Saturday, September 22, 2007

CBC Pushing Paranoia About Mexican Refugees

So the question is, how many indications of white settler paranoia about immigrants with brown skin can you fit into a single article? According to the CBC, quite a few.

Let's start with the title and the lead sentence:

Windsor stressed by Mexican migrants

The city of Windsor, Ont. is struggling to deal with a surge of Mexican migrants from the United States.

The title begins by presenting the main protagonists in this story: "Windsor", as an undifferentiated corporate whole where the main state administrator (the mayor) is presented to speak for the city as a whole and in which there is no distinguishing among the various groups, classes, genders, races, or individuals that compose Windsor; and "Mexican migrants." The former is an approximate stand in for "Us," which implies "ordinary Canadians," which is definitely imbued with whiteness; the latter is a very clear "Them." A seemingly essential conflict in interests between these two groups is the grounding of the article.

There is some minimal complexification of the players later on in the article, with the admission of some conflict between the local and federal faces of the state as to some of the details of where to get the resources to respond to this situation, but at no point is the basic frame that "they" are presenting a problem for "us" that should be journalistically examined from the standpoint of that corporate "us" ever called into question. At no point is the "us" complexified in ways that show that the corporate unity in fact erases the existence people who would frame the issue much differently -- that is, they don't talk to people who are currently Canadians who migrated to this country from, say, Mexico via the United States at an earlier point, and they don't talk to people who are active in immigrant rights struggles in either country.

A basic feature of anti-immigrant discourse, of course, is the idea of the ravenous, barbarian hordes outside the gate that will consume all of our resources and destroy our civilization. The article could have been framed with the title "Neoconservative Federal Government Denies Resources to Address Need in Small Number of Human Beings Fleeing Oppression." Instead, the power dynamics are presented as the opposite of reality -- the local branch of a major industrialized state is presented as "struggling" and "stressed" and it is the oppressed racialized migrants that are "surg[ing]" and thus causing these conditions. Of course the word "surge" is presumably technically accurate in that this influx represents an increase over the regular level of newcomers from Mexico via the U.S. claiming refugee status in Windsor, but it is a political weasel word precisely because it invokes the long history of white settler panic about those outside our gates as a tide that could surge above the high walls of our border and overwhelm us. As well, the main use of "surge" in the news lately has been in the context of war and conquest, which this use cannot help but invoke as well.

The article goes on to say that these newcomers were "lured by assurances on websites that they can live and work in Canada without difficulty." The next sentence reassures readers: "But the Mexicans...have no special rights in Canada." Not only is "special rights" a commonly used right-wing code for any effort to extend rights that are rhetorically posed as universal to groups previously denied them, but this use of language implies pretty openly that to "live and work in Canada without difficulty" for "Mexicans" comes under the category of "special rights." Well, now, we certainly wouldn't want to give the impression that racialized people can come to this country and "live and work" without having to put up with some difficulty first, now would we?

In contextualizing the choice of flight to Canada, the first sentence is, "The Mexicans said they had been forced to leave the U.S. because they were illegal immigrants there." This puts the emphasis squarely on their presence in the abstract, state-defined category "illegal" without questioning that category at all and with almost no exploration of the actual lived experiences of the people thus categorized. The only nod in that direction was a quote from an individual in this group of new arrivals who said that "U.S. immigration authorities 'were chasing Mexicans, sending them back home.'" This does little to explain the situation of so-called "illegal immigrants" in the United States, including the fact that they are a category of person actively desired by some powerful interests in the country and tolerated for their now essential role in the U.S. economy that springs from the heightened exploitation that is possible because of the extra-economic state-based oppression that can be focused in their direction by being in the category "illegal". The inclusion of the quote with that usage of the word "home" also panders to white Canadian ideologies about immigrants, because the word can be easily transposed from how it was likely meant by the speaker -- that is, 'the place from which we came originally' -- to the way that many white Canadians will read it -- that is, 'the place where you belong and where you really should go now.'

Then we settle in for a few paragraphs talking about how they are a drain on "our" resources. Of course there is nothing even hinting at the problem of how the Canadian settler state is in a position to have these resources (land theft, genocide, slavery) or what indigenous nation's land these migrants were actually entering -- something I don't actually know myself. And even aside from that, though there is an allusion to this fact it is not really made clear that the amount of resources required by this very small number of people is hardly an insurmountable obstacle. It isn't even a blip, really. It's just that the part of the state that has adequate resources to respond to human need in this instance is categorically refusing to do so -- that is, it is not some numberless horde that is in danger of taking everything that the settler nation has (read: built on theft and murder), it is a small number of highly oppressed people whose needs could be met in the brief period before they found jobs with complete ease and no hardship on anyone if the federal state so wished.

The article ends with a paragraph further delegitimizing the presence of these refugee claimants: "The odds of being accepted as a refugee are not good. Fewer than 500 of nearly 3,500 Mexican applicants were successful in claiming refugee status in Canada last year." In other words, there is a presumption that the system is appropriate and fair (if this was right-wing media, the presumption would be that it is too generous, but this is the good ol' liberal CBC) and because most of these people likely won't qualify, the implication is that they really shouldn't be "surging" and causing poor "Windsor" to be "stressed" and "struggling."

It would be nice to think that this orientation is a result of a memo that came down from the Prime Minister's office to the CBC, but I'm not so foolish as to think such a thing -- the ideologies present in this article are much more reflective than that of the dominant interests in the white settler nation in Canada.


Leyna said...

Hi Scott,

I saw this news story a day or two ago on our national station and was absolutely disgusted.

I find it profoundly interesting when Canadian citizens express a sense of entitlement to what we deem are "our resources," which you rightly point out as having been seized by force from Aboriginal people.

I think that the problem of "othering" has to do with Canadian nationhood and nationalism. I am altogether in opposition to nationalism, as I truly think it it this type of sentiment that breeds hate and opposition of other people and cultures.

Somehow the idea that Canada is "the true north stong and free" persists even though its history is one of genocide, persecution and exclusion. What this lyric really means is that they will protect white people's freedom through Canada's increased militarization.

As usual, good blog post, Scott!


Scott said...

Hey Leyna!

Yeah, I agree...a lot of these problems are tightly intertwined with ideas of the Canadian nation, which originated in very openly white supremacist understandings, and with nationalism. I have always been particularly bothered by political strands in Canada that explicitly marry nationalism to left ideas of one sort or another -- and lots of popular progressive ideas in this country do exactly that. On the other hand, I also struggle not to be too absolute in my distrust of nationalism, because it can be such an important (if always problematic) basis for organizing by oppressed peoples. But I think chipping away at the ideology of "the true north strong and free" is a crucial piece of political work for all of us to engage in.

Anonymous said...

Can we sign you to up to pay for these economic migrants? Maybe a special tax category for you.

Scott said...

I'm already signed's called paying taxes.

I'm not saying there aren't larger questions -- very hard political questions -- related to migration. And given what you ask, I suspect you and I would differ significantly in how we would answer them. What I'm saying is that this article ignores them or gets them completely wrong, and that the actual concrete issue they present (200 new migrants in a very rich country) is easy to respond to in a humane and just way by any standard that isn't informed by anti-immigrant panic and racism.

Anonymous said...

There's that anti-immigrant and racist label again. I'm all for immigration; Some of my best friends are immigrants. I've also had the pleasure of befriending some genuine refugee's in my life. Namely from Cambodia, Somalia, Vietnam and a few other countries.
These Mexicans who came across the border are in no way legitimate refugee's and in fact make a mockery of the process by exploiting it. Real refugee's, the ones we should be helping, are in tent cities around the world in the millions.
If you want to help refugee's then lets start bringing them over from the U.N. camps and spend the money on them; not some economic migrant running from the U.S.. Let's also not forget the huge backlog in people trying to immigrate here. The $250,000 spent on these Mexicans in the past 2 weeks could have went towards much more deserving individuals. I'm afraid your good intentions blind you if you can't see that.

Scott said...

Perhaps I was too quick to trot out the labels, but you have to know that "Some of my best friends are..." is one of the most predictable and pathetic comebacks there is.

I don't think the answer lies in dividing people into "deserving" and "not deserving." That ends up being just another way of exerting power over people. Our basis to begin understanding borders and migration should not proceed from an impulse towards charity but in a desire for justice. It is not about picking the cases that make us look the most morally upstanding and then throwing crumbs at individuals. It is about understanding why people move across borders, why people's lives are filled with horror, and asking how we can change that.

To dismiss these people by slotting them into the category of "economic migrants" is unfair in a number of respects. It is unfair because focusing narrowly on money erases significant parts of the experiences of Mexcian people living undocumented in the United States -- the fact that that experience is defined not just by economic hardship and exploitation, but by serious marginalization and oppression of other sorts both from more privileged people in society and from the state.

As well, using that label to dismiss the claims of these people is more broadly inappropriate because it lets us get away without asking deeper questions about why this migration is occurring. The mainstream tendency is to pretend that poverty (and racism) experienced by people in and from the so-called Third World has nothing to do with our wealth (and white privilege) -- it's too bad, we'll help out when we can, but it's fundamentally their problem, not ours. I don't agree with that. As I have come to understand it, our wealth (and our white privilege) is intimately connected with their poverty (and racial oppression). There are centuries of theft, some of it explicit via colonization and slavery and genocide, and much of the more recent version a bit more cloaked, through the stacked rules by which the global economy is organized (which are enforced by violence when necessary). The fact is, the white middle-class in the industrialized countries lives off the (mandatory) charity of racialized workers in and from the so-called Third World -- from all of the labour extorted from them in various ways for wages that are blatantly unjust.

That's not saying that a practical answer would be to say, "Hey, y'all...come on up here and we'll take care of it." It's obviously not that simple. But the refugee claims of these 200 Mexican people are a moral and political claim of a larger and broader nature on the white-dominated Canadian nation, and it seems to me that an interim step in finding a more just and lasting response to the injustice that has lead them to move here is responding to their needs in a humane way (particularly since it is eminently practical, given the current scale on which it is happening) while they find what will almost inevitably be highly exploitative jobs in this country that, once again, act as involuntary charity that supports the lifestyles of Canadians who are better off.

Leyna said...

Well-said, Scott.

It is (unfortunately) easy to spurt off comments like those made by our Anonymous friend here when we're the ones benefiting from white privilege at the expense of others.


Scott said...

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