when they were young. These students did not choose to disobey U.S. laws. Anti-immigrant advocates are critical of undocumented immigrants for not following the laws of the United States. It seems that the youth who would be eligible for the DREAM Act, have done nothing but follow the laws of the United States. They did not have a choice in coming to the United States as a child. A criminal background check is a required part of the proposed bill. What do opponents of the bill believe these children should do? Are they suggesting that children should defy their parents and return to a country where they may have only spent a few years as a young child, may not even speak the language, and may not know anyone who lives there? These are harsh punishments for students who otherwise would have bright futures.
Republicans’ strict opposition to the DREAM Act seems unnecessary given that these students are model residents of the United States. To qualify under this bill the students must be hard working, driven individuals. They have much to offer to our society. Congress should not punish these students based anti-immigrant fervor. Congress should pass the DREAM Act this term.
Julia Preston, Groups Make Late Push to Salvage Bill Aiding Illegal Immigrant Students, N.Y. Times, Nov. 30, 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/us/politics/01immig.html?_r=1&hpw.
Julia Preston, Napolitano Backs Immigration Bill, N.Y. Times, Dec. 2, 2010, http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/02/napolitano-backs-immigration-bill/.
David M. Herszenhorn, Reid Trying Again on Immigration Bill, N.Y. Times, Nov. 17, 2010, http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/17/reid-trying-again-on-immigration-bill/
-Kapri Saunders, JGRJ Student Writer 2009-10
Many things came out of the President’s State of the Union Address last week. Too much for a single blog post, here are some of my favorite stories since the speech. In a sentence : The President is non-black man who loves gay people, wants Americans to be able to work, and dissed the Supreme Court – right in front of them.
We’re definitely in a post racial society… right?
“I forgot he was black for an hour” – MSNBC Host Chris Matthews re: President Obama delivering the State of the Union
We’ll leave this comment alone, but I would like to point you to this ABC News article. It discusses several non-post racial comments about President Obama from politicians and other prominent individuals. It has the original comment coupled with the cover up comment or apology, if one was available. Wow!
Ask! Tell! You’ll just have to wait over a year.
Supporters of gay rights were ecstatic to hear the president promise the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy. The policy, promulgated during the Clinton Administration, bans individuals from being openly gay in the military, but also bans inquiry into one’s sexuality. This is one blemish in recent American legislative history to which Bush can’t be linked. While it is time to rejoice, it is also a game of hurry up and wait as well.
A study about the impact of allowing homosexuals to openly serve in the military is underway, and the Department of Defense has 45 days to study the regulations used to implement the law and present solutions for a more humane enforcement of the law. However, the Secretary of Defense announced that it will take more than a year to lay the groundwork for a repeal of the policy. But in the meantime, the military will “start enforcing the policy in a ‘fairer manner’.” I am not sure what that means.
As a result of the policy, “more than 13,500 service members have been discharged.” One of those members is Lt. Dan Choi, who will be the keynote speaker at our 14th Annual Symposium Feb. 25-26th, Race, Gender, And Class At A Crossroad: A Survey of Their Intersection in Employment, Economics, and the Law. We’ll just have to wait and see if the promise is kept.
Jobs for the People in America … except the Mexicans on the West Coast
President Obama also focused on creating jobs … not everyone is too keen on the idea.
Growing up in Arizona, I am no stranger to seeing mostly Mexican, immigrant workers standing on the corner waiting for work. Every morning, you can visit certain street corners and find Mexican men waiting for someone, usually a white man in landscaping or construction, to offer them day labor. The exchange is simple: I’ll work for you, you pay me money. It’s a win-win for both parties (leaving out the comments about how there is a little bit of the hiring party taking advantage of the worker).
But yet another city in California doesn’t think so. Costa Mesa banned citizen from soliciting work on the street; since prostitution is already illegal, this is obviously targeted at the day laborers. A group of day laborers filed a suit against the city asserting that the ordinance violates their civil rights. The theory is that forbidding people from seeking employment (specifically, soliciting employment on street corners) violates their free speech rights. The ACLU and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed the lawsuit, the eighth in twelve years, most being settled or won by workers. Read the full story here.
So maybe it’s better to say jobs for Americans. Let’s hope this one works out too. There are far too many intelligent, educated, hard-working people without a job, some of them are in school and afraid to leave, and others are scrambling to find a way to support their children.
Dissing the Court
Of course, the President would not be happy with the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. I appreciate his honesty in mentioning the issue (see Alito’s reaction here), I just feel bad for the Court. President Obama’s ability to get the American people to contribute money to his campaign was one of the many things that Obama’s campaign did right. Allowing corporate entities to contribute to political campaigns in an unlimited manner changes the rules of the game… hundred year old rules. Many scholars have predicted that this will lead to corporations buying elections. The candidate with the bigger stock portfolio and corporate baking may be the winner (we’ll be mad at more than the banks for inappropriate spending). Though what I am really interested in (because my law school brain has been trained to think about hypotheticals that will never materialize) is: if the Court granted a corporation the same First Amendment rights as an individual, what does the world look like if the Court grants all of the individuals’ rights to a corporation? I’ll save that for another entry.
-Eric McBurney, JGRJ Student Writer 2009-10
There seems to be a popular notion of racism in America that deems it to be something clear, obvious, and only subscribed to by a minority of people. Everything normally goes along fine until some fool breaks the rules and causes havoc. There is another theory of racism in America—subscribed to by cultural critics, historians, and scholars—that views it as a system, a tradition, a force of unconscious socialization that is almost impossible to avoid. It is ubiquitous like germs in the air. You need strong soap to keep off them germs at all times! The difference between these two views has a significant impact in many ways, not the least of which is how we are to determine when a law or a body of laws are racially unjust.
To better contrast the two views of racism, I’ll briefly describe my encounters of racially sensitive issues in the mass media in just 24 hours (01-12-2010). Here’s what actually happened to me from last night to this afternoon. Last night, I watched Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I read an article online about racist accusations regarding James Cameron’s Avatar. While having coffee this morning, I read about how Republicans are calling for Senator Reid to step down due to his past remark about President Barack Obama being “light-skinned” and without “Negro dialect.” It was near lunch time, when an Iranian American friend of mine, whom I met through my surrogate Cuban family, sent me a Facebook link on the SC Congressman’s proposal to pass the STEP Act to bar entry by immigrants from nations such as Cuba, Iran, and Yemen.
All of the above happened within 24 hours, but it is the reactions to them from the public that blew my mind because they reveal a severe misunderstanding about racism in America. There is no general public outcry to the STEP Act, but there is a great deal of public outrage about the Reid situation. This makes little sense to me. Reid was saying that Obama would be a candidate more acceptable to many white Americans because he did not look or act “too black.” Many African American spokespersons have publicly stated that the comment is largely true and that they were not offended by it. Look more closely, and it is easy to see that Reid’s comment was actually about white Americans. The STEP Act, on the other hand, is blatantly bigoted. In fact, it is proposed by Congressman Barrett who is mainly known as the Southern white man who called our black president a liar because the former’s main concern regarding healthcare reform is that illegal immigrants might benefit. The irony in the public’s negative response to Reid and its lack of negative response to Barrett is that Reid is accused of racism but Barrett is not (Reid who, as the President pointed out, has been on the right side of history all through the Civil Rights era). The interesting thing about this view is that it is not the typical minority’s conclusion about the two situations. Most non-whites will say that Reid is not a racist, while taking about a half-second to come to a certain conclusion that Barrett is definitely a racist. Simply put, most white and non-white Americans have two different sensitivities when it comes to what constitutes racism.
Now, about those 2 movies. Not many people I know were offended by the racism in Transformers 2 (in fact, I think I am the only one), but many scholars have objected to Avatar’s white-man-savior formula as racist. This is also not without irony. There are two robot characters in Transformers 2 called Skid and Mudflap. Unlike Obama, they not only speak a “negro dialect,” but they act out the most base and negative stereotypes of African Americans. It wasn’t just that they were essentially blackface-robots that offended me, but that, in addition to all the other stereotypes, they were stupid, violent, and lacking impulse control. The director, in short, made them as “black” as possible according to the worst racist stereotypes. This did not offend many people since it was all done in disguise. It was all one step removed from direct Reid-style of referring to race explicitly. I can point out this kind of shocking, dehumanizing stereotypes in Hollywood films endlessly. Those who can see it can see it everywhere. Those who cannot see it will see no racism unless it is the cinematic equivalent of Reid explicitness.
As for Avatar, the ironic element in it for me is that, among other things, it was James Cameron’s anti-Iraq War film. This was not even subtly done. The evil military commander rallied his invading human troops with the words “We will fight terror with terror.” One character referred to the campaign as “a Shock and Awe preemptive strike.” The humans were invaders after a precious mineral beneath the ground. I can go on and on, but the real tragedy in Cameron’s message lies in the fact that he totally misunderstood the nature of bigoted thinking in his very attack of it. If the scholars and film critics are right that Avatar is just another racially condescending version of the trite white-savior narrative, then what is the difference between Cameron’s view and that of George W. Bush’s? No matter how much greed and bad intelligence motivated the Iraq war, one has to admit that the driving world-view behind it was the notion that good democratic Americans were going to liberate the natives, that the Iraqis needed saving and Americans were the ones to do it. And therein lies Cameron’s fallacy: He saw racism in terms of colors rather than as a system, a culture, a force of socialization, a way of positioning values.
Reid cannot say what he said in public. It is deemed racist because to explicitly categorize people like that, so thinks the racism-as-isolated-incident school, is wrong. Barrett’s actions and policies are not racist because he never directly or explicitly talked about race. He is, after all, only dealing with healthcare and national security issues, right? It is in this same spirit that although blackface is unthinkable today in Hollywood, racial stereotypes can be as ugly and foul as possible so long as they subscribe to the Barrett-school of delivery. They are, after all, only dealing with robots and blue fictional creatures, right? This returns us to the issue I started with: the two views of racism in America. The first view of racism as the exception is the view subscribed to by the majority of white Americans. The second view, held by minorities, sees racism as a problem built into the American culture, as something deeply ingrained into the system. It is so deeply buried that, as in the Avatar example, it is hard to avoid even when one is doing everything to avoid it. Another way of understanding the difference is to see the first view as the view that American culture is essentially neutral; the second view does not see white as just another race in America. It understands white as privileged and the contextualizing force that gets to assign value to all the other colors.
One way to get a really good appreciation of the irreconcilable conflict between these two views is to think about where the two sides end up on the affirmative action debate. Another way to appreciate this clash is how the Equal Protection Clause is presently interpreted. Right now, so long as laws are facially neutral, disparate racial impact alone does not make such laws unconstitutional unless explicit intent to discriminate can be proved. Seen via the race-neutral view of American culture, the Equal Protection Clause is just because the entire system remains just so long as no one violate its inherent neutrality. Seen via the white-privilege view of American culture, the Equal Protection Clause is denied its proper power and function because it focuses too much on laws’ facial neutrality and disregards the real meaning behind disparate impact (how it got that way in the first place).
- Jude Pannell, JGRJ Student Writer 2008-09
Every year on Thanksgiving, newspapers across the country print editorials and columns appropriate for the occasion. Some mark the passage of the seasons. Some wax eloquent on the importance of family. Others encourage generosity towards those less fortunate than readers. Most make an obligatory mention of the food most Americans eat on Thanksgiving, and then proceed quickly to the formulaic “More Important Message About Gratitude,” or the “Clever and Witty Observation About Traditions.”
There is nothing terribly wrong with that approach. But just as a Thanksgiving dinner comprised solely of stuffing would leave most diners unsatisfied, those pieces fail to address the real substance of Americans’ Thanksgiving traditions. The food we eat is not just the result of a day in the kitchen. On the fourth Thursday of each November we are the beneficiaries of a year’s labor by hardworking Americans who don’t always get the recognition they should.
Consider the turkey. Every year six hundred seventy-five million pounds of turkey are eaten on Thanksgiving. In 2003 American turkey farmers produced two hundred seventy million turkeys. Three quarters of those turkeys came from Arkansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia. On each of the approximately 8000 turkey farms in America, men and women worked long and hard to provide us with the traditional center of Thanksgiving dinner. For your dedication, thank you.
Through autumn, while other Americans go about their lives, potato farmers watch the weather. A successful potato harvest is a delicate balancing act. Harvesting when the soil is too cold results in cracked and bruised potatoes. The potatoes must then be cured at around 60 degrees and then stored at a slightly lower temperature. The mashed potatoes on the table next to the turkey are the result of potato farmers’ work and worry. Many potato farmers’ livelihoods depend on a single crop. For your risks and hard work, thank you.
There would be no stuffing without wheat. In Kansas, the leading wheat producer in the United States, one third of the state’s 63,000 farms grow wheat. Together they annually produce approximately 400 million bushels of wheat. They do so at the mercy of the weather, plant disease, and market fluctuations that can make even a bountiful harvest worthless. For providing stuffing today and bread for the world every day, thank you.
Of course, there is not enough room on this page to thank everyone whose labor makes Thanksgiving possible. In addition to the farmers who grow all the other products we need for green bean casserole, gravy, pies, cranberry sauce, corn, sweet potatoes, and so on, other workers help get the food from field to table.
Most Thanksgiving dinners include pumpkin pie. Each slice of pie represents the labors of farmers, produce pickers, produce wholesalers, truck drivers, produce canners, grocery warehouse workers, supermarket stockers and cashiers. It’s not glamorous or lucrative work, but without it Thanksgiving would not be the same. For your long hours behind the scenes helping make our holiday complete, thank you.
It is appropriate to take this day to express gratitude for friends, family, and other more tangible things. At the same time, however, a true display of gratitude must include those upon whose efforts this holiday depends. Consider the developing situation in Postville, Iowa. Less than a year ago, Postville was held up as example of a symbiotic small town in which most of the residents worked for one employer, Agriprocessors. Agriprocessors depended on the residents and claimed to value them. Today, it is clear that was not the case.
Federal immigration officials have detained hundreds of workers. Families face the prospect of being torn apart by deportation proceedings. Many members of Agriprocessors’ upper management now face criminal charges for exploiting the workers—encouraging violation of immigration laws, violating child labor laws, and disregarding workplace safety laws. The workers in Postville were treated like chattel, and now the town’s social and economic structure has been crippled. A recent article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette noted that many families in Postville are coping with food insecurity. There will be hungry families in Postville this Thanksgiving.
None of the workers in Postville were looking for a free ride. They came to Postville so they could provide a better life for themselves and their families. They did exhausting, dangerous, dirty, low-paying work in a meatpacking plant so the rest of us could eat. Giving thanks for our good fortune without acknowledging and addressing their plight would render this Thanksgiving meaningless.
Check out this news article about a newly filed class action. (link & text below)
Forestry firms sued over pay, conditions of Mexican workersAssociated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Three class-action lawsuits have been against forestry companies for allegedly taking unlawful advantage of Mexicans and Guatemalans who do seasonal work in the Southeast.
The lawsuits claim the workers, who are in the United States on temporary work visas, often make less than minimum wage, do not receive overtime pay and work upward of 70 hours a week planting trees.
“The workers are essentially being cheated in fairly dramatic ways and pretty systematically,” Mary Bauer, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the Montgomery Advertiser in a story Wednesday.
The lawsuits, filed by the SPLC in federal court, list as defendants Eller & Sons Trees Inc. in Franklin, Ga., Idaho-based Alpha Services LLC and Arkansas-based Express Forestry. The companies, responding in court filings, have denied the accusations.
Larry Stine, an attorney representing Eller & Sons, said the claims are ludicrous.
Stine said the workers make at least $8.29 an hour planting trees, but they have complained of not being paid for the time they are traveling from where they stay to where they work.
Bauer said the lawsuits represent about 2,000 workers in a major Southern industry. They seek repayment of lost wages for the forestry workers. Bauer said the litigation may be expanded.
Anti-immigration groups recently met for a three-day summit in Las Vegas entitled “Unite to Fight Against Illegal Immigration.” The participating groups included racist and anti-Semitic hate groups, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL asserts that these hate groups are being recruited by the anti-immigrant movement to exploit a mainstream concern, immigration policy, and transform it into anti-Hispanic agenda rhetoric. Some of the summit’s 400 attendees described immigrants as “illegal barbarians” and “the enemy within.”
The summit, held in late May, was designed to build on the “success” of the minutemen project, a vigilante mission to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border. Minutemen project co-founder, Jim Gilchrist, denied that he was racist. At a minutemen rally, however, Mr. Gilchrist referred to immigrants as “Mexican Nazis” and the “Mexican Klan.” Aryan Nations, a white supremacist group, called the minutemen project “a call for action on the part of all Aryan Soldiers.”
Immigration and border policy are very real concerns, and all sides hotly debate the issues. In my opinion, the real issues should include how Mexico can stabilize its economy so that Mexican nationals are not forced to risk their lives and leave their families to live under the radar and in constant fear and degradation here in the United States. The real issues should include immigration reform, and how the United States can make obtaining a visa easier. While many argue that Mexican immigrants “should come here legally like everyone else,” not many people realize that it’s very difficult, to the point of being virtually impossible, for regular working-class Mexicans to get visas to come the United States.
The very real issues surrounding immigration and border policy should not include racist rhetoric designed to stir up anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic sentiment. “While there are legitimate concerns for America regarding illegal immigration, the fact that border vigilantes, and in some instances racist and anti-Semitic hate groups, are exploiting these concerns to promote an anti-Hispanic agenda is very troubling,” said Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL national director. If anti-immigrant activists really want to facilitate change, they will have to stop playing up to racist and ethnocentric attitudes. Then the real dialogue can begin.
To read the ADL’s press release on this subject, visit http://releases.usnewswire.com/GetRelease.asp?id=48839.