I saw this article today on Twitter (via @madomasi) and found it really puzzling and disheartening.
The short version: a study compared debates about immigration in Arizona and California in the 1990s and also the subsequent debates in each state about welfare benefits. In Arizona the anti-immigration lobby used racialized language to characterize the issue as Latin@s taking resources from white people, whereas in California the anti-immigration rhetoric was mainly about people without legal status creating disadvantages for legal migrants. Later, those different rhetorical approaches carried over into debates about welfare, which had an effect on the outcome:
Afraid of alienating voters who viewed legal immigrants positively, virtually all California lawmakers voted to extend welfare benefits to legal immigrants, even many who were ineligible for federal benefits, Brown said. In Arizona, by contrast, where legislators saw welfare as a “Hispanic” issue, a bipartisan majority enacted restrictive policies for all Arizonans, limiting welfare access for legal immigrants and even for citizens.
What’s weird is the spin that the article (and the author of the study) puts on this:
"… so we need to pay careful attention to how political leaders and activists are characterizing immigrants,” Brown said. “Using harsh anti-Hispanic rhetoric is divisive and can translate into restrictive social policies later on. But, alternative framings of immigration can create openings for powerful coalitions in other policy debates.”
In other words, the way to promote liberal policies is to actively disguise the fact that your conservative opponents are racists.
I mean, I guess on one level that’s a sensible and pragmatic lesson for political tacticians to draw from the research. Just like you could read that recent study showing that white USians are more likely to support harsh penal reforms if they know that those reforms will disproportionately affect black people and sensibly conclude that the most effective way to oppose harsh penal reforms is to obscure the fact that they disproportionately affect black people. Like, yes, those conclusions are not technically illogical.
But how can anyone feel good and optimistic about that? Like, ‘Yay, we’ve discovered a clever way to collude with and reinforce a fundamentally racist public discourse in order to achieve short-term political goals!’ How can that be satisfactory? How can you draw any sort of moral from this kind of evidence except that there’s something very profoundly wrong with everything?
Ugh, I don’t know. I’m tired and probably not making sense, it’s just… ugh.
NB: I’ve been careful to specify that the two bits of research mentioned above are about the US but that’s absolutely not to suggest that the racial politics of the US are uniquely messed up or that similar research in (for example) the UK wouldn’t show similar results. It’s just that generalizing and universalizing western, and particularly US, experiences is not helpful for a whole heap of reasons.