Archive for February, 2020

Shady and Blue, late February – posted 2/23/2020

February 23, 2020 1 comment
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Expanding the Travel Ban to Africans is an Election Ploy – posted 2/15/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 2/23/2020

February 15, 2020 Leave a comment

In a little-noticed move, the Trump Administration expanded its contested travel ban to six new countries. Under the new ban, nationals of Nigeria, Eritrea, Myanmar and Kyrgystan will not be able to get visas to live and work in the U.S..

Nationals of Sudan and Tanzania will not be able to participate in the diversity visa lottery program, a program that issues up to 50,000 visas a year from nations that send few immigrants to the U.S..

The ban is expected to affect more than 350 million people, close to one-quarter of the 1.2 billion people living in Africa. Nigeria alone has a population of over 190 million people. The new ban takes effect on February 22.

When Trump initiated the original travel ban in January 2017, popularly known as the Muslim ban, it is worth recalling that he said it was a temporary measure until “they figured out what the hell was going on”.

So you have to ask, why has it not been temporary and why is the list of countries expanding? Why is Nigeria on the list, which has the sixth-largest Christian population in the world?

I think it is a blatant appeal to racism and xenophobia. In an election year it is about throwing red meat to the white supremacists and run-of-the-mill racists who populate part of Trump’s base.

Have any Africans been doing anything that threatens Americans on the home front lately or even in the last ten years? The answer is “no”.

Between 1975-2016, not a single person born in Nigeria, Eritrea, Tanzania, or Sudan killed any American in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The same is also true for Myanmar.

Because of the existence of Boko Haram, an Islamist insurgency in northern Nigeria, there is some impression of a possible threat. However, this threat is to the Nigerian state, not the U.S. homeland.

Part of the Trump re-election strategy is to point the finger of blame at immigrants. Needing a group Trump can demagogue about, Africans join Mexican rapists, Central American drug gangs, and caravans of refugees. Facts and honesty are of no consequence. Whatever serves scare-mongering is the agenda. Africans become part of the cavalcade of fantasy suspects who might take jobs from “real Americans”.

Trump’s version of making America great again is about keeping foreigners out, building a wall, saying, in effect, America for Americans. The pitch is a ploy to fear of the stranger, especially of the dark-skinned variety. At the same time, Trump postures as a friend of workers and as someone who can speak the language of the common people.

Trump gets to define who is an American and who is an alien. Race has long been a major factor in separating those who supposedly qualify as legitimate Americans and those who remain suspect.

This is not the first time there has been an African immigration ban. The 1924 immigration act also discriminated against immigrants from Africa. In that era, immigration restrictions based on race were celebrated. Africa’s visas were set at the minimal level of 100 a year.

In the 1920’s, immigration policy and law-making were heavily influenced by the famed eugenicist, Madison Grant, who was a racist and an anti-semite. In his book, The Passing of the Great Race, Grant argued Nordic superiority and he opposed interracial mixing. Grant was a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt and he was not an isolated voice favoring racism and xenophobia. He was mainstream, just one of many with similar views.

No longer do you hear talk of racial purity but earlier generations of immigration restrictionists supported Jim Crow segregation and the exclusion of Africans, Asians, Jews and Mexicans from eligibility for citizenship.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court gave Trump an assist when it upheld the third version of his travel ban in the case of Hawaii v. Trump. In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the President had authority, in the interests of national security, to suspend entry of any class of aliens.

Interestingly, in her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor invoked the similarity between the Muslim ban and the Japanese-American internment. Both cases featured an ill-defined threat to national security.

The Trump Administration is again using national security as the rationale for the Africa ban. They are saying that five of the countries on the list fail to comply with information-sharing requirements so that foreign nationals can be properly vetted for entry into the country.

Trump’s own words belie the national security rationale. When discussing immigration from African countries with a group of senators, Trump asked why America would want immigrants from “all these shithole countries” and said the U.S. should get more people from countries like Norway. He also said, when discussing issuance of visas from Nigeria, that once Nigerians had seen the U.S., they would never “go back to their huts” in Africa.

I think the African ban needs to be seen in the context of our longstanding xenophobia which has been a constant thread in American history. There have really been two competing threads since our early history. The “we are a nation of immigrants” thread which is welcoming and the racist xenophobic thread which is the opposite.

Americans have a history of being wary of almost every group of foreigners who have come to the United States. Germans, Irish, Chinese, Italians, Jews, Japanese, Mexicans, and Muslims have all been labeled threatening.

Now come Africans and Burmese. Trump’’s xenophobic and racist pitch is in keeping with our historic worst impulses. It should be remembered that the Rohingya Muslim people have been facing the possibility of genocide. Myanmar security forces have been carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against them. Now is a bad time to be closing the immigration door. On a smaller scale, it is reminiscent of past errors when we kept out victims of genocide.

One day, as with the Japanese-American internment, the current effort to use immigration policy to further a racial agenda will again be found to be unconstitutional. It is tragic to see a bad pattern in American history repeating.


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Abortion is not like slavery or the Holocaust – posted 2/1/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 2/16/2020

February 2, 2020 1 comment

Probably readers saw the recent story about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, comparing the abortion rights debate to the struggle to end slavery. As a partisan of the anti-choice side, DeVos compared the choice to have an abortion with the choice to own slaves.

Speaking at the Colorado Christian University on January 22, Secretary DeVos said:

“Lincoln contended with the pro-choice arguments of his day. They suggested that a state’s choice to be slave or to be free had no moral question in it. Well, President Lincoln reminded those pro-choicers that a vast portion of the American people do not look upon that matter as being this very little thing. They look upon it as a vast moral evil.”

DeVos is certainly not the first to make this argument. The anti-abortion movement has long seen itself as fighting for the rights of a voiceless, marginalized group. I recall Ben Carson, when he ran for President, comparing abortion to slavery. He had compared women who have abortions to slavemasters.

It is routine to see Roe v Wade compared to Dred Scott, the Supreme Court decision that upheld slavery.

Also, the anti-abortion movement has often compared abortion to the Holocaust. For example, just this last year, Alabama’s newly-passed abortion ban explicitly compared abortion to the Holocaust.

While political movements often use historical analogies, the comparison of abortion with slavery and the Holocaust is a non-starter. And it is not just the obvious difficulty of comparing the experience of an unborn child to that of a slave or a Holocaust victim.

Slavery was, in part, a slave-breeding industry. Slaveowners saw their laborers as breeding stock. Slaveowners expected their female slaves to produce marketable children. More slaves equaled more money for the slaveowners.

Slavery was all about reproductive coercion. As Imani Gandy has written:

“If you think about it, the claim that abortion is like slavery is exactly backwards. I’m not a fan of comparing anything to slavery that is not slavery, but I’m fairly certain that we can all agree that slaveowners systematically forced Black women to give birth.”

Those comparing slavery and abortion are not looking at what actually happened during slavery. The historians Ned and Constance Sublette show that breeding was an obsession for Southern men of property. Slavery was a license for libertine behavior and sexual violence against slaves was a norm. The Sublettes write:

“The girl who tried to refuse being bred might be beaten, and in the end, the girl who wasn’t a “good breeder” could expect to be sold South, which was commonly understood to be the worst thing that could happen. There she would work among strangers under an overseer’s lash in the cotton fields, or finish her life after a few years on one of Louisiana’s sugar plantations.”

Home remedies for contraception and abortion were a form of resistance for Black women who were subject to rape and sexual violence by slaveowners. Slaveowners wanted babies for profit. The more babies produced, the more money made. Selling slaves was a big part of the profitability of slavery.

The anti-abortion movement misses how preventing birth and avoiding bringing children into a horrible world was the real opposition to slavery. Black women knew their children would be forced to live as chattel.

More generally, the anti-abortion movement trivializes and devalues the harm of slavery. Slavery went on for centuries and its residual effects still shape our world. It was a permanent, lifelong condition, not temporary, like pregnancy. The harm alleged by the anti-abortion movement about women who have abortions is a nullity. It is speculation about potential life, not lived life. There is an incongruity in comparing the historical experience of slaves to an unknown.

I think that same thing is true for comparisons with the Holocaust. The death of six million Jewish people (and millions more if you count all the victims) who were living their lives is vastly different than concepts about lives the might have been but never were.

The Holocaust was about extermination of Jews because of a vicious hatred, anti-semitism. Even if opponents of abortion intensely dislike the choice made by women who decide to have abortions, abortion is about a personal, individual choice made by a woman in consultation with her doctor.

There are many different reasons why a woman might choose to have an abortion. It could be because of an inability to care for a child, danger to the health of the mother or health issues with the fetus. It could also be because the woman was a victim of rape or incest. In none of these circumstances is the choice about hatred.

Unlike abortion, which is about an individual choice compelled by circumstances, the Holocaust was a state-enforced series of genocidal policies designed to eradicate groups of people. The moving party was the German Nazi government enforcing and institutionalizing mass murder based on hate.

As a Jewish person, I find the appropriation of the Holocaust by the anti-abortion movement offensive. As with slavery, there is a difference between real life suffering and an intellectual construction. I would note that Jewish law allows abortion, believing that life starts at birth and that a mother’s life should never be sacrificed to save a fetus.

It is also hard for me to forget the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian by an anti-abortion fanatic. Dr. Slepian was an abortion provider in Buffalo, New York. He also happened to be Jewish. Dr. Slepian was shot in the back through a window in his kitchen after he returned from Friday night services.

There is something terribly wrong with invoking the Holocaust to strip women of their fundamental right to bodily autonomy.

DeVos was also wrong that a “vast portion of the American people” considered slavery wrong before the Civil War. Abolitionists did not gain much support until the 1840’s and 1850’s and even then they were still a minority. When Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852, Southern whites and most Northerners still supported slavery and white supremacy and saw Black people as inferior.

While I understand why the anti-abortion movement would want to align with great moral movements, abortion is nothing like slavery or the Holocaust. Those analogies fail.

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