Tag Archives: Mitt Romney

Politics and white Privilege: Reflections on Why I Voted for Obama

Several months ago I came to the conclusion that I would never vote again, and decided it was some kind of meaningful decision aligned perfectly with my radical politics. I thought I would ignore the Presidential election entirely, assuming this would allow me to exist outside the US system of government. If this sounds similar to the white fantasy that we can exist outside the system of white privilege when we “think differently,” that’s because it’s almost identical. I am implicated in both systems whether I am a willing or unwilling participant, aware or unaware, and I don’t know of any cancer patients that became immune to the disease simply by ignoring it. As I’ve watched this election cycle unfold (by far one of the most appalling examples of wasted money that “modern” humans have ever known), I have reflected on what it says about my white privilege to even assume the freedom I have to abstain from voting is a “moral” freedom and to assume this decision is a “radical” one.

Full disclosure from the very beginning: I agree with several highly respected friends of color that voting is a colonial franchise. It reinforces the structural power of a neocolonial system (the US government), the foundation for which was formal European colonialism. It’s a uniquely white privilege to reflect on US national heritage with pride and nostalgia, and the “pioneering” ideas behind the creation of the US nation-state that never applied to Indigenous and ethnic “others.” I agree that voting is essentially an act of supporting this history and its influence on the contemporary moment. As per usual with a white person, however, my political position is completely different, and because of my privilege the stakes are not as high for me in any given election.

What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen to the majority of white folks if Obama is re-elected? The wealthiest of us might have to pay higher taxes? I don’t really need to think about the few unfortunate consequences I might personally suffer if Romney is elected, which means I have the white privilege to vote for myself and satisfy my own politics.. or not. I can dislike both candidates—one significantly more so than the other—and I could’ve spent this election as a “radical conscientious objector” instead of a voter, but my white privilege is unaltered either way. So I also agree with many respected POC bloggers and writers who argue that no vote for President Obama could amount to the election of Mitt Romney, which would mean worse conditions for many POC in this country.

I have no illusions that I achieved political oneness with “democracy” today because I decided, after all, to vote for Obama. What does the idea of “democracy” really mean when states like Ohio and Florida could decide an entire election? I recently had a discussion with a white feminist about electoral politics, one in which she claimed a certain group of people should “get their shit together and vote” if they wanted certain rights in the US. Not only was she perpetuating the white liberal fantasy that anyone can completely overhaul their social problems with democratic agency, but she was also suggesting that voting is the ultimate solution to any given issue. I could be wrong, but I have to seriously doubt that anti-colonial ideas have ever been viable voting measures. Folks with white skin can simultaneously be aware that the region called the “Southwest” was stolen from Mexico and Indigenous peoples, then claim voting will somehow effectively address this situation. When has “give Mexico back to Mexican and Indigenous people” ever been on a ballot anywhere in the US?

A revolution is not going to happen in the US at a ballot box, and I’m not a fan of every single Obama policy—particularly not the one that effectively means voting for him amounts to voting for more deportations of Latin@ immigrants. But Romney’s ideas on immigration? “Hey, pull yourselves up by your boot straps and self-deport.” Hear ye, hear ye, the colonizer proclaims the Natives shall leave voluntarily from their own land. It’s not better that I voted for Obama, but it would have been worse had I voted for that. Not voting for the alternative gives the worst case scenario a much better chance. I don’t think Obama is the “lesser of two evils,” I think Mitt Romney is yet another financially elite, racially privileged, homophobic, patriarchal, and white supremacist politician that does not deserve to be given more power than he has already enjoyed. Simply put: Romney is worse, and, if elected, would be much worse for communities of color. He wants to dissolve Indigenous sovereignty, which is enough of a reason to vote against him, whether you’re drinking the “democracy” koolaid or not.

Although there are political struggles aimed at disrupting and deconstructing the two-party binary system that dominates US campaigns for office, I don’t know that there will ever be such a thing as a “good vote” or a “good politician” within a corrupt system. Even my vote for President Obama was not a “good vote,” it was a vote against Romney. There have been countless moment’s in Obama’s Presidency that I have imagined how different he might be if he was not forced to operate within the confines of a necolonial and white supremacist system. I think of all the moments he could not be the candidate so many voters wanted him to be in 2008 precisely because of this system. I imagine maybe there are days when he goes to work as Bill Clinton and goes home as Malcolm X. Perhaps the problem is not so much the politician, but the faith voters have in a corrupt government and the promise that this institution, if run by the “right person,” will create the social welfare and “equality” it was supposedly designed to deliver.

I might prefer abolishing the system altogether to find a different way of life, but, as long as it is still in place, I will vote against the worst and most horrifying candidates competing to control it. This is not a heroic, ethical, or revolutionary stance—it is being the lesser of two evils as a white person.

Assuming Romney does get elected, I wonder what will be said about a “post-racial America” then. Will folks say the country is still “post-racial” just because half of its population once elected a Black male? Will they reflect fondly and say, “Remember that Black President we had.. that one time?”

—DD

Advertisements
Tagged , , , ,

Colonialism 101: white Privilege in a “Nation of Immigrants”

In last night’s second Presidential debate, Mitt Romney used the phrase “We are a nation of immigrants” as his opening line to a voter’s question on immigration policy. This romantic idea, dripping with political correctness, manages to erase history, ignore social stigma, and homogenize the category of “immigrants” in a single sentence. The statement is horizontal; immigration is not. It suggests that the US has been a nebulous collection of travelers (which it hasn’t), all of them coming and going willfully and with agency (which they haven’t). It makes it seem as if there are no walls crossed and no lives risked, there is no degrading bureaucracy to contend with and no uniformed mercenaries waiting to harass, profile, and deport certain immigrants. It pretends as though there are not human beings designated as “legal” and “illegal.” It fails to recognize the sovereign territories of Indigenous peoples—the original inhabitants of this land—that exist within this “nation of immigrants.” The fact that Indigenous cultures are still thriving and still present in the US today invalidates that idea altogether.

Before we even get into this, let’s clear the air about Mitt Romney’s “roots.” His Mormon relatives fled to Chihuahua to escape anti-polygamy laws and his father returned to the US before Romney was born. Does that make him an immigrant? No. Do white people born to white people living in Mexico make them Mexican? No. Are US citizens living in Mexico who decide to return to the US immigrants? No.

First and foremost, the US Nation-State was created by European colonizers, and their descendents are now citizens enjoying privileged positions within the dominant culture of white supremacy. Then there were white settlers who either occupied stolen land or forcibly seized it from Indigenous peoples, and their descendants are privileged citizens also. The slaves on whose backs the US economy was built did not willfully migrate to the thirteen colonies. As a WOC professor of mine once said: “No one stood around on the shores of African countries and said ‘I wonder which slave ship I’ll take to the ‘New World’ today.’” Slave labor from Africa, imported labor from China, victims of human trafficking, and refugees don’t qualify as immigrants. Even the Bracero Program that imported laborers from Mexico, followed by a policy (“Operation Wetback”) designed to hunt down and deport disposable laborers of color… still not a “nation of immigrants.” Territories of the present-day Southwest were stolen from Mexico and colonized in the midst of violent Westward Expansionism, which means the US-Mexico border fence, US immigration policy, and white nativism are the only factors that construct folks from south of the border as “immigrants” in their homeland.

So let’s talk about US immigration policy and the creation of the US as a Nation-State direct from Mae M. Ngai, author of Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Fast forward to neocolonialism in the 20th century with the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 codifying the exclusion of Chinese, Japanese, and API folks in general, and establishing a system of allowing/disallowing immigrants from certain countries by numbers (national quotas) based on their “National origin.” With the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act (McCarran-Walter Act of 1952), quotas were replaced with numerical “caps” on immigration and, for the first time, it somewhat limited previously unhindered immigration from the “Western hemisphere.” This law, still in use today, established a legal preference for “skilled professional labor” as well, creating a hierarchy of ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ immigrants in the US. When immigrants have been divided along lines of race, and when race continues to determine inclusion and exclusion within immigration politics, there is no cohesive or equitable “nation of immigrants.”

But hold up—isn’t that a good a thing to say? Not if you’re white, and here’s why: Which immigrants are we? Are we the immigrants who have been excluded by law from entering the country? Are we the immigrants who live in fear of racial profiling? Are we the immigrants who get deported with our children left behind? Can we really claim to be immigrants when we are still colonizing and occupying Indigenous land?

Recent white immigrants have automatic racial belonging to the national body, and white colonizers of the past created the national body, giving whites tremendous privilege in migration power dynamics. As Toni Morrison said, “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” Immigrants with white skin have the privilege and physical safety of being read as American simply according to their color, which is a privilege immigrants of color do not have. When white politicians like Mitt Romney use the “nation of immigrants” phrase, he is pandering to reformist attitudes about immigration while supporting racist immigration policies like E-verify, secure communities, and “self-deportation.” He is also making it possible for whites to benignly say we came from “immigrants” rather than admit our ancestors were Native slaughtering slave owners responsible for colonialism and genocide. “Immigrants” sounds a lot nicer, doesn’t it?

Tagged , , , ,