Tag: scapegoats

The Numbers Are In

Let’s start this New Year with some quick facts, courtesy of the 2010 U.S. Census:

  • The resident population of the United States is now 308,745,558, a 9.7 percent increase over 2000
  • Latino population growth for the decade was around 29 percent
  • Non-Latino population growth was about 4 percent
  • The fastest-growing states were generally states with large Latino populations

At the great risk of pointing out the obvious, it’s clear that Hispanics are a big reason that this country is growing at all. Keep in mind that immigration, both legal and illegal, has been declining ever since the Great Recession began, which means that Latino population growth would be even greater if not for the quirky anomaly of a total economic collapse.

So Latinos are driving America’s growth. Depending on your perspective, this is either a positive development for multiculturalism or the final stage of the dreaded Brown Invasion.

One thing that it indisputably means, however, is that Hispanic influence — on everything from political movements to pop culture events — will only increase in the new decade.

It may also mean the death of a particularly pernicious tactic: Scapegoating Hispanics for America’s ills.

But hatred is a strong and insatiable monster, and as Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, has stated, “Turning our population numbers into political and economic power is not an automatic or simple thing to accomplish.”

So expect the fear-mongering to go on for a while, even as Latinos become more numerous, and we segue from exotic pioneers to next-door neighbors.

By the way, the U.S. population grew at its lowest rate since the Great Depression. So without Hispanics, the United States would be in danger of becoming one of those teetering industrial nations, like Japan or Italy, where stagnant growth is causing widespread concern about the future. That’s not really the case here.

You’re welcome, America.

Weapon of Choice

In 1989, Charles Stuart murdered his pregnant wife. To cover up his crime, he told police that a black man had done it. The cops, and pretty much everybody else, believed him.

Then the lie unraveled, and Stuart killed himself by jumping off a bridge.

Stuart is perhaps the most infamous example of someone who commits a crime or indulges in bad behavior, and then pins the blame on a black man. In fact, there is a history of people who have embraced this very effective ploy.

However, the gambit seems to be played out. In 2010, making up some story that an African American jumped you is so cliché. Contemporary Americans have paid attention to the political zeitgeist, and thus informed, decided that the most logical scapegoat is a Latino male.

For example, Heidi Jones, a weather anchor for ABC’s New York City affiliate and an occasional forecaster on Good Morning America, has recently been suspended from her job and has been arrested for lying to the police.

Jones claimed that a man tried to rape her while she was jogging in Central Park a couple of months ago. After investigating her claims, however, “investigators found inconsistencies in her story and could find no witnesses or suspects” and eventually got Jones to admit that she had “spun the tale as a ‘plea for sympathy’ because of trouble in her personal life.”

Jones has been charged with two counts of filing a false police report, and she faces a year in jail or a thousand-dollar fine.

One’s first reaction to this is disgust. Jones’ actions are incredibly harmful to real rape victims, many of whom often face hostile accusations of making the whole thing up. Here we have a public figure who has fabricated a sexual assault, providing ammunition to misogynists everywhere.

Pity is also a common reaction. How messed up must this woman’s existence be to create such a grotesque tale “in a plea for sympathy to counter some unknown setback that she was experiencing in her personal life”?

Once we get past those responses, however, we see the modern twist on the Stuart trope. Jones knew that to have any credibility, her fictional rapist had to be Hispanic.

Saying the guy was black seems suspicious, because that’s what Stuart and other liars claimed. However, a white perpetrator strains credibility, because… well… you know.

So Hispanic it is. After all, we make handy targets in political ads, and we have been blamed for everything from skyrocketing crime rates to the housing collapse. As such, creating a Latino thug who jumps women in the dark is a logical choice for the imaginary crime victim.

Lisa Navarrete, a spokeswoman for La Raza, commented on Jones’ hoax. Navarrete said it “reflects the mindset of many more people who think that if you want to make up a story and you want people to believe it, you should blame an African American man or a Latino.”

Navarrete is mostly correct. However, she’s clearly stuck in the past when she claims African Americans are as likely to be the object of a false claim. I mean, it’s not 1989 anymore.

The Power of the Powerless

In Europe during the Middle Ages, lepers and vagrants were often assumed to have nefarious supernatural powers. The thinking was that too much exposure to the riff-raff would cause your hands to fall off, or your baby to die, or your wife to go mad. And if the local burgermeister couldn’t get it up with his mistress-wench, it must have been because that withered crone who begs outside his door had placed a hex upon him.

The reason for this odd logic, according to some historians, is that as cities grew, a permanent underclass developed that freaked out the respectable people. The upper classes feared these cretins who dressed in rags, and to deal with this dread of the unknown (or to assuage their guilt for not helping those less fortunate than themselves), they claimed that the wretches only appeared weak. So the myth grew that some manic with no teeth and gangerous limbs could take you out if you weren’t careful.

We’re much more civilized today, of course, and we don’t blame the poor for our calamities – well, except for all those homeless guys who are making downtown unsafe… and the welfare recipients who continue to sponge the system… and those illegal immigrants who are stealing our livelihoods… and…

Wait a minute.

Yes, we do indeed go after those who can’t possibly compete with the middle and upper classes. If we’re fortunate enough to achieve a certain level of comfort, but that final rung on the economic ladder is too slippery to grasp, we blame our distress on the equivalent of Middle Age witches.

This blaming necessitates the really nifty trick or assessing that someone has no power, and therefore won’t fight back, and then ascribing enormous power to them. The tactic is especially common in prosperous societies, where people have more possessions and, therefore, have more to lose.

A crazy homeless guy ranting about God reminds us of our potential to bottom out more than it would in say, Sierra Leone, where poverty is a widespread fact of life.

Similarly (and most importantly from this blog’s perspective) a team of illegal immigrants clambering over the neighbor’s roof, laboring mightily in the summer sun, invokes a fear in middle-class Americans that these hard-working strangers are willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead – and that means they’re coming for our nice cars and fancy televisions and 80GB ipods and crème brûlée torches (by the way, this last item is real and exists solely for people who have way too much disposable income).

It’s been pointed out that immigrants are often the boogeyman for societal problems. Just look at Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” to see how despised the Irish were.

So now it’s the Latino’s turn to be scorned and feared.

Naturally, there are clear objections to the idea that illegal immigrants are modern-day scapegoats. Foremost among them is that undocumented workers are not cost-free to the economy, nor are they incapable of criminal behavior. In other words, negative reactions to illegal immigrants are not solely based upon made-up superstitions.

However, the depths of hatred for these individuals, and the vast influence ascribed to them, boggles the mind. Any sensible discussion of immigration reform is doomed once it’s declared that a guy making sub-minimum wage who lives in constant fear is really the secret strongman.

So do we go on blaming the powerless?

Personally, I’m going to try to take more responsibility for my issues – unless of course I can turn this around and blame someone much, much more powerful than me, like the government or Big Oil or the Bavarian Illuminati.

OK, now I’m on to something.

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