While at an anti-Trump rally, I stood at the steps of the capitol building of my state, surrounded by other protesters while people took turns speaking to the crowd. At one point a young white woman took the stage and began speaking. Although I do not remember most of what she said, one thing she did say struck me.
“How can we talk about deporting immigrants, or disrespecting immigrants, when they do the jobs that none of us want? Who will be your janitors and garbage men if you make them leave?”
I was shocked, that even in an environment that touted itself as anti-racist, from I saw someone who clearly thought of themselves as educated, would spout rhetoric that was clearly entrenched in racist, stereotypical notions of who immigrants are, and should be. In the world that we as the leftist community are working towards, immigrants should not be reduced to a labor class, as a group of people who carry out the dirty work while we, the white, college-educated intellectuals, pursue our dreams. A world where even the left is willing to view immigrants as an exploitable workforce is not a world that is anti-racist or anti-classist. It is proof that even after we as white people have become self-proclaimed “leftists”, we must constantly work to undo the racism that we have been taught by our parents, by the media, by politicians and our teachers. We must remember that our work is never done, that we must not just work to make the world a better place, but we must work to make ourselves better. We must never believe the lie that we have achieved political and social enlightenment, we must never believe that we do not contribute to and benefit from racism and classism.
Any kind of rhetoric that reduces people to predestined “class” is a form of social eugenics, a way to use and subjugate marginalized people. The woman I saw speak was interested in using immigrants for her own gain, as her janitors, her garbagemen. She did not want to change the lives of immigrants, she didn’t think immigrants deserve better than what they have, and the fact that this supposedly educated woman was happy from benefiting the limited opportunity we give immigrants in our country speaks volumes about how even very socially conscious people buy into harmful social structures based on the fact that they benefit from it.
We cannot allow immigrants into the country on the basis of their usefulness, but out of a need to help our fellow humans. Allowing people to immigrate and spare them from deportation should not be hinged on the clause of “you need to be useful to me.” Our activism should not be a trade of “usefulness” for basic human acceptance. Activism is not something you should be doing if your end goal is anything other than the liberation of marginalized people.
We must be vigilant in our communities and be sure to call out our peers and friends when they show the ways that they have absorbed the racism that was taught to them through their words and actions. Calling people out, especially when it’s those we’re close to, can be uncomfortable and awkward, but we as white leftists owe it to the people of color in our communities to go through that if it means those around us will be more aware and respectful with their actions.