Joe Wilson’s Immigration Racism Isn’t Black and White [VIDEO]

By Channing Kennedy Sep 10, 2009

Ta-Nehisi Coates has said some stuff I really dug about the fallacy of approaching racism as though it’s a solely interpersonal problem that’s solvable overnight. That said, I think he’s not addressing the whole picture when he says:

I think a lot of us see a racial angle in a white South Carolina congressman yelling at the President and interrupting his speech to the nation. I’m not prepared to go there. Knowing this country, it’s history, and some of South Carolina’s particular history, I have my suspicions. But I hate these arguments in which we try to go back and forth over a contention, that’s basically unprovable. What would have happened if Obama was white? The truth is, I don’t know.

I agree with every bit of that. But, Wilson’s unfortunate track record aside, the conversation about racist interpersonal frames is a cheap distraction from the real live racism at play here. To lean upon the First Commandment of Jay Smooth, I’m saying that what he DOES is racist. Joe Wilson is, undeniably, pushing policy that creates racial disparities. He’s working very hard to create an outcome in which a lot of Latinos, Blacks, Arabs, Asians, South Asians, and a handful of white immigrants will be totally screwed if they or their family gets sick. And they will — undocumented workers suffer the worst, least safe, least policed working conditions in the United States for the least pay, with no benefits, with no employer accountability. Joe isn’t telling these people that they should die — he’s just ensuring that they will. Guess what? That’s racist! As Michelle Chen already pointed out, Wilson’s claim is bogus. But really, why is he even concerned in the first place? Up until now, hasn’t the anti-immigrant movement been pushing the meme that "illegals" are raising hospital expenses through overuse of emergency rooms? Seems like comprehensive health care for everyone would be a really great way to address that — if it were the issue they were really interested in addressing. It’s not. They just want someone to blame, and to keep the factories running. Matt Yglesias raises another good point in a similar lament about the unfeasibility of health care for the undocumented:

Hopefully someday soon we’ll get an immigration reform measure that directly deals with the multi-faceted problem of the presence of a mass community of undocumented people in the United States. Until then, I’m still waiting for the moment when conservatives realize that “illegal immigrants might use it!” actually works as an argument against basically all public sector endeavors. Illegal immigrants benefit from the cops catching murderers! They ride the bus! They drive on highways! Better just eliminate all services to make sure no one from Mexico takes advantages of any of them.