BLOG UNDER SURVEILLANCE: National Review Online's "The Corner"
Issue: Roger Clegg's 10 demands for those who want to become Americans
In what he would like to think of as a patriotic posting in celebration of his vision of the United States of America on this coming 4th of July, conservative lawyer Roger Clegg has posted a list of demands (which he fleshes out on another occasion in greater detail here) for those who wish to become Americans. He put up this list in the context of a blog posting on the whole immigration/assimilation subject. In fact, he even says that this list is good for American citizens, too. But I found his list to be revealing in terms of what it is blind to among his fellow conservatives in the current environment we live in and also naive to the truly important things that make America what it is. So, let me challenge and expound upon Mr. Clegg's list so that it reflects the reality of modern conservatism's hypocrisy on the very points he raises. Here's the list with my commentary following each item:
1. Don’t disparage anyone else’s race or ethnicity.
OK. I can respect that. But let's add religion to the mix, too. That way we can make sure the many Islamophobes in the conservative movement can feel as if this one really applies to them, too. And adding religion is well within bounds of inclusion here since religion and race/ethnicity tend to have strong linkages. Additionally, we need to be sure that we hold ourselves, as well as immigrants, accountable to this "demand." It's a good recommendation, but I think consistency would require a willingness to "de-nationalize" American citizens who actually do go around disparaging anyone else's race or ethnicity. If we embrace the freedom to be a private racist or bigot (even if we despise those who do exercise such freedom), then we have to acknowledge that it would be "un-American" of us to demand that our newly-minted citizens not share this freedom, as distasteful as we may find them to be in the using of this freedom.
2. Respect women.
Fine, too. Except let's flesh this out a bit to include liberal female feminists. Because there is a very powerful, nasty meme circulating among the rightwing these days, and pushed predominantly by rightwing women themselves, that promotes a hateful, and certainly disrespectful, view of women -- albeit of the liberal feminist kind. In fact, we've all heard the term "Femi-nazi" applied by the rightwing to leftwing women feminists who are strong, firm, and outspoken in their convictions; and I've also heard the new term "Femisogynist" also bantered about among conservatives to disparage ideologically liberal women. So, I hope that Clegg's "demand" (which is obviously intended to point a finger at immigrants who come from a tradition where gender roles and relations are a much more complex and problematic issue) applies to more than just a very narrow slice of disrespectful behavior and attitudes towards women.
3. Learn to speak English.
This is a demand that is quite frankly un-American. And I believe it is also both illiberal and un-conservative. What language anyone speaks or learns is a choice that person makes. It should never be demanded of anyone. Of course, as any choice, it bears with it consequences; and people should be free to make that choice and live with the consequences of it. But what Clegg's demand amounts to is nothing more than the imposition of his preference on what should be someone else's private choice, and his oppressive effort to limit someone else's freedom.
4. Be polite.
Who can argue with this one? Unless you think that the freedoms of this country guarantee you the right to be a rude crank. Something many conservatives would argue. Thus maybe it shouldn't be a "demand" for citizenship, but a recommendation, since citizenship (at least in the US) doesn't demand politeness of anyone (and, in fact, protects the freedom to be rude). But, again, assuming he meant it more as a recommendation than a demand, Clegg should also be cognizant that many of his ideological brethren are very impolite to immigrants, especially if they happen to be undocumented, regardless of whether they want to become citizens or not. I remain convinced that 99% of all undocumented immigrants would very much like to apply for legal status; and a significant percentage of this number would probably also like very much to become permanent residents or citizens. But they simply aren't given that opportunity, at least not a remotely realistic opportunity. And in spite of how polite these people are in their daily comportment, their immigration status determines the kind of treatment they will be receiving from Clegg's fellow rightwingers. I take Clegg's demand to apply to how we citizens treat our immigrant neighbors (regardless of their immigration status), as much as to apply to how immigrants should treat us citizens.
5. Don’t break the law.
Of course. This goes without saying in just about any society. But, here, (even though Clegg himself doesn't see this particular demand of his in this way), many on his side will interpret this simple statement as an attack on undocumented immigrants as lawbreakers, thus reconfirming the "criminalization" of otherwise very polite and hardworking immigrants strictly on this point. Of course, no one should break the law if they want to be a productive member or citizen of any society; but it helps if immigrants aren't vilified as lawbreakers (and thus unassimilable) even before they have a chance at permanent residency or citizenship.
6. Don’t have children out of wedlock.
I have to laugh at this one because it comes across as so old-fashioned and so out-of-touch with what actually is the America today that Clegg wants immigrants to assimilate to. And, again, though this may be a nice recommendation, it certainly has no place being a "demand" because (1) it is antithetical to freedom, which is much more at the heart of what America stands for and what we want immigrants to assimilate to, and (2) because immigrants will correctly view this demand as hypocritical in the sense that it conveys a "do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do" idea about what it means to be an American. If I were an immigrant, looking at the rate of out-of-wedlock childbearing in the America to which I am assimilating, I'd wonder why Clegg wants to demand of me as a citizen a behavior that does not seem to apply as a demand to regular citizens. Clegg claims to believe in treating immigrants as a citizen equally privileged as any other citizen without respect to race, ethnicity, or national origin, but this demand seems to hold citizenship for immigrants hostage to a behavior that doesn't apply to any other native-born or naturalized American citizens.
7. Don’t demand anything because of your race, ethnicity, or sex.
Except an equality that is both perceived and experienced as being denied because of one's race, ethnicity, or sex. Clegg acknowledges this, but he operates from a premise that when minorities complain about discrimination and the perceived or experienced lack of equality, they are doing so to seek special privileges or protections that others don't get (i.e. affirmative action, protected status designation, etc.) I think this is a misplaced premise. Most immigrants come to the U.S. because it promises equality irrespective of their race, ethnicity, sex, etc. And when they complain, with a loud group voice, that the U.S. isn't living up to this promise, that's very much within the great American tradition, not outside of it. I think Clegg ought to acknowledge this at least as a possibility in terms of how he understands minority group "demands." Furthermore, Clegg is again requiring of immigrant groups as a condition of their citizenship that they abandon the rights that citizens in the US already exercise to demand things because of their race, ethnicity, or sex. Clegg may not like this part of American liberty and he may actually think it's racist, or whatever; but I don't think he would say that folks in the U.S. don't have the right to behave in such way as long as it is done peacefully and within the bounds of what the law will allow.
8. Don’t view working and studying hard as “acting white.”
This makes me wonder, for all his expertise and experience with immigrants, whether he actually understands what immigrants actually think here. The vast majority of immigrants who want to become citizens (and even those who don't) are hard workers and dedicated students because of who they are within their non-white racial or ethnic group. Clegg presumes that immigrants will have a racial understanding of "working and studying hard" that actually diminishes their racial or ethnic identity. I think this is foolish, condescending, and patronizing. It comes across as a white dude telling the presumed self-hating ethnic minority that it's o.k. to be non-white and still be a hard working or diligently studious person. And I don't think Clegg wants to give that impression to these American citizen hopefuls.
9. Don’t hold historical grudges.
Hell, again Clegg demands that immigrants do what native-born or naturalized American citizens do not. We hold historical grudges all the time. Many in the south disparage the yankee north. And we have fierce cultural battles, and we hold deep-seated generational historical grudges, over the Confederate Flag or Slavery/Jim Crow or Japanese Internments or the Alamo, etc. And the fact is that many American citizens themselves hold historical grudges against those immigrants (and the cultures/countries they come from) who may be seeking citizenship. So, is it really American to tell immigrants to let go of what they feel in terms of historical grudges in deference to the historical grudges against them, their countries of origin, or their cultures that Clegg may think constitutes the true narrative of American history? I don't think so.
10. Be proud of being an American.
Fine. And most naturalized immigrants are probably more proud of being American than your native born citizen, so I don't think this would really be an issue. But being proud of being an American naturally will come from being treated as an equal American. So the burden of inducing this pride for our newest compatriots also falls on us to make sure that the chance at the American dream they are promised in exchange for their loyalty and patriotism is not conditioned by a discrimination against them because of who they are and where they come from. And I should add that being proud to be an American does not equate to being ashamed of coming from a non-American ancestry or hiding/denying this ancestry out of fear or shame.
In the end, I think Clegg's "demands" (I'd rather think of them as recommendations in deference to freedom, but that's not how Clegg defines them) are very naive and shortsighted. I think that, all his good intentions aside, Clegg wants new citizens to assimilate to a particular cultural vision of the United States that just no longer exists (that is, if it ever actually existed). In fact, he states as much in his expanded thoughts on this subject. He puts forward a notion that America can and should be multiracial and multiethnic, but he rejects the notion that America should also be multicultural -- because he sees in culture the non-negotiable glue of what it means to be American. But what he doesn't do is breakdown what he means by multicultural. I happen to think that the core identity of the United States of America is defined by its political culture, and not by culture in any other way. The "E Pluribus Unum" motto -- "One out of Many" -- refers not to how polite we are, not to whether we hold historical grudges, not to whether we have children out of wedlock, etc., but to whether we all accept the same rules under which our civic society is organized and operates. If you want to be impolite, that's fine and well within the definition of being American (because we certainly have our fair share of rude, impolite natural born citizen cranks in this country). If you want to be an unmarried, single mother, that's fine, too. We've got plenty of those kinds of natural born citizens around, too, and many of whom actually chose this path. Quite acceptable in the tradition of freedom that defines this country of ours. And so on. And it goes without saying that we can all eat different foods, go to different churches, speak different languages, celebrate certain festival holidays from the "old land," etc. So, yes, we can and should be a multicultural country, as well, in these cultural arenas. But what really defines America, the truly immutable core of the American identity, are not these kinds of cultural attributes, rather whether or not we all share and abide by the same political culture: freedom, respect for the rule of law, acceptance of our procedural democracy, adherence to the basic bill of rights of our Constitution, etc. And of Clegg's list of 10 "demands," only one of them I would consider to fit within this political cultural tradition. That would be Number 5: "Don't break the law." All the rest are negotiable and fluid within the broader context of the essential freedom that defines our non-negotiable political culture. In fact, I would argue that what makes America so great, and what defines the essence of America that we should really be encouraging our new immigrants to assimilate to, is this notion of our political culture, which is grounded in a freedom that allows people to be cranks, misogynists, unwed single mothers, etc., as long as they don't contravene the rule of law and the system of governance that organizes and shapes us.
Friday, July 02, 2010
BLOG UNDER SURVEILLANCE: National Review Online's "The Corner"