ColorLines RaceWire

What Henry Louis Gates Got Wrong in His NYTimes Slavery Op-ed

In a recent New York Times editorial titled, “Ending the Slavery Blame-Game,” Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates calls on the United States’ first Black president to end the nation’s sense of responsibility for the legacy of slavery. It is a pernicious argument, well suited to the so-called “post-racial” moment we are in. Like the erroneous claims of “post-racialism,” in general, Gates’ editorial compromises rather than advances the prospects for racial justice; and clouds rather than clarifies the history, and persistent realities, of racism in America.

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Is the US Confronting Racism?

"The positive fact is that I have noticed, confirmed… the fact that the U.S. society is confronting racism."

It's a statement that raised my brow. But that is what Doudou Diene, the United Nations special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia told NPR’s Weekend Edition host, Scott Simon on Sunday.

Diene, charged with preparing a report on the state of racism in the US, Brazil, Japan, Russia, Canada and twenty other countries, cited the Democratic nomination of Senator Barak Obama, a black man, as sign that people in the US are finally doing the "internal work" needed to fight racism. He called it "a deep process of transformation." And so it finally begins, I thought. Here is more fodder for pundits who consistently sweep racism under the rug. "Even the UN has declared that we are beyond race," they’ll shout from mountaintops. What they ignore is that there is little evidence of this transformation leading to better living conditions for communities of color. But Diene doesn’t stop there.

There is some bad news as well. The US is still racially segregated, says Diene; we have abandoned our schools (which directs children of color to a prison pipeline), but this is not news. This was the case six years ago, when the UN held a World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. In ARC’s CERD Report on Race and Education, we stated then that, "What concerns the nation’s almost 17 million students of color and their communities is that, regardless of anyone's intent, they receive an inferior education."

The nation's housing woes aren't new either. As we approach the 40th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, we witness the travesty of HUD displacing people from their homes in New Orleans, record foreclosure rates in Latino and Black communities, and rampant gentrification is evident in nearly every major city across the nation. And, that the judicial system is anything but just is old news to people of color. Ten years after the racist murder of James Bryd, we can add Sean Bell and the plight of Jena Six to the list of reasons why communities distrust our judicial system.

Are we confronting racism in the US? Well, there is a lot of talk about people dealing with their personal race demons. And maybe that is the place start, but we certainly can’t afford to stop there. The Obama candidacy should be seen as a foot in the door to these discussions but only if we move them beyond the skin color of the man to the racial impact of policies that he and others promote. Until we can raise the discussion to the level of dealing systemic inequity, we are in great danger of navel gazing and getting nowhere fast.

Becoming a Black Man

Louis Mitchell expected a lot of change when he began taking injections of hormones eight years ago to transition from a female body to a male one. He anticipated that he’d grow a beard, which he eventually did and enjoys now. He knew his voice would deepen and that his relationship with his partner, family and friends would change in subtle and, he hoped, good ways, all of which happened.

What he had not counted on was changing the way he drove.
Within months of starting male hormones, “I got pulled over 300 percent more than I had in the previous 23 years of driving, almost immediately. It was astounding,” says Mitchell, who is Black and transitioned while living in the San Francisco area and now resides in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Targeted for “driving while Black” was not new to Mitchell, who is 46 years old. For example, a few years before transitioning, he had been questioned by a cop for simply sitting in his own car late at night. But “he didn’t really sweat me too much once he came up to the car and divined that I was female,” Mitchell recalls.

Now in a Black male body, however, Mitchell has been pulled aside for small infractions. When he and his wife moved from California to the East Coast, Mitchell refused to let her drive on the cross-country trip. “She drives too fast,” he says, chuckling and adding, “I didn’t want to get pulled over. It took me a little bit longer [to drive cross country] ‘cause I had to drive like a Black man. I can’t be going 90 miles an hour down the highway. If I’m going 56, I need to be concerned.” As more people of color transition, Mitchell’s experience is becoming an increasingly common one.

The transgender community has experienced a boom in visibility in the last decade. Some of this has come about through popular culture, including the acclaimed 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry and more recently with Mike Penner, the Los Angeles Times sports columnist who came out as transgender and is now known as Christine. In recent years, there’s also been a growing number of memoirs, including The Testosterone Files by the Chicano and American-Indian poet Max Valerio, as well as more academic books on the subject, like The Transgender Studies Reader.

Just as key has been the work of transgender people themselves, who have transitioned due to the more widespread availability of hormones and surgeries. Rather than passing as heterosexual, an increasing number of them in the last decade have identified as “trans” and begun support, advocacy and legal-rights groups. The widespread use of the Internet and the new online social networks are also helping to break the isolation that trans people often feel in their own communities.

In Asia, Latin America and Africa, the place of transgender people is likewise changing. While trans women in many cultures have been marginally accepted, they have been largely confined to traditionally feminine roles as caretakers -- a situation that is changing now in places like Ixhuatan, Mexico, where Amaranta Gomex, a muxe, or trans woman, ran for political office in 2003. In some countries, trans activists are going to court and winning key changes in public policies. In Brazil, a court ruled in August 2007 that sexual-reassignment surgery is covered by the constitution as a medical right.

While it’s extremely difficult to say how many people identify as transgender, the National Center for Transgender Equality has estimated that about three million people are transgender today in the United States. It’s hard to say how many of those are people of color, but one online group for Black trans people called Transsistahs-Transbrothas has about 300 members, and another group specifically for Latino trans men has 98 members.

In the last four years, there’s also been an increase in the number of people seeking top surgeries, or removal of their breasts, according to Michael Brownstein, a well-known doctor specializing in gender surgeries in San Francisco. He does about four to six top surgeries a week, and he notes that while 30 years ago, trans people would come to his office alone, they are now arriving with partners, siblings and friends for moral support.

These social and political changes have ushered in a time when it is increasingly acceptable for men and women to alter their physical bodies to match their gender identity. Left largely unexamined, however, has been the issue of racism and how trans men and women experience it. Trans people of color are finding that they have an extremely different relationship to gender transition than white people. London Dexter Ward, an LAPD cop who transitioned in 2004, sums it up this way: a white person who transitions to a male body “just became a man.” By contrast, he says, “I became a Black man. I became the enemy. “

In short, people of color know that racism works differently for men and women, and transgender people like Mitchell and Ward are getting to experience this from both sides of the gender equation.

Louis Mitchell is the type of man who immediately puts people at ease as he advises them about how cheap the housing is in Massachusetts. He calls himself “a big Black man” (he’s 5 feet 9 inches tall and 250 pounds). In 2006, after much soul searching, he began attending divinity school. Talking to Mitchell, it’s easy to imagine him in a pulpit. He is simultaneously warmhearted and sure of himself. He could sell a two-bedroom condo as easily as convincing a congregation to be honest with God.

Growing up in West Covina in Southern California, Mitchell attended church with his mother and devoured history books. At the age of 3 or 4, he knew that he was a boy, regardless of having been born into a girl’s body. He also believed that God created miracles. So he prayed that he would grow into a boy’s body when he reached puberty. That didn’t happen, much to his surprise.

Near the end of 1970, when Mitchell was 18 years old, he hitchhiked with a friend to Corpus Christi, Texas, where the legal drinking age was lower than in California. There, he met drag queens, and he felt hopeful for the first time. If the queens could be women, his thinking went, then there might be options for him to live as a man.

At the time, a Black transsexual woman had already been the first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery at John Hopkins University, according to Joanne Meyerowitz’s classic book How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Avon Wilson’s transition in 1966 at John Hopkins marked a turning point for the transsexual community. It was the first time a medical clinic in the United States performed the surgery, and so while it remained rare to be approved for surgery, it was at least a possibility. However, Mitchell went on to identify as a butch, even though he felt that he was masquerading as a lesbian.

Then, 15 years ago, a friend of his began the process of transitioning to a male body. “That lit a fire that I couldn’t put out,” he says now. He met a few Black trans men at a conference but took many years to think about his own transition. He considered the consequences of transitioning, including the impact on his mother, who he’s very attached to, and the loss for him of his lesbian community. He didn’t think too much about racism. Mitchell already had a goatee without taking hormones and was used to being followed in stores. He had grown accustomed to women clutching their purses at the sight of him. So he was somewhat surprised about the changes that came after he began taking injections of the hormone testosterone -- the degree to which he became a target and also the emotional changes he felt as a Black man.

Before transitioning, Mitchell recalls being “cavalier and reckless” about what he did in public and about his interactions with police officers. “I didn’t think about it so much,” he says about cops. “At some point they would find out I was female” and that would diffuse the situation. Now, Mitchell finds that he doesn’t engage in small transgressions like jaywalking or spitting on the sidewalk. “I never know if they’re just waiting for something to happen to roll up, and I do not want find myself in custody. That would be just precarious and dangerous in so many ways.”

When living in San Francisco, he moved out of the historical gay neighborhood of the Castro because he got tired of being followed in stores. During the cross-country trip with his wife Krysia, he refrained from being affectionate with her in public. He didn’t want to run the risk of drawing attention to himself as a Black man and her as a mixed-race Latina who at times is perceived as white.
“More than a trans man, I’m a Black man,” Mitchell says. “I’d be in intensive care by the time they realized I was a trans man.”

Prado Gomez, a 33-year-old Chicano who transitioned in 2001, describes the situation with racism and violence as a “trade off.” “I’ll be able to walk down the street and not be raped, unless they know my status [as a trans man]”, he says. “But there’s a different kind of threat from men.” Before transitioning, Gomez was used to being pulled over in the car with his brothers by cops in San Francisco. “Cops called me an asshole until they saw the F on my license,” he recalls, and small verbal fights on the street back then did not escalate. Gomez says that a guy would call him a “bitch” and leave it at that. Now, Gomez knows he has to be more careful. A small exchange of words could lead to more violence.

London Dexter Ward has also seen his life change because of the ways that racism is gendered. “I do a lot of shopping online now,” says Ward, who got tired of being followed in book and clothing stores.

A 44-year-old police officer, Ward began hormone treatments in 2004 and transitioned while working for the LAPD, where he’s now an instructor at the police academy. The transition on the job was no small feat, since it meant moving to the men’s locker room and showers. But Ward’s coworkers and supervisors, like his family, accepted him.

In typical men’s locker-room humor, his sergeant created a penalty jar where the cops had to deposit a quarter if they referred to Ward by a female pronoun. Ward, like Mitchell and Gomez, felt that he had planned for just about every change that would come with transitioning. “What I did not prepare for was being a Black man,” he says.

He finds that people now look at him with fear in bars and restaurants where he once used to go for a good time. “When people are afraid of you, you stop wanting to hang out in those places,” Ward says. Experiencing racism as a Black man, though, doesn’t necessarily give Mitchell and Ward a bond with their peers, who grew up in Black male bodies, experiencing racism as Black boys and then men. “It’s a matter of living for them, at this point,” Mitchell says. “It’s no longer some strange thing that they notice. It just is. It’s like gravity. I am a Black man, and therefore if something is stolen while I am in the neighborhood, then I am a suspect.”

The racism that Black trans men experience is only part of the story, of course. Mitchell says his manhood is not about the racism he encounters. “It is more about integrity and a sense of being the truest person I can be,” he says, adding that his gender transition has been about “having my insides and my outsides match finally.” Rather than see himself as joining a group of men who are perpetual targets, he feels he’s joined a community of men that are strong but not ashamed of their tenderness. Mitchell also finds that he’s in a unique position now to mentor young Black men. As someone who came of age in the lesbian community and has feminist politics, Mitchell jokes with Black boys who talk about “fags” and refer to women as “bitches.” He pulls the teenagers aside and uses a bit of reverse psychology, telling them that it’s okay if they’re gay. When the teens protest that they’re not, Mitchell says, “You have no respect for women, and you’re fixated on gay men. What am I supposed to think?”

Johnnie Pratt, a Black trans man who lives in the San Francisco area, also jokes that he now enjoys certain perks. Finally, he is taken seriously by the guys at Home Depot. Before transitioning, he says, “They’d be looking at me like, ‘Shut up girl.’ Now they want to talk to me.” Trans men of color are finding that some things stay the same on both sides of the gender equation. Cultural expectations, for example, are hard to shake. As is common for Latinas, Gomez has raised his brother’s two children with his partner, Mariah, and is now taking care of his mom, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Gomez sees no contradiction in the fact that as a man, he bathes his 60-year-old mother. “I am the only one my mother trusts,” he says. “She sees here is this man, but she knows this man is her daughter.”

The experience with racism is flipped in some ways for Black trans women. Monica Roberts, who is 45 years old, transitioned in 1994. As a Black woman, she is happy to no longer be considered, as she says, “a suspect.” Since transitioning, she has not been pulled over for “driving while Black,” although she quickly adds that it has happened to a friend who is also a Black trans woman. Roberts and her Black trans-women friends have experienced something else since transitioning: “We’ve noticed a power shift,” she says. “Black culture is matriarchal-based…most of the leadership in the Black community is made up of very powerful women. There’s a lot of that in my hometown.” And so as Roberts transitioned, she has stepped into that role. Roberts grew up in Houston, Texas, and in the Black church. Her mother is a teacher, and she was surrounded by women who were historians and leaders in the community. She understood the influence of Black women. “You might have a minister up here pontificating on the pulpit on Sunday,” she says, “but the real power behind the throne is the women’s auxiliary that’s meeting on Tuesday.”

Her father, a local radio commentator, tried to groom Roberts for leadership as his eldest child. Yet, it was only after transitioning that Roberts felt able to take on such a leadership role. Perhaps it was due to the toll that living in the “tranny closet” had taken on her self-esteem. But Roberts also noticed a difference in the responses she received from other people to her leadership as a Black woman. She got positive reactions, she says, “because I was basically doing the traditional work of Black women in the community in terms of uplifting the race.” In 2005, Roberts and other transsexual and transgender activists started the first conference for Black trans people. It took place in Louisville, Kentucky, where she now lives. She also writes these days for a local LGBT outlet and blogs at transgriot.blogspot.com. In 2006, she became the third Black person to receive the Trinity Award, which recognizes people for their contributions to the transgender community.

Pauline Park also found that transitioning to become a woman of color altered her place in the world. A Korean adoptee who was raised in the Midwest, Park transitioned in 1997 but chose to not physically alter her body. Park is now 46 years old and a founding member of the New York Association for Gender Right Advocacy, which got legislation passed in New York City to protect transgender people from discrimination in housing and employment. In transitioning from living as an Asian man to an Asian woman, Park found that she was finally able to have “the joy of actualizing something I’ve always wanted to be.” But she also finds that she has gone from invisibility to a visibility that is at times unwelcomed. Being an effeminate Asian male, Park says, “tends to—if anything—put you in either invisibility or derision, ridicule [and] harassment. But if you’re perceived to be an Asian woman, what happens is the exact opposite, which is sexual interest and even harassment.”

Now Park finds herself at times the target on the subways in New York City, where she lives. Recently, when she got off the No. 7 train in Queens, she realized that she was being followed by a man. She didn’t know if it was because he saw her as an Asian woman or a transgender Asian woman. She ran home and slammed the door shut. “I always wear shoes I can run in,” Park says. She concedes she knew that Asian women were exoticized, but “it’s one thing reading about something in a book and another to be running down the street.”

Listening to Monica Roberts, it’s hard to imagine a time when she wasn’t a leader. She’s adamant that Black trans people need their own spaces. For example, she says, there’s a lot of hostility in the white transgender community toward Christianity, and some of that is justified. But when it comes to Black trans folks, she says, it’s impossible to just walk away from the church. “You can’t leave out Christians if you want people of color” at a conference, she says. “We were all raised in a church.” Roberts also highlights another small but important detail of trans life for people of color: There’s a level of animosity between trans women and men in the white community that doesn’t exist to the same degree in the Black community. Some of that is due to the fact that white trans women are often dealing with a loss of power in public life, while white trans men are coming to positions of power and all its ensuing emotions and consequences. It’s different for Black transsexuals, Roberts says.

“There’s a lot of information sharing … They [Black trans men] can talk to us about being women, and we can talk to them about DWB.” At the end of the day, Roberts also says, “People don’t see me as a trans woman. They see me as Black … and that’s the thing that people notice. The bottom line is, we’re Black first.”

Mitchell concurs. “More than I’m a trans man, I’m a Black man,” he says. “Many of the things that I see in the world and many of the things that I respond to in the world have more to do with how I am treated as a Black man rather than how I am
treated as a trans man."

A Degree in Violence

Young, poor people of color who signed up with the U.S. military to get college money may have ended up fighting in Iraq. But their peers back home who take the community college route to higher education may also end up fighting overseas.

Money problems for community colleges, as well as their students, are forcing both to buy into what can only be called "homeland security education." The federal government is offering colleges a way to survive and the students a way to get educated: money specifically earmarked for the war on terror.

Last year's federal budget includes more than $4 billion for homeland security research and development. The Department of Homeland Security is offering $64 million directly to colleges and universities that will develop anti-terrorism programs.

Community colleges depend primarily on states for their funding, but states get part of their funds from the federal government. For community colleges, the "Strengthening Institutions Program"-Title III-A of the Higher Education Act-provides funds to institutions that have few resources and serve high proportions of low-income students and "historically underrepresented" populations.

But institutions must compete for money from the program, which currently totals $81.3 million. Proposed legislation in Congress would allow for-profit schools to compete with nonprofit community colleges for these and other dollars, including those coming through the federal Pell Grant and student loan programs. As a result, community colleges are scrambling for a way to stay afloat.

Money has increasingly become an issue for students themselves. Four-year public universities cost an average of $5,132 a year, according to statistics from the College Board. Last year, the Department of Education reduced the federal Pell Grant program by requiring families to show a higher degree of need. Affirmative action programs, and the financial aid that often comes with them, are disappearing. Consequently, the two-year, community college option, with an average annual cost of $2,076, is becoming the predominant one for poor students of color. According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), of all college students nationally, 56 percent of Latinos, 48 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders, 57 percent of Native Americans and 47 percent of Black students are attending community colleges.

Community colleges have responded to the Department of Homeland Security offer by repositioning themselves as the training ground for "first responders"-the police officers, firefighters, emergency workers and health professionals expected to arrive first on the scene after a terrorist attack. "We use the term 'homeland security' rather broadly," admits Laurie Quarles, Legislative Associate for the AACC. "And some of our community colleges have successfully gotten money to develop their programs."

The AACC insists that community colleges are responding-not to a changing funding environment-but to the need for trained professionals to assist in preventing and recovering from terrorist attacks. "Our role is that we have to anticipate the current and projected needs of the community, whether or not there is new funding coming," Quarles says.

By repackaging their healthcare, law-enforcement and other course programs under the broad category of "homeland security," community colleges can assure themselves of money through direct government programs and loans and grants to students.

For students, the Department of Homeland Security is offering stipends of $1,000 a month during the school year, or $5,000 for the summer, for course programs related to homeland security. Recipients of the scholarships must, according to the application form, "indicate a willingness to accept, after graduation, competitive employment offers from DHS, state and local security offices, DHS-affiliated federal laboratories, or DHS-related research staff positions."

It remains unclear whether young, poor people of color are specifically being steered into homeland security courses, as they have been into the military war on terror. Quarles points out that there are recruitment efforts.

"Many of (the colleges) put out brochures about what they have," she says. "They really make an effort to reach those students who might not have thought about going to college." She adds that some community colleges are starting attempts to attract students to their homeland security programs, but concedes that, "I don't know how aggressive they are."

There has been resistance to the growth of homeland security training at community colleges. In December 2004, students and faculty members at the New York's Borough of Manhattan Community College demanded that the school abandon plans for a certificate program in security management. Members of student government leafleted an administrative meeting with a flyer titled, "Stop BMCC 'Homeland' Repression Program Now!" The flyer stated concerns that, among other things, a homeland security program at the college "will intimidate and drive away many present and potential students, especially immigrants."

Another concern is that students studying homeland security may not find jobs. In Michigan, Lansing, community college instructor Charles Bogle fears that community-college students are being steered away from programs that will allow them more flexibility in their careers. "Michigan community colleges will no doubt have to get their own homeland security departments in order to compete," he wrote in 2003. "But what will our working class students do when, after having received a program degree or certificate in a defunct or saturated field, they are forced to compete with a graduate of a good liberal arts college for a job that requires an education rather than training?"

Students and activists can expect to see community colleges become the newest battlefield in the war on terror.

Returned to the Rubble

Following the devastating earthquake that shook Pakistan, Kashmir and India in early October, legislators and community groups are hoping to get temporary asylum for Pakistanis in the U.S.

Rep. Al Green (D-TX) sponsored the Pakistani Temporary Protected Status Act of 2005, along with seven co-sponsors including Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), that was introduced to the House on Oct. 18. The bill would put pressure on Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who ultimately controls whether asylum is granted.

This status was established as part of the Immigration Act of 1990 and has been used for the protection of potential deportees from countries affected by war, environmental disasters or other extraordinary circumstances. Countries currently protected by the status include Burundi, El Salvador, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan. Asylum would not only prevent deportation for up to a year and a half, but also allow undocumented immigrants not being charged with a crime to be released and work during the postponement period.

"This is a more than appropriate response to the enormity of the disaster," Jackson-Lee said. "The Temporary Protected Status Act represents an aspect of a comprehensive response necessary to protect children and increase the dollar amount in aid. More government action is needed."

South Asian Network (SAN), a grassroots community organization based in Southern California, is also calling for an immediate moratorium on all deportations, citing the undue trauma detainees would face if forced to return to Pakistan now. The moratorium would block any further deportations until asylum is granted and prevent the deportation of those not covered by protected status.

"It would be a very traumatic experience to go back because when you add that you are being dislocated as a result of state oppression, being picked up and shipped off to where the whole country is traumatized, that could be very detrimental," said SAN's Executive Director Hamid Khan.

Immigration authorities have refused to release names of Pakistani detainees, though SAN has requested the names of those being held in the Mira Loma, San Pedro and Lancaster facilities in California. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) responded by approving meetings between SAN representatives and detainees.

"Our first priority is to offer comfort," said Khan, adding that SAN will attempt to locate the whereabouts of family members in Pakistan and offer resources for the protection of the rights and due process of detainees.

The call for government action is part of the larger ongoing struggle between immigrant rights groups and the enforcement agencies. Collaboration between government agencies like ICE, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement agencies has led to the increased harassment, detainment and deportation of targeted immigrant populations, Khan said.

Granting protection for immigrants from Pakistan, or Guatemala and El Salvador, which also faced massive damage from hurricane-related flooding, mudslides and earthquake in October, will not be easy to win, said Jackson-Lee.

"It's not easy because it reflects the current state of immigration in this country, which is in complete disarray," she said. "It's absolutely imperative to have real comprehensive immigration reform to shift the focus off deportation and elimination of immigration. Citizens want a fair system." Jackson-Lee's immigration bill, the Save America Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, is the most progressive of several reform bills before Congress this fall. It provides for family reunification, college access for immigrant children and a path to legalization for undocumented workers without requiring them to be "guest workers."

Jackson-Lee is also authoring a new bill, the South Asian Earthquake Relief Act, to provide family reunification for Pakistani immigrants with family members affected by the quake.

Close to 600 Pakistani immigrants, 140 of whom were deemed "criminal aliens," have been deported in the past two years alone, according to ICE's website. Earlier this year, 63 "criminal alien" Pakistanis were exiled to Islamabad, and Khan reports that close to 200 Pakistani detainees were deported just a month ago. Currently, Umir Hayat and his son Hamid, two Pakistani men with U.S. citizenship, are facing trial for lying to the FBI about knowledge of and participation in 2003 'terrorist training camps' in Pakistan. Both Hayat men are the only U.S. citizens being charged from an investigation of a mosque in Lodi, California. They decided to stand trial rather than submit to deportation. Three other men in the case-Muhammed Adil Khan and his son, Mohammad Hassan Adil and Shabbir Ahmed-were deported and returned to Pakistan only a week before the quake. Their whereabouts are unknown.

While Umer and Hamid Hayat would not be released with work authorization, temporary protected status or a moratorium on deportation would prevent their immediate deportation if convicted on the charges of lying to the FBI. Currently 90 Pakistanis are awaiting deportation, said Sohail Khan of the Consulate General of Pakistan in New York. All these detainees would benefit from the possible success of efforts to put pressure on Chertoff to grant asylum.

Love on the Borderline

Donita Ganzon and Jiffy Javanella, the Los Angeles couple who filed a lawsuit last November against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for failing to recognize their marriage and denying Javanella his green card, recently won a reprieve. Ganzon received a letter from the agency stating that it is reconsidering its decision. From a practical standpoint, Javanella's deportation order is on hold. But Ganzon said she does not consider this development a step forward.

When the couple decided to contest the DHS's decision last July, they had to go public with Ganzon's transsexual identity, which the agency used as the basis for Javanella's denial. The agency refused to acknowledge his martial status based on the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage for federal purposes as between a man and a woman. Ganzon, who was born in the Philippines, completed sex reassignment surgery in 1981 and became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in 1986, is legally a woman. All of her papers confirm this – from her naturalization papers to her driver's license.

Ganzon, 58, and Javanella, 27, anticipated a court hearing on March 28, 2005, during which they would contest the motion filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office to dismiss the couple's lawsuit on the grounds it was filed in the wrong jurisdiction. That hearing has since been postponed, however, so the couple has decided to file an amended lawsuit. While the initial lawsuit sought to address wrongful denial of Javanella's green card, the amended lawsuit made the additional request for prompt action.

According to Philip Abramowitz, the couple's lawyer, "the motion to dismiss has been pushed back about sixty days." "Perhaps they want to delay my lawsuit so they could obtain a decision in a more conservative jurisdiction," he said.

A few months before Ganzon and Javanella applied for his green card, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), part of DHS, sent an interoffice memo outlining how personnel should handle requests by transsexuals. In the memo dated April 16, 2004, William Yates, associate director of operations, stated that "CIS personnel shall not recognize the marriage, or intended marriage, between two individuals where one or both of the parties claims to be a transsexual, regardless of whether either individual has undergone sex reassignment surgery, or is in the process of doing so."

Yates cited CIS's need to clarify federal law due to "differing state practices related to the issuance of new birth certificates and marriage licenses" and "inconsistent adjudications within the INS and CIS offices of cases involving transsexual applicants."

While the fate of their marriage remains in question, Ganzon and Javanella continue to live in turmoil. Although they still frequent karaoke bars, socialize with friends and family, and go for short walks around their tree-lined neighborhood, their lives have not been the same. Ganzon, on partial disability since 2002 from a work-related accident, complains often of back and shoulder pain, which she said is compounded by stress from the lawsuit. Javanella, according to Abramowitz, is now technically living in the country illegally. Javanella has reapplied for a work permit, but has yet to receive the status of his request.

"My privacy has been jeopardized," Ganzon said. "I live in fear. And my husband is in shame and in fear. He's always depressed. He's embarrassed because people might think he's gay. He's not gay; he's straight. He fell in love with me because I am a woman."

Other cases contesting DHS's immigration decisions based on transsexual identity have been filed before the U.S. Board of Appeals, but none have yet gone to federal court.

Ganzon and Javanella find themselves at the crosshairs of national debates on gay marriage and immigration laws. Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, said, "It's one-hundred percent political – there's no doubt about that."

According to advocates, the Bush administration is trying to change existing laws that recognize marriage involving transsexuals. "Because of homophobia and visibility around gay couples seeking the right to marry, all of a sudden transsexual people are being targeted in very irrational and unfair ways," Minter said. He hopes the courts will uphold the existing laws on marriages involving transsexuals. The State of California recognizes such unions. "That's been the rule for many years, and there's no reason to change it now," he said.

For some, like Annie Sayo, assistant director of San Jose-based Embracing the Movement of Pinays and Queers, Ganzon's case also brings to light a growing trend in immigration policy. Green card applications are more likely to be denied if the request is from an individual who resided in a nation the DHS claims harbors terrorist groups – a nation like the Philippines. Sayo said she is working with organizations like the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to collect petitions pressing government officials to act on the couple's behalf.

For her part, Ganzon's priority remains clear. "We are filing a motion, because the superior court wants to dismiss our complaint," she said. "We want the court to grant the green card for my husband."

The White Elephant in the Room

The 2004 presidential contest was a warning shot across the bow of all progressives. While the president and the Republican pundits vastly overstate their "mandate," progressives need to become clear on the motion of racial politics if we are to get ourselves in shape for the coming battles.

Many spin doctors would have us believe that the story of the 2004 election turns on evangelicals and moral values, the better to advance their rightwing agenda in both the Democratic and Republican parties, not to speak of the halls of power.

But an examination of the exit polls shows something very different (though not at all new): the centrality of race in U.S. politics. The bad news is that the Republicans, trumpeting their program of aggressive war and racism, swung the election by increasing their share of the white vote to 58 percent. This represents a four-point gain over 2000; a 12-point gain over 1996 and a grim18-point gain over 1992.

The good news is that people of color – African Americans, Latinos, Native peoples, Asian Americans and Arab Americans – surged to the polls in unprecedented numbers and voted overwhelmingly in opposition to the Bush agenda despite an unprecedented Republican attempt to intimidate them. People of color constituted about 35 percent of new voters and, despite their dazzling diversity, showed uncommon political unity.

A key lesson of this election is that progressives and Democrats need to stop chasing the Republicans to the right and instead adopt a clear vision that mobilizes our main social constituencies and wins new allies. Only a long term strategy that draws deeply and skillfully from the high moral ground of peace, jobs and equality and refuses to cede the South and Southwest to the right can enable us to staunch the country's longstanding movement to the right. Otherwise what Lani Guinier calls the "tyranny of the (white) majority" will continue to lead us into authoritarianism and empire.

The bitter truth is that the election marks a substantial and dangerous victory for the rightwing forces in this country. Despite a presidency marked by numerous impeachable offenses; despite daily exposure by the press over many months of the administration's lying and incompetence; despite both a disastrous war and an unprecedented loss of jobs; despite an impressive effort by the Democrats, unions and allied groups to mobilize and protect the vote; despite a massive voter turnout led by African American voters; despite the fact that people of color constituted 23 percent of all voters as opposed to 19 percent in the last election, the president turned a 500,000 vote loss in 2000 into a 3.5 million vote victory and the Republicans increased their majorities in both the House and the Senate.

Progressives have much to be proud of in our tremendous effort and substantial impact in the 2004 presidential election. But we must also face the fact our loss was not the result simply of the Republicans having more money or of a low voter turnout. The Republicans flat out organized us and methodically found white voters receptive to their racist program of "permanent war on terrorism at home and abroad."

The Myth of the Evangelicals

There has been much talk by the punditry about how the evangelicals were the key to the Republican victory. They counsel the Democrats to move to the right to remain politically competitive. There was indeed a tremendous mobilization of Christian religious conservatives (and National Rifle Association members) to work the campaign for the Republicans. They were the critical ground troops for the Republicans but they were not the critical voters.

Alan Abramowitz points out, "Between 2000 and 2004, President Bush's largest gains occurred among less religious voters, not among more religious voters." Among those who attend church weekly or more, his gain was only one point. But among those attending services a few times a month he gained 4 points. From those attending a few times a year, he increased his share by 3 points and from those who never attend services he racked up a 4-point gain.

The emphasis on the evangelical vote is a smokescreen motivated by the attempt by Republicans (and conservative Democrats) to move the country rightwards. Meanwhile, most pundits, left and right, refuse to squarely face the white elephant in the room: race.

The Republican victory turned almost exclusively on increasing its share of the white vote. In 2000 Bush won the white vote by 12 points, 54-42; in 2004 he increased this to a 17-point margin, 58-41. That increase translates into about a 4 million vote gain for Bush, the same number by which Bush turned his 500,000 vote loss in 2000 into a 3.5 million vote victory this time around.

This increase came mainly from white women. Bush carried white men by 24 points in 2000 (60-36) and increased that margin by only one point in 2004 (62-37). But he increased his margin of victory among white women from only 1 point in 2000 (49-48) to 11 points in 2004 (55-44). This accounts for a 4 million plus vote swing for Bush. (Women of color favored Kerry by 75-24.)

Another overlooked exit poll result is that Kerry actually increased the Democrats' share of the vote among rural and small town voters and held steady among suburbanites. However, his share of the vote in cities fell considerably. In cities of 500,000 or more Kerry won 60 percent of the vote, compared to 71 percent for Gore. Bush increased his big city vote by 13 points, from 26 percent in 2000 to 39 percent in 2004. We are apparently looking at a significant rightward motion among white women in big cities, a real blow to progressive strategy.

What Happened with the Latino Vote?

The other issue that has disguised the centrality of race in this campaign has been the National Exit Poll (NEP) survey of the Latino vote. The poll concluded that Latinos voted for Kerry by 53-44, a steep decline from Gore's 62-35 victory among Latinos in 2000. But the NEP's results are self-contradictory. Larger Latino exit polls show a tremendous Latino turnout that went for Kerry by as much as 68 percent.

Since the NEP polls only 13,000 voters, the size of the sample for Latinos was very small and therefore probably not very accurate. Latinos make up eight percent of the electorate, and their geographic location (more urban) and income/education (lower) are quite different from the majority white population that shapes the polling sample.

In addition, the NEP does not include the numerous Latino nationalities in appropriate proportions. This is important because these nationalities differ politically. For example Cubans tend to vote much more Republican than all other Latino groups, while Puerto Ricans tend to vote more Democratic.

More importantly the NEP's conclusion about the national Latino vote is not compatible with its own state-by-state polling results. For example, the NEP says that Bush won a mind-bending 64 percent of Latino votes in the South, the region with the most Latino voters (35 percent of the national total). But it simultaneously reported that Bush won 56 percent of Latino votes in Florida, the state where Cuban Republicans make up most of the Latino vote and 59 percent of the Latino vote in Texas. Something is clearly wrong when it is reported that the two states where Latinos are most likely to vote Republican voted less Republican than the South as a whole.

Indeed it is statistically impossible for both the NEP's results for individual states in the South and its conclusion that 64 percent of all Latinos in the South voted for Bush to be correct.

The William C. Velásquez Institute, as it has for many elections, performed a much larger exit poll of Latinos. The Institute polled 1,179 Latino respondents in 46 precincts across 11 states, and took into account the unique demographic characteristics of Latinos. Its survey concluded that Kerry won the Latino vote by 68-31, a strong showing in the face of unprecedented efforts by Republican operatives and Catholic priests to sway Latinos the other way.

It also found that 7.6 million Latinos voted, a record number that represents an increase of an impressive 1.6 million (27 percent) over 2000. This turnout was even more remarkable considering the widespread attempts by Republicans to intimidate Latino voters and the chronic shortages of Spanish language ballots.

Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Velásquez Institute, concludes, "President Bush tried unsuccessfully to increase his support among Latinos. The Democrats' message appears to have resonated with Latinos."

No Black Breakthrough

The Republican spin-meisters, as well as some "centrist" Democrats, are even claiming a Republican breakthrough among African American voters based on appealing to conservative Christian values. However, veteran political consultants Cornell Belcher and Donna Brazile counter: "Those who trumpet inroads by Bush into the African American vote ignore history and show a strong prejudice against basic arithmetic."

The NEP concluded that Kerry won the black vote by an overwhelming 88-11 percent. Although this is two points fewer than Gore won in 2000, those two points are well within the margin of error of the poll. Even if correct, the results indicate that Bush received a lower percentage of the black vote than Nixon, Ford, Dole or Ronald Reagan in 1980.

This outcome is even more notable when one considers that, according to a Nov. 17 public memo by Belcher and Brazile, fully 60 percent of African Americans in the key battleground states, where the Republicans messaged heavily against abortion and gay marriage, consider themselves "born again Christians."

Their polling also indicates that, "The more likely African Americans are to be frequent church goers, the more likely they are to identify themselves as a strong Democrat." Clearly when pundits argue that the Republicans won by appealing to "moral values" or "evangelicals," they should really qualify their statements racially.

Perhaps most importantly, Belcher and Brazile point out that more than three million new black voters thronged to the polls in 2004, accounting for more than 20 percent of the total voter increase. They also erased the traditional 6-10 point voter participation gap between whites and blacks and increased their percentage of all voters from 10 percent in 2000 to almost 12 percent this year.

Black voters defeated the unprecedented Republican voter intimidation and suppression effort in the run-up to the election. Belcher and Brazile conclude that, "The real story is the reawakening of civic participation by African Americans in 2004."

Asian American Trends

Asian Americans also surged to the polls in historic numbers and, in all their great internal diversity, voted overwhelmingly Democratic.

The political trajectory of Asian voters has been striking. Like most immigrant groups, most Asians have historically registered and voted Democratic. However, as their incomes rose and the percentage of Asian voters who had fled Asian socialist countries climbed as a result of the 1965 immigration reform act, many became "Reagan Democrats" in the 1980s. By the 1990s a higher percentage of Asians were registered as independents than any other racial/ethnic group.

Asians were not included in national exit polls until 1992. In that election, won by Clinton, their Republican and independent bent showed through, with Bush Sr. receiving 55 percent of the Asian vote, Perot 15 percent and Clinton only 31 percent. However, since 1992 Asians have turned strongly toward the Democrats. Clinton won 43 percent in 1996, Gore won 54 percent and Kerry at least 58 percent. This trend is probably connected to the hard right turn of the GOP in the 1990s, especially its fierce attacks on immigrants.

The NEP sample of Asian American voters was tiny, as Asians represent only 2-3 percent of all voters. By contrast, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund conducted a multilingual, non-partisan poll of 11,000 Asian voters in eight states. Mindful of the diversity among Asians, it surveyed them in 23 Asian languages and dialects as they left 82 polling places in 20 cities in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Virginia, Michigan and Illinois.

AALDEF executive director Margaret Fung said: "The record turnout of Asian American voters demonstrated our community's extraordinary interest in the electoral process this year." A tremendous 38 percent of Asian voters reported that they were first time voters despite what AALDEF called "an array of barriers that prevented them from exercising their right to vote."

The poll found that Asian Americans favored John Kerry over George Bush by 74-24 percent. First timers voted for Kerry by 78-20. A Los Angeles Times poll of 3,357 California voters found that 64 percent of Asian Americans voted for Kerry and 34 percent for Bush.

Native People Turn Out in Force
The National Congress of American Indians spearheaded Native Vote 2004, a nationwide voter registration and turnout effort. In a press release dated Nov. 3, NCAI President Tex Hall reported, "Native voters turned out to the election polls in greater numbers for this election day than any other in history." The release documented voter turnout successes across Indian country, including a doubling of Native voters in Minnesota. This show of political force was especially impressive considering widespread reports of Native voter intimidation by Republicans.

Although no exit polls on Native peoples are available, the county-by-county map of the 2004 vote indicates that the Native vote was largely Democratic. In addition, the NEP results by race shows the "Other" vote (which includes but is not limited to Native voters) as going for Kerry by 57-43. A Democratic Native vote would be in line with historical trends and pre-election polling.

The NCAI states that "The 2004 election will be the first time Native votes will be quantified in a way to benchmark the population for future elections" and that "rising political clout [by Native voters] will only grow going forward."

Arab Turnaround

The only available analysis of Arab American voters indicates a major political about face by this group. According to a Zogby International poll, George Bush carried the Arab vote by 46-38 in 2000, with a strong 13 percent choosing Ralph Nader. The final Zogby poll for 2004 found Kerry winning by a landslide 63-28-3.

Arab voters contributed to Kerry's slim victories in Michigan, where they represent 5 percent of voters, and Pennsylvania, where they constitute 1.5 percent of the electorate. The Zogby poll indicates that Bush carried Arab Orthodox voters by one point, Arab Catholics favored Kerry 55-34-5 and Arab Muslims voted overwhelmingly for Kerry, 83-6-4. Both immigrant and U.S. born Arab voters went strongly for Kerry.

There are no figures available on Arab American voter turnout but, according to the Arab American Institute, there was an unprecedented Arab Get Out the Vote effort spearheaded by Yalla Vote. The Institute reports that Arabs organized GOTV efforts in 11 states that directly contacted at least 300,000 Arab American voters.

The Bush administration has rudely informed Arab Americans that they, like other immigrant groups from the Global South before them, are not just part of the "melting pot." They are also a group that is singled out by the government, the media and much of the public for racist stereotyping and harsh treatment.

As they have been increasingly treated like a racially oppressed group, Arab Americans have responded by voting like other people of color.

Taken together, people of color represented 23 percent of the total vote, but they accounted for about 35 percent of Kerry's tally. Their sense of political urgency was demonstrated by the fact that they represented about 35 percent of first time voters in this election. They are, unquestionably, the main base of the Democratic Party and the most avid anti-Bush constituencies.

White people and people of color are tremendously diverse groups and neither vote uniformly, but they are clearly trending in opposite political directions. How can we staunch the one and encourage the other?

LOOKING BACKWARD, LOOKING FORWARD

The political map of Election 2004 has a depressing but telling resemblance to the pre-Civil War map of free versus slave states and territories. And, although blacks and other people of color now have the right to vote, the outcome of the electoral college vote in the South shows that the 55 percent of black voters who still reside there have as little impact on the presidential race today as they did when they had no right to vote at all.

The same disenfranchisement afflicts Latinos in the Southwest and Native voters in the heartland. Quiet as its kept, the racist remnants of slavery and the Monroe Doctrine are alive and well in the political life, institutions and consciousness of Americans of all colors and classes up to today.

Racism – at home and abroad – is a central element of the Republican "moral values" and strategy. And racism is conciliated if not actively promoted by the Democratic focus on winning more white voters by moving to the right while taking voters of color virtually for granted.

The Democratic refusal to mount a fight for electoral reform and for the Southern vote leaves all its residents to the tender mercies of racist white fundamentalists, oil magnates, sugar barons and militarists. And it disarms progressives' ability to invoke the political and moral weight of the fight for racial and economic justice that still has deep Southern roots. And so it also is with urban racism and the burgeoning issue of immigrant rights concentrated (though by no means exclusively) in the Southwest.

It is about time for progressives, including those in the Democratic Party, to show the same basic common sense that the right has demonstrated. We should prioritize the issues and organization of our most powerful social bases as the foundation upon which to extend our influence to the population at large. It is time to stop chasing the Republicans – and the money – to the right. It is time to develop and fight for a coherent progressive political vision and set of policies that appeal to the positive sentiments of all people, and to fight for this vision over the long haul.

The fight for social and economic progress now, as in the past, cannot be won without challenging the racist, militarist right in its historic Southern heartland and its deep Southwestern echoes. We must have the confidence that skillfully doing so will win increased support from whites as well as people of color.

This is not just rhetoric. The future of our country and the well-being of the world depend on us. We cannot stop the right's incessant drive to dominate the world's resources and to steamroll all opposition to that program unless we pose a clear alternative. A powerful vision of peace, jobs and justice is our only chance to mobilize the democratic sentiments and courage of all the people of our country.

Racism and the Election

Earlier this year a number of organizations joined together to form the 2004 Racism Watch project to draw attention to racism in this year's Presidential elections. The organizations, representing a wide range of constituencies and interests, vow to expose candidates that resort to racist imagery and policies to get elected, a practice with a long history in American politics.

Racism within U.S. institutions, law and culture is deeply imbedded in the history and reality of the United States going back to the 17th century. And we still have a long way to go. We can see that by what is being said and not being said during the current Democratic and Republican Presidential campaigns.

President George W. Bush acts as if everything is just fine, and we all love each other in this wonderful land of hope and opportunity united against the evil terrorists. Democratic Presidential hopeful John Kerry, on the other hand, does talk about affirmative action, black voter disenfranchisement, the idea of "two Americas" and possibly other racial justice issues, but from the reports I've heard, only before black audiences.

But race and racism may become a more public part of the debate before Election Day. There are reports that the Bush campaign is preparing a TV commercial using statements of Rev. Al Sharpton as a foil to undercut Kerry. And Kerry, under pressure from black Democrats, may see the need to take stronger public positions on racial justice.

There is a sordid history going back to 1968 of the two major parties consciously using racism during Presidential campaigns. It was in 1968, with the dramatic spread of the black freedom movement all over the country and uprisings in the cities, and with the emergence of George Wallace running an overtly racist American Independent Party campaign, that the Richard Nixon campaign made a conscious decision to completely abandon the Republican Party's anti-slavery roots.

As recently as 1956 Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower had received the support of 39% of the African American electorate, and, in the words of scholar Manning Marable, "at the time there was a strong liberal wing pressuring the White House to take bolder steps on racial policy." But 12 years later the major issues for Nixon were "law and order," getting "welfare bums" off the dole, and opposition to school desegregation through busing.

The Democrats were "better," but far from good. Clearly responding to Nixon's landslide re-election victory in 1972 against liberal George McGovern, the Democrats nominated Georgia governor Jimmy Carter in 1976. Among the controversial statements made by Carter during his campaign was his use of the phrase "ethnic purity" to describe white enclaves and neighborhood schools. He also used the phrases "alien groups," "black intrusion" and "interjecting into a community a member of another race." The Democrats learned to use racism in order to compete for white votes at the polls.

Ever since, a pattern has been followed regardless who the two parties put forward as candidates. The Republicans are out front with their racial demagoguery to the extent necessary for them to win, as in the use of the infamous 'Willie Horton' ad in 1988. The Democrats are weak in their responses or, in some cases, outright copycats. Bill Clinton, for example, in the words of author Kenneth O'Reilly, "calculated that he could not win in 1992 unless he [publicly criticized] Sister Souljah to bait Jesse Jackson [at a Rainbow Coalition conference], put a black chain gang in a crime control ad, golfed at a segregated club with a TV camera crew in tow, and allowed that search for a serviceable vein in [retarded, African American, death row inmate] Rickey Ray Rector's arm."

This history is what brought the 2004 Racism Watch project together. The coalition of groups are committed to draw attention to the expected use of race baiting in the election this year, while working to mobilize a strong progressive vote in communities of color and to defend the right to vote against expected attacks.

Out of this work has emerged a Call to Action signed by a dozen national and southern regional organizations such as the Institute for Southern Studies, the National Youth & Student Peace Coalition, the Independent Progressive Politics Network and the Black Radical Congress for a "Vote for Racial Justice Week" October 18-24. The Call explains, "once again, just like other elections, we're hearing almost nothing about [racial justice] issues from the major Presidential candidates and many other candidates seeking office, so we need to make our presence felt!"

The Call lists a range of issues: racial/class bias in the legal system, unequal resources for public schools, unemployment, the racist "war on drugs," the death penalty, electoral reform, the Patriot Act, immigrant rights, affirmative action and reparations, environmental justice, Native American sovereignty and treaty rights and a new foreign policy. It goes on to urge local groups to raise these issues through marches and rallies, workshops, trainings, candidates' forums, educational leafleting and widespread outreach.

George Friday, a co-coordinator of the 2004 Racism Watch, commented, "Vote for Racial Justice Week is taking place two weeks before the national elections, an important time for citizens to understand and spread awareness about the positions of candidates running for office on important issues."

Organizers are assembling a packet of materials to help local organizers who want to participate in the week. One already produced resource is a leaflet summarizing the positions of all the presidential candidates on key race issues. The results are compiled from the candidates' answers to a survey developed by the organization. When a candidate did not respond to the survey, their positions were summarized from their published statements and policy proposals.

Objectives of the week include the public "coming out" of a national, multi-cultural, anti-racist network, the mobilization of communities of color and progressive whites to cast an informed vote on November 2, and helping to build an on-going, pro-justice movement that understands these issues and supports people of color leadership.

"There's a lot of excitement among our members about this project," said Adrienne Maree Brown of the League of Pissed Off Voters. Kate Zaidan, a leader of the Student Environmental Action Coalition, explained, "We expect that there will be scores of college campuses where local student groups will organize educational or outreach events during the week of action." Many other community-based and issue organizations and local unions are getting involved to advocate and fight for the needs of communities of color in the elections.

The history of racism in elections and the sense in many communities of color that their votes were not counted in the 2000 Presidential Elections has lead many grassroots people of color to lose hope that voting might make a difference in their lives. "Vote for Racial Justice Week" may be one way that they can regain that hope.

2004 Racism Watch is also committed to helping communities of color prepare for whatever the results are on November 2. In the words of George Friday, "To many of the groups involved it is crystal clear that whether Bush or Kerry wins, there will be much work yet to be done for racial justice."




Terror Town

With the live broadcasts of the 9/11 commission hearings over the past few months, the nation has finally begun to see a serious reckoning of the Bush Administration's counterterrorism policy. As important as it is, the debate stirred by Richard Clarke and Condoleezza Rice's testimony has only scratched the surface of national security issues. The commission issued a long-overdue criticism April 16 of the government's targeting of immigrants in national security policies, saying that the roundups and registrations of Arabs and Muslims failed to apprehend any actual terrorists or contribute to national security.

This was the commission's first admission that cracking down on immigrants doesn't make any of us safer.

Now that the 9/11 commission has touched on one of the worst abuses of the Bush response to Sept. 11, it is up to the rest of us to crack open this debate by connecting the dots between the government's mishandling of the war on terrorism abroad and at home.

The post-Sept. 11 treatment of immigrants and communities of color is not simply a passing phenomenon. It is a sustained reality that can be named. When an entity uses policies and procedures to justify discriminatory treatment based on race, that's called institutional racism. But what is more insidious is that this racism has been normalized and legitimized through national security policies.

The damage done to immigrant communities continues, and the public still does not know the context and scale of the problem. Since these policies were implemented, up to 13,000 immigrants have been ordered deported. The majority are economic migrants and refugees, yet they are being prosecuted as public enemy number one in the domestic war against terror.

These policies are based on the idea that immigrants' interests are opposed to those of the native-born. But immigrants have a right to safety and security as well. As Mohsin Zaheer, a Pakistani resident of Brooklyn, NY, put it, "I live here with my family, so the security of this country is as dear to me as anyone. I want my kids to be safe."

Since the advent of "special registration," an estimated 20,000 Pakistanis have fled Brooklyn in order to avoid detention. In New Jersey, which has a large Muslim and Arab population, the FBI has questioned nearly 60,000 people since Sept. 11, according to agency spokesman Steven Kodak. Jersey City's immigrant community is so heavily scrutinized by law enforcement that local residents and even several mainstream newspapers call it "Terror Town."

In Texas, immigrants have been denied housing because some landlords and apartment associations are encouraged to screen applicants for potential terrorists. Latino and Asian immigrants have been raided and fired from airport security and service jobs. And across the board, immigrants of color have been increasingly subjected to a sustained climate of fear, harassment and surveillance.

Scapegoating provides no real security for anyone but has raised levels of intolerance and discrimination. This tone was set at the very top. Bush Administration policies of military trials, indefinite detentions and collective punishment of immigrant communities gave a green light to the states, cities and hatemongers to do the same. As the body count climbs in Iraq, we are likely to see in increase in hate crimes at home.

This April 13, Asa Hutchinson, the Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security at the Department of Homeland Security, announced major changes to the department's immigration detention policy resulting from last year's Justice Department report chronicling widespread abuse and racial profiling. These changes are a step in the right direction, but America also needs a full accounting of the impact that post-911 policies had on immigrant communities.

In truth, a counterterrorism strategy based on fear and racial profiling has undermined security at home. Not only did immigrant Americans lose a measure of security, but all Americans were deprived of the truth about Sept. 11 under cover of an anti-immigrant frenzy.

Tram Nguyen is the Executive Editor of Colorlines Magazine, a national magazine of race, culture and action.

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