Sunday, April 09, 2006

Cartoons, racism, and immigration

An anonymous commentator refers me to this excellent article on the Danish cartoon controversy by Göran Rosenberg.  Two things come to mind:

  1. There is an interesting relationship between racism and what people are prepared to say out loud.  As recently as thirty years ago, if you were a white visitor to a place like Atlanta, you could still hear the most outrageously racist things said by white people about black people, all based on the assumption that you would be a receptive audience as you were part of the general fraternity of white people.  As things have changed, the circle of people who could be safely spoken to on a general assumption of shared racism has shrunk dramatically.  Racists now have to look over their shoulders, and can no longer make an easy assumption that racist words are going to be acceptable.  When you make a racist statement out loud to someone in your own racial group, you are expressing the fact that you and your audience are in the racially superior group.  Your words have a political significance.  Of course, there are still racists and will always be - Nietzsche thought the only way to get rid of racism is if all the races interbred to create one race! - but the fact that spoken indications of racism are now socially unacceptable does have a real long-term effect on what people think.  Denmark is moving the wrong direction on this.   Publishing hurtful things in a daily newspaper in the context of a country where public quasi-racism is becoming more and more acceptable will only lead to more and more hatred.
  2. There is a great deal of stress involved in immigration, both for the immigrants and for the immigrant-receiving country.  That stress leads to the kind of problems we are seeing in places like Denmark.  Three issues predominate:
    • White and racially homogeneous European countries have no history of receiving immigrants.  Places like Canada and the United States, which seem to accept immigrants easily, had the same kind of problems a hundred years ago, but have managed to get the knack of it with experience.
    • Plutocrats like immigration because it lowers the price of labor.  Americans are now in the middle of a struggle over this, with lower and lower middle-class people experiencing reduction in their standard of living which they associate with uncontrolled immigration.  They should be blaming the plutocrats, but it is easier just to be racist.
    • Denmark is a small place, and part of the attitude relates to something akin to claustrophobia.  The United States and Canada have the illusion of space, although in fact most immigrant groups end up crammed into small enclaves in the same big cities.  Nevertheless, the fact that the space is out their reduces the stress levels caused by perceived over-crowding.

I have sympathy for people who are fearful of immigration, particularly when it seems to be out of control and intended to reduce the standard of living for the average person.  I don’t have any sympathy for politicians and newspaper editors who try to manipulate hatred to further their own agendas.