News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Monday, August 9, 2010

Exploiting a tragedy

The facts: Sister Denise Mosier was killed in an auto accident involving a man in the country illegally and accused of drunken driving.

The furor: Corey Stewart, chairman of Prince William County's Board of Supervisors, issued a public statement claiming President Obama and Homeland Security Director Janet Nepolitano and members of Congress "all have blood on their hands." This call comes despite the statement from the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia who have tried to discourage Mr. Steward from using the death a "forum of the illegal immigration agenda" and pleaded for a focus on "Christ's command to forgive."

This reaction by Mr. Stewart seems more about political opportunism than concern about a traffic death.Indeed, exploiting traffic deaths is a long-standing nativist practice used to tar all immigrants with the action of one person. Sadly, this tactic originated by wing nut haters is moving mainstream and finding traction. You'll find more about this sordid and grossly distorted smear job here.

For a comparison of how distorted this event has become, let's look at another recent traffic tragedy.

Jimmie Picklesimer was arrested in Dayton, Ohio following the hit and run death of a woman and her dog on August 1st and released. Picklesimer was then arrested again on August 5th on felony drug possession and DWI.

Jimmie is white and therefore the U.S. public assumes he is simply an aberrant individual. Were Jimmie a member of a minority, the xenophobes would conclude he represents an entire people. This is the short definition for prejudice.

When politicians and pundits seize on innocent deaths to further their agenda, what else can you call it except crass exploitation of public prejudices?

Raul Ramos y Sanchez


Wally O'Connor said...

Denial won't help.

As someone who comes from an ethnic group with a very serious problem with alcohol, I can tell you this.

You can be ashamed of it, and browbeat people who bring it up, or you can get it out in the open and deal with it.

The truth is Hispanics drink and drive more than the rest of the population. Everyone knows it, and the government has documented it-->

Pointing this out isn't racist, and shutting people up about that fact isn't going to help.

We need to talk openly about the fact that different cultures have different attitudes towards drinking, and that should be a factor we should address when dealing with newcomers.

Moreover, to be politically incorrect, some cultures deal with alcohol in a very unhealthy way. Mexican culture doesn't deal with it well. Neither does mine. If you don't like these facts, that's too bad.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez said...

Thanks for your comment, "Wally."

The furor raised by Supervisor Corey Stewart and others of his ilk is about the driving behavior of "illegal immigrants." Not surprisingly, you conflate "illegal immigrant" to mean all Hispanics.

Perhaps if you'd read the document you posted, you would have noticed the statistics regarding drinking and driving apply to Hispanics residents -- not to undocumented immigrants. Indeed, the article specifically cites: "U.S. Hispanic residents do not include the estimated three to six million undocumented workers or the 3.8 million residents in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico."

Pointing out Hispanics drink and drive more may not be racist. But that's hardly the case for assuming that "illegal immigrant" and Hispanic are synonymous.

Wally O'Connor said...

You're making a distinction without a difference. The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are hispanic, and most of those are Mexicans. Mexicans have a cultural problem with alcohol. That is not a criticism. It is a fact. Brutal frankness, rather than euphemisms and denial, are always the best way to deal with the problems caused by alcohol.

Vincent said...

I agree completely with your point about the accident which killed the Sister, and that it is a point worth making.

However in your second example, I believe you have fatally weakened your case by the use of a hypothetical -

Were Jimmie a member of a minority, the xenophobes would conclude he represents an entire people. This is the short definition for prejudice.

Isn't it quite literally prejudice to guess in this manner what anyone would conclude? If you tried to say that in court you would be rebuked by the judge, I imagine. (I don't think that is prejudice about what judges would say. I believe it is their job to protect the jury from evidence tainted by hypotheticals.)