Only Humans Have Human Rights

To some, very idea of viewing brown peoples as equals - as full human beings - must be quite an abhorrent thought

By Roberto Rodriguez
Published on LatinoLA: May 25, 2006

Only Humans Have Human Rights

What does it say about a society that has to write into law its national language? What's next, an official color (white)? An official food - (bread)? An official religion (Christianity)? An official song (God Bless America)? An official history (Pilgrims)?

When Sen. Henry Reid noted that the effort to proclaim English as the nation's official language was racist, he was denounced as a lunatic by the usual right wing kooks. Texas writer Molly Ivins also made the same observation regarding Congress. No word of what she is being accused of yet.

For years, the term racist has been over-used to the point that nowadays, it is virtually meaningless. Besides, bigots have learned to neutralize the word (racist) by preemptively claiming that their opponents will use it against them simply to stifle debate. (They also cynically accuse peoples of color who fight for their rights of being racists themselves - cute logic). For instance, in the immigration debate, they say their beef is with illegal immigration, not immigration.

In other words, they welcome migrants of any color and from any country, as long as they immigrate legally. Thus, (they reason) they cannot be accused of being racists as all they're asking is for immigrants to abide by the rule of law. OK.

So then what does affirming the English language have to do with notions of legality/illegality? What does it matter what language the national anthem is sung in? What does waving the Mexican flag have to do with legality/illegality? Might it instead be an indicator of manipulated and misplaced frustrations?

Of course, the above actions have nothing to do with illegal immigration. At best, it is cultural angst. There is no official U.S. culture (yet), but more than anything, America is an idea. And truthfully, it has always been a religio-racial-politico ideal as embodied by Providence and Manifest Destiny. From this nation's beginnings, many colonists conceived of America as the new promised land‘«™ as a variation of Columbus's mission to civilize the natives‘«™ or to exterminate them on their way toward building heaven on earth.

The original ideal of many of the colonists was to civilize all of the Americas - to bring it under the dominion of a Christian Protestant universe. That was also part of the reason for the Mexican American War‘«™ not simply to expand slavery, but to take all of Mexico. However, the idea of taking an entire nation of brown people under the U.S. umbrella was seen as too daunting a task for many adherents of Manifest Destiny, so they took only the northern half.

Yet, this isn't restricted to history. As illustrated in the neoconservative document: ‘«£The New American Century,‘«ō the plan all along has been for the United States to dominate, first the continent, then the world. All of it has something to do with establishing God's Kingdom on Earth. (At least, that's the cover story for secularists). And like all great world civilizations, what better place to establish it than here -- the new promised land?

Yet, always standing in the way are little brown people. Blacks too. What to do with them (besides getting them to fight against each other)? They certainly cannot be treated and viewed as peoples, but simply as exploitable labor forces. Are they deserving of civil and human rights? Of course not. As Otto Santa Ana writes in ‘«£Brown Tide Rising‘«ō: ‘«£Civil rights and human rights only pertain to humans.‘«ō

Yes. That's what's at the core of this immigration debate; many conservatives (and liberals) have convinced themselves that people of color are not fully human. Santa Ana traces this idea to the 19th century. Many Indigenous peoples trace this foundational idea to 1492. The European idea of the Americas was always predicated on the belief that they needed to civilize subhuman peoples - peoples who could never be afforded rights equal to that of Europeans‘«™ thus the rationale for the land theft. Native and African peoples were always deemed subservient and illegitimate populations, not worthy of full humanity.

In all these centuries, what has changed?

Conservatives are adamant, not in resolving the issue, but in punishing and not rewarding (amnesty) illegal immigrants. Why? Because to do so would be to surrender the idea of a hierarchical society. It would be to surrender the idea of dominance and their civilizing mission. The very idea of viewing brown peoples as equals - as full human beings -- must be quite an abhorrent thought.

?ģ 2006 Column of the Americas

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