Conflating Fear with Disease

It is an old story.   We divide those who are different from us by categorizing them as stereotypes. And when those stereotypes are markedly negative; it makes the other, something to be shunned, something to be feared as a threat, something to control, something to be destroyed.  It makes the other into some thing instead of a person with dignity and worth.

It is actually a very dangerous game.  Someone somewhere is going to hear these opinions and decide it is time to make a stand against the other; especially if that someone feels themselves powerless in their own circumstances.  We have seen this scenario before.  The shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN was because a man was down and out.  He felt powerless to address his circumstances and he had heard on radio and TV that the blame was to be placed squarely on the liberal politicians in Washington, DC.  He didn’t feel he had a chance to exact revenge on them so he chose a group of people who he felt sure had placed those liberals in power.

So it is with alarm when I heard Leland Whaley of Leland Live on WAPI radio based in Birmingham, AL turn a story about one case of Hepatitis A in Northport, AL into a story about immigrants being vectors of disease.  It was pure speculation on his part.  The employee at the McDonald’s was never identified as being of any specific nationality or race.  Yet, Leland felt duty bound to proclaim immigrants as the cause for this one case of Hepatitis A.  He was “just askin’ ” the questions that no one was asking, he said. This is a disease that can be spread by poor hygiene, as in infected restaurant employees not washing their hands after using the restroom. He implied that immigrants, especially those from south of our border, do not have the hygiene skills to wash their hands after restroom use.  He went on to proclaim that Hepatitis is on the rise in this country and it is directly because of the millions of immigrants who have entered this country from countries like Mexico.

It isn’t true.  Hepatitis A infection rates are not on the rise in this country.  In fact, the health department reported that Hepatitis A is trending downward in this country[i], 90% decline of cases over the last 20 years.  Twenty Years!   And Western Alabama has about one or two cases of Hepatitis A every year. Not exactly an outbreak.  Not exactly something to get all freaked out about.

Leland Whaley further stated that TB rates were on the rise in the US because of immigrants.  Again, this is not true.  TB infection rates are also on the decline in the US.  And rates of infection among Latinos are among the lowest when looking at TB prevalence in ethnic groups in the US.[ii]

Yet, Leland Whaley suggests blame of one case of Hepatitis to an entire population of immigrants and then lumps in TB infections to further denigrate and label a population of people as vectors of disease. This is at best irresponsible journalism.  At worst it is hate-mongering geared towards driving yet another divide between us and them.  In this case the US are white people and the THEM are immigrants.  To make such assertions of a group of people being vectors of disease is to spread fear into the population to keep the focus off the real issues affecting the nation.

Whenever a nation begins to denigrate people living within its borders by associating people with diseases, with crime, with violent behavior that nation begins the path towards displaying the ugly side of humanity.  It is a step towards removing the humanity of these individuals.  When people are no longer seen as human, then it becomes easier to normalize behaviors of denigration and oppression.  It becomes acceptable to round people up like cattle, pass harsh criminal punishments for non-violent offenses, and justify these actions as a public health and safety precaution.   We can then turn our eyes away when self proclaimed crime fighters hunt down an unarmed teenager because the media reporters have already reduced black teens who wear hoodies into violent threats.  Now the media is trying to reduce Latinos into vectors of disease.  How soon will it be until someone comes up with a tried and true method of eliminating alleged vectors of disease?

Leland Whaley owes a public apology to the Latino community in Alabama.  We have already seen far too many times in this country when hateful rhetoric is heard by unstable individuals in this country.  Leland Whaley needs to be held accountable to his rhetoric on Alabama’s airwaves.

Published in: on March 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm  Comments Off on Conflating Fear with Disease  
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Examining our Unitarian Universalist Values

Last week I posted an entry that questioned whether the Republican Platform as it is currently being expressed was compatible with Unitarian Universalist values. I concluded that it was not and suggested that Unitarian Universalists could not in good conscience align themselves as Republicans and remain Unitarian Universalists.  Needless to say that I received comments asking if I was a Unitarian Universalist since my views seemed to be disparate from the value of inclusivity and welcome.I appreciated the comments and here is what I hope is an expansion of the point I was attempting to make.

Those that I heard from said they value other republican values such as small government and business entrepreneurship and not the values I stated as incompatible with Unitarian Universalist values.  Unfortunately, we are being sold a packaged deal and so it is hard to find and vote for a republican candidate in the south that is pro-small government who is also not anti-women, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-worker, and racist. I would argue the current Republican party is small government in rhetoric only, their actions over the last 25 years has proven other wise. The party has shifted so far away from anything that resembles Unitarian Universalist values that the argument of changing the party from within is a losing proposition.

How willing are we to sell out our Unitarian Universalist values for one issue that may be important? I never understood how anyone, regardless of party affiliation, could vote based on one platform issue when all the other platform issues presented are oppositional to ones beliefs. And if this is offensive, then sobeit, I place my Unitarian Universalist values above my political alliances.

We need to examine as part of our spiritual practice the values we lift up as Unitarian Universalists and whether or not we are living those values into the world. I dare say that neither Republican nor the Democratic Platform represent Unitarian Universalist values.  I lifted the Republican Platform because it is the easiest to see manifest the sharp contrast between their values and Unitarian Universalist values in the political scene today. But the Democrats are not the pinnacle of Unitarian Universalist values. Far from it.

Rev. Peter Morales, president of the UUA, is advocating for us to see us as more than congregations and begin to see us a movement that can and will transform the world. If we are serious in following his lead, then we as a faith need to be very clear about the values we hold as sacrosanct to Unitarian Universalist identity. This means to me that we need to be discerning about the actions we take into the world including the political affiliations we make as individual Unitarian Universalists.

Now we all start from somewhere.  But this faith, if it is true, cannot leave us where we are found, but must transform us into something more, into something holy, into something more aligned with the values we profess as Unitarian Universalists.  To be holy means to be set apart, to be singled out as special, as sacred.

Holy is not just reserved for holy ground, as in the Hebrew story about Moses and the burning bush; or holy as in blessed like the holy water used for Catholic baptism’s and the ritual of preparation of the Eucharist. Holy in this context is referring to the devotion of followers who have integrated the values and beliefs so fully that they and their values are one.  The Dalia Lama would be an example of this transformation into the holy.  He is a person who exemplifies Buddhism in the modern era. Mother Teresa would be an example of a person who exemplifies the servant Christ. Both have been called holy people.

Holy does not mean perfect in this context. Pointing out faults is to avoid the question being asked, how are you exemplifying Unitarian Universalist values?

So if Unitarian Universalism faith is true, if this faith is worth devotion, then it requires our examining of Unitarian Universalist values and how we live those values into the world.  It means we are also required to be transformed into the holy. This process does not happen over night but it can and should be happening within our Unitarian Universalist faith. Where are our holy people of the faith?

It begins I believe in the discussion of the values we honor and how might we operationalize those values into behaviors in the world.  It may mean that we choose to drop our political affiliations as I am doing.  I am no longer going to be a registered Democrat.  It may mean we adopt new ethical eating habits.  It may mean we seek to change our congregations from mono-cultural to multicultural, from an Anglo hegemony to a multiracial hegemony. It certainly means we allow our faith to have the transforming message to save us from our selves and thereby empower us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly in our path.


11th Circuit Court Hearings on HB 56/HB 87

It had rained heavily and so the angels of mercy were kind as we encountered no additional rain as we left Northport at 3 AM CST to be at the court house in Atlanta for 8 AM EST.   I had been able to get in two hours of good sleep before setting out so I wondered how I would fare the drive and the day.

At the 56 Forsyth Street court house the majority of people waiting to sit in on the hearing appeared to be attorneys but in the line waiting to enter were familiar faces.  And across the street immigrants began to gather to carry signs, to march, and to show their outrage that our fair country would seek to bar them from living towards their full potential as human beings. Somos Tuskaloosa members who came with me to Atlanta joined the picket line to make their presence known.  I was grateful the Rev. Jan Tadeo of our Unitarian Universalist Gwinnett County congregation joined me inside.

There were three judges hearing this case: Judge Martin, Wilson, and Voorhees from North Carolina.   Voorhees for the most part remained stoic and silent in the procedures, only offering two or three questions or comments.  He was the hardest of the judges to read.

The disappointing news was the court decided to withhold their judgment until after the Supreme Court rules on the Arizona SB 1070 case.  Several of the sections being contested were similar to that case and they will defer to the Supreme Court case.  This is disappointing because there are other parts of AL HB 56 and GA HB 87 that are not in the SB 1070 statute and unless continued to be enjoined would cause continued harm and humanitarian crisis in our respective states. The judges heard the arguments pertaining GA’s HB 87 law first.

The judges wanted to know how GA HB 87 was different from the 1956 PA vs Nelson case which pertains to a sedition act the state of Pennsylvania passed. The courts ruled that Pennsylvania’s Sedition act over rode the Federal law and states cannot pass laws that do that. Judge Martin stated HB 87 seems to be doing the same thing.

The judges brought out that there are individuals that are without documentation but are allowed to be in this country.  Police are going to look at the plain language of this law and not accept a person who is allowed to be here but not legal.  The police are asked to make this determination of legal status and detention which is squarely placed in the role of federal officers. How does HB 87 compliment the Federal law and not usurp its authority in this matter?

At one point, Judge Wilson wondered if illegal population laws have morphed into a public safety concern and therefore states can regulate for the health and safety of the public; including penalizing people who assist undocumented aliens as part of that public safety concern.

The notion that controlling immigrant populations could be considered a public safety concern like controlling rat populations is a public safety concern sickens me, yet I realized this is indeed the point of view that Georgia, Alabama, and Arizona have taken.

It was the Alabama’s case, where the judges asked the harder questions.  HB 56 includes that undocumented persons are not to enter into any transaction within the state.  Where will the undocumented live, how will they access utilities such as water?  The penalties are harsh, the judges said.  What happens with the individual who is in violation of HB 56, criminalized for their presence within AL, charged and convicted with a felony, and jailed under this law; and then an immigration judge determines the person is free to remain in the country?  Where are they to live?  It is illegal for them to be in Alabama.  What if all 50 states were to pass similar laws?   What makes this law not an expulsion law of immigrants?

The attorneys tried to argue that the State Attorney General did not interpret the law in this manner.  Landlords would not be penalized if they rented without knowing the person’s status, and utilities would not be denied regardless of status.  The judges shot back that we can not elevate the Attorney General’s opinion regarding the law over the face of the law.  You can say the Attorney General said that but where does it say that in the statute regarding water?

Could an illegal alien get a more favorable treatment in Minnesota than in Alabama? Yes.  Is this therefore not a policy of expulsion?  The attorneys for the state said, No this is not the intent.  The judge shot back, I don’t see how this law operates in any other way.  [Rep. Hammon stated this law was to make life untenable in all arenas of life for undocumented immigrants forcing them to leave the state-in short a policy of expulsion.]

Again, if all 50 states had this provision where would an unlawful person live, who was determined to be allowed to remain in the country?  Does the federal government that is in negotiation with another country have the right to determine whether an undocumented person can remain in the country? Homeland Security as the determining voice in the statute would only be able to confirm if person was unlawfully present, not that the person is allowed to remain, that decision might be issued later by an immigration judge.  In the meantime, the person is sentenced and jailed in Alabama as a felon criminal.

The judges asked if the school registration requirement was anything more than a scare tactic.  They wondered how the birth status of a child determines if the parent is undocumented?  Isn’t there the fear that if children are declared undocumented they could then face deportation?  The judges did not state this plainly, but it seemed they were pointing to the 5th amendment regarding not participating in self-incrimination.

The state argued this was at most a classification edict to determine the number of immigrants. While the state could be required by the federal government to release this information to them, that is not the intent of this law.  If this information is sent to the federal government, the attorney general must be notified.  The child has the choice to not self declare their status and will be able to remain in school regardless of status. Judge Martin shot back, but if the student does not self-declare they are presumed to be undocumented so how does offering them a choice matter?

The attorneys arguing for this section to be struck stated that while all students are allowed to remain in school, it is what happens after the point of inquiry of status that also needs consideration.  It is the stigmatizing effect that results in removal of the student.  The attorney is referring to the increased ethnic bullying that is occurring in the schools by both teachers and students, regardless of the students’ status.

It is this stigmatizing and apparent societal permission to expressing racism that is occurring through out Alabama and Georgia as a result of these laws.  People who are casually speaking Spanish in public are being confronted with shouts of being illegal. Citizens who are brown are being accosted by strangers and angrily told to go back to Mexico.  People are feeling justified in their racism because this law exists. When laws justify racism then they are unjust laws that seek not to keep harmony within the community but rather seek to divide it.