Michael Wolraich's picture

    Immigration and the "Race Card"

    If you harbor any doubt about the racist undercurrent driving right-wing immigration concerns, listen to Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh knows his audience, and when he discussed Arizona's immigration law on Monday, he gave them the red meat, or rather the black-and-brown meat, that they were looking for:

    Obama says he's going to reconnect via the immigration bill, young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women for 2010 to help stem the tide of Democrat losses in November. He did not say he was going to reach out to white people...This is the regime at its racist best. What's the regime doing? Asking blacks and Latinos to join him in a fight. What is a campaign if not a fight? He's asking young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women to reconnect, to fight who? Who's this fight against?

    This is not your daddy's racism. Limbaugh never says the N-word, and he never explicitly disparages other races. The old Jim Crow brand of overt Southern racism is all but extinct. Even David Duke doesn't use such language publicly. (Duke often explains that he's not anti-black or anti-Latino, he's pro-European.)

    Instead of explicit racism, Limbaugh employs projection. Projection is a Freudian concept according to which people project their own feelings of hostility onto the targets of their hostility. It is a psychological defense strategy. First, projection enables you to disown your hostility by attributing to an external source. Second, it rationalizes the hostility that you do acknowledge. You convince yourself that you only hate the other guy because he hated you first.

    Projection is common in cases of paranoia--sufferers project their own aggression onto others and conclude that others are trying to harm them. It is also common in cases of scapegoating. For example, medieval Christians often blamed plague outbreaks on Jews, whom they accused of deliberately poisoning Christian drinking wells, and consequently slaughtered them in bloody pogroms.

    In the case of Limbaugh, projection enables he and his audience to disown their bigotry and rationalize their racial hostility by attributing those feelings to minorities. Thus, in Limbaugh-land, it is people like President Obama and Justice Sotomayor who are the racists, not the white conservatives who support Arizona's new immigration law. When Limbaugh asked "Who's this fight against?" the unspoken answer was, "white people."

    In a follow-up the next day, Limbaugh played a clip from an angry sermon by Rev. Jeremiah Wright attacking "rich white people." Actually, he played it twice. Calling Wright "one of the foremost influences in President Obama's life," Limbaugh sought to imply that Obama hated white people, a claim that he had previously made during the Sotomayor hearings.

    And yet despite his gratuitous race-baiting, Limbaugh nonetheless blamed Obama for playing the "race card" and purposely dividing Americans. Such comments may seem like simple hypocrisy, but in fact, they are more examples of the psychological projection that has enabled racism to continue to boil below the surface of American politics.


    I'm currently writing a book, How Bill O'Reilly Saved Christmas, and Other Right-Wing Persecution Fantasies, to be published in October.



    In the immortal words of Stephen Colbert: Whoever smelt it dealt it.

    Immigration Issue should be focus on Legal status vs. Illegal status. 

    NOT race vs. race (or whatever the species on this tiny planet)

    Well, this might be the best argument for English-only education that I have heard.

    Nicely played, madam.

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