The White Working Class and Its Latino Scapegoats

This will probably be my most personal “observation” blog for a while. About four days ago I got into a gigantic argument with my younger brother (he’s 19) and my father. This obviously isn’t a journal blog but the argument definitely illustrates white privilege, white supremacy, and contemporary racism being played out everyday in many peoples homes all over the United States.

I forget how it exactly started but the topic on hand was immigrants, to be more specific, undocumented workers (they used the term “illegals”). My family is Irish and Guatemalan but my immediate family mostly identifies with their Irish side and hence Irish issues are regularly brought up. Since the topic some how got onto immigrants I pointed out that back in the early 1910s Irish Protestants in Ulster (Northern Ireland) were very much split along class lines with Orange Order (an anti-Irish-Catholic society) being dominated by the landed class, as was Ulster Unionist Council (the governing body of the anti-Irish-Catholic Ulster Unionist Party). Because of this many lower class and proletariat Protestant-Irish broke away and formed orgs of their own (such as the Independent Orange Order, etc.). The upper classes were fearing their hold on a British Ireland was slipping so they created black propaganda to scare the lower class unionists. Basically they said that Catholics would take their jobs and create a Catholic Ireland with values totally different from their own and that the Catholics would persecute them. Rumors flew and many lower class unionists believed the hype (despite the fact that the Catholics in Ulster had no political power whatsoever). Because of this the unionists were able to unify in order to destroy the Home Rule bills going through British parliament during the 1910s. I also pointed out how the undocumented worker debate reminded me of the Irish first coming to America in the 1840s, 50s, and 60s and how they were blamed for much of the ills that Latino immigrants are being blamed for today. Well, apparently this was not the right thing to say and the shit hit the fan.

My brother yelled out. “That’s not at all the same! That’s completely different! They’re illegall immigrants! The Protestants were illegally brought over from England to take over the native Catholics! Irish immigrants weren’t illegal!”

I then explained, in a not so nice tone, that I was merely illustrating to make a point and that the fact that Protestants were sent in to Northern Ireland by the English has nothing to do with me drawing a line from anti-Catholic sentiment in Ulster and present day anti-Latino sentiment today in the U.S. I than stated that Irish immigrants were able to come to America because the immigration quotas weren’t yet put up. The first immigrants to every be restricted weren’t white Europeans but people of color, which was done in the Chinese Exclusion Act in the late 19th century. I also stated that while at first the Irish weren’t considered white and where in fact legally labeled Black, eventually the Irish became white (for more read How the Irish Became White) and the reason why the Irish were able to continue to immigrant to America is because they were white. This then, obviously, created a larger firestorm. But by this time I didn’t really care if the argument escalated.

What happened next was foggy but, from what I remember my brother said that I don’t know what I’m talking about and that the only reason why I support “illegals” is because I’m not a “blue-collar working man.” This despite the fact that I’ve done manual labor many of times, brick work, janitorial work, construction, etc. But that wasn’t the point. He than said I was a white-collar college educated “intellectual” and that if I was in a union or a union man I would know the reality and that I would be against “illegal immigrants.” This despite the fact that my brother goes to junior college, but that’s also besides the point. What was going on was that my brother was using classical right-wing arguments to basically drown me out. For some reason getting an education is bad. Yet these were just straw man arguments and I told him this (I also called him a complete moron and an idiot). Than my dad piped in and instead of trying to be the mediator he began to take my brothers side. He asked what it was that I found offensive in my brother’s argument.

I told him. “Ummm…Like every single racist thing he’s said!”

He than told me. “Hey, your brother is Guatemalan.”

“Yeah,” I yelled, “a quarter! And he doesn’t even identify with it! So who gives a shit. Even if he was full Guatemalan his argument still wouldn’t make any fucking sense and it would still be just as stupid! It’s a jackass argument!”

This set off something in my father and he than said. “The only jackass is you Jack! I guess your name is now ‘Jack the Jackass!’”

My dad than said that he was union and he was against illegal immigrants. This started a whole flurry of yelling and finger pointing. I said that if you were a true union man you would be allying yourselves with undocumented workers against the capitalist class and that just because some unions are against undocumented workers, it has no bearing on whether they are right or not.

My father skirted the argument and said. “Why do you think your brother has stupid arguments?”

“Because of what he said!” I told him. “He’s been brainwashed by all sorts of media influence, brainwashed by his football teammates and by his white construction foremen! Also, anyone who argues what he argues, such as gays are bad and undocumented workers are bad for America, is an idiot!”

I normally never resolve to using such language to paint an opponent in a negative light during an argument but I was pretty heated to say the least. Than my father said he didn’t necessarily like gays either, but that can be left for another post.

I than started arguing that this is exactly what the ruling elites want working class folks to think. They want the working classes to have a scapegoat so the unions and the working class keep their heat away from the capitalist class and the elites. Corporations would like nothing better than for unions to focus their attention on undocumented workers instead of on issues pertaining to pay, work hours, work safety, control of production, etc. And than said this is exactly what has been going on since the founding of this country. First the Irish were blamed for taking away jobs, than freed Blacks, than the Chinese, than the Italians, than the Pilipinos, and so on. There was always a scapegoat and the scapegoat always was a group of people from a different ethnic group. (See The Rise and Fall of the White Republic)

My father and brother were pissed and my father told me to spot “ranting and raving.” I than said that I was in no means ranting and raving and I told my father and brother to point out any inaccurate statement I made. I told them they wouldn’t be able to.

My father said. “You think you’re so much better than everyone else huh!”

I told him no and that what he said has nothing to do with my argument. Apparently while I was yelling further (to match their yelling) my finger somehow ended up near my brothers face and he slapped it away. I than slapped his hand saying. “What the hell was that for?!”

“Don’t fucking point that thing in my face you little faggot!” My brother yelled. It gets a little hazy here but what ended up happening was my brother grabbed my collar (I in no way threatened him physically) and proceeding to try and push me against the wall. Than he started through punches and landed about a half-a-dozen to my midsection as well as a few to my face. In the process he broke my rosary (which my girlfriend gave to me for my birthday).

That’s were it ended. There was nothing else to say, nothing more. Their white supremacist arguments didn’t work and as a result of that my brother proceeding to try and kick my ass since he somehow thought that that was what he needed to do.

Image From:
Center for the Study of Political Graphics


La Otra said...

Jesus, Jack. Thanks for sharing that story. I imagine that it wasn't easy to relate---well, for me it would not be easy.

Talking with one's family about systemic domination is perhaps the toughest political battle of all. There's already a built-in history of interaction there, where your loved ones think they know all about you and your motives, on top the fact that most of them are set in their ways. It's hard for them to see your political conscience and its development, usually because most of our immediate families rarely understand us on a deeply intimate political or intellectual level. It's why most of us don't even bother talking politics with our families.

I applaud you for taking that risk with your brother and father. If they've got to hear that perspective anywhere, it's best that they hear it from you. I'm sorry that the outcome was so painful. I hope you and your brother reconcile soon.

Jack Stephens said...

Thank you very much for your kind words and concern. By the way, for anyone reading these comments you must check out Yolanda Carrington's blog The Primary Contradiction, it has some great stuff. Anyways.

You hit the political family dynamic right on its head. Most of the time I don't talk about my radical views with my family, but once in a while I do. Such as a few days back.

As for reconciling with my bro, I've got no huge ill will towards him. I'm more pissed off and the brainwashing that has happened to him over his years, especially from co-workers. That's what probably pisses me off the most since I can see in him what most white males think. I'm sure we'll reconcile (it will probably be a more unspoken reconciliation though, like, "Shit happened, let's not talk about it until some more shit happens again.")

Thanks again for you comment and concern. Look forward to reading more of your posts and comments in the future. Keep up the good fight.