We Are Always Taking Sides

From a piece on the New York Time’s refusal to completely drop the I-word (“illegal immigrant”) from its reporting:


“Advocates on one side of this political debate have called on news organizations to use only the terms they prefer,” Mr. Corbett [from the NYT] said. “But we have to make those decisions for journalistic reasons alone, based on what we think best informs our readers on this important topic.” He added: “It’s not our job to take sides.

Continuing to use words developed by some people to categorize other people–especially once those other people start protesting–is taking sides. There is no neutral when it comes to choosing terms of social identity.

Continuing to support the status quo is taking sides.  Framing a claim that a word is degrading as an ‘expression of preference’ is taking sides.  Acting as if only people on one side of a debate have a stake in word choice is taking sides.  Feigning ignorance is taking sides.  Putting your head in the sand is taking sides.  Trying to find a way to not take sides is taking sides.  Trying to not get involved is taking sides.  We are always taking sides.

We do not have the luxury of neutrality, and even if we do, we do not deserve it.


People from the Drop the I-word Campaign say,

If you want to urge the Times to get with the times and stop using the i-word–and you have a Twitter account–please cut, paste, and send out this tweet:

@nytimes drop the i-word completely. #droptheiword

Baby denied NHS operation due to parents’ immigration status

A baby in Portsmouth has been denied operation on the NHS due to her parents’ immigration status. Sanika Ahmed suffered nerve damage in her arm during birth, and if the operation is not carried out within the next four weeks, her arm will be left paralysed. Her father was working in the UK legally until his work permit expired in 2009. Both parents are currently in the process of applying for leave to remain. The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Middlesex say that the parents must pay for Sanika’s treatment, or wait until they have been granted leave to remain in the UK. If are not allowed to stay, the future for a girl with a paralysed arm in Bangladesh is not particularly bright. You can read more here.

Pensioner dies after care agency shut down

It’s difficult to know where to start with this. The bare facts, as reported by the BBC website, are that an eighty-year old woman was left without food, water, or medication for nine days after the company responsible for her care was raided and shut down by the UK Border Agency. Sadly, she later died in hospital. The agency, it seems, had been illegally employing folks without papers, although I don’t think that much has been officially confirmed. There are so many things about this tragedy that make me angry. First off, care work is one of the most poorly paid jobs going. A 2010 report by the Low Pay Commission found that 9% of care workers were paid less than the minimum wage. Many were not being reimbursed for their travel costs. No surprise there, as caring has been – and still is – associated with women, and what has traditionally been considered ‘women’s work’ is always more poorly paid than traditionally masculine roles, no matter how important it may be. In addition, few care workers are union members, and as private companies have taken over – and made to compete for – the provision of care, this has led to reduced pay and poorer working conditions. Second, migrants without papers are one of the most easily exploited groups of people – lacking any official means to support themselves, they have to take any work they are offered, and their illegal status means that they have no power over their pay or working conditions. They cannot join a union to fight for a better deal, and they cannot complain if their jobs fail to meet the legally required standards. Third, the existence of such a vulnerable group of people, living in the shadows of our society, makes it harder for those with papers. Their pay and working conditions are driven down by the exploitation of illegal migrants, and they must now compete for work with people who can be paid less, made to work longer hours, and so on – people whom, from a certain perspective, it makes more sense to employ. And there we have it: a matrix of oppression, which leads to the various sufferings of care workers, folks without papers, and those who require care.

The TSA revises itself, sort of

From the NY Times:

Transportation Security Administration officers who are in a behavioral detection program designed to spot terrorists at airports have been ordered to undergo special training after officers in Boston were accused of racially profiling passengers.

All officers at Boston Logan International Airport, where the profiling is said to have occurred, and managers of similar programs nationwide must attend a four-hour class on why racial profiling is not acceptable and why it is not an effective way to spot terrorists.

Not to criticize Janet Napolitano, but it takes a lot of optimism to think you can change anyone’s mind on anything much in 4 hours. Beliefs are not like jelly beans that can be scooped out and through away. They get invidious connections with all sort of other things, and they tend to reoccur. Just think how “Obama is not a US citizen” connects up in people’s heads. For example, producing a birth certificate is not going to move it.

I hope they add in a good bit of behavior modification along with the facts and figures. E.g., here’s what racial profiling looks like; keep it up and you’ll be fired.

How do we know?

A couple of weeks ago I posted a claim by a muslim man that his 4 hour detention at Miami airport was racist. That claim was challenged. How could I know his account was right? Well, I still don’t have more evidence for that case, but there is new evidence of racial profiling in another part of the TSA (see below). To many of us, this will be no surprise.

Here’s a tentatve Account of how and what we know: whether or not we’ve read up on the theory, many women in philosophy are all too familiar with the operations of implicit bias in people with power. We have a practical expertise at spotting its operation.

How to turn this into an argument that could support interpretations is something I am thinking about. Maybe someone could help?

The new news about the TSA in Boston:

BOSTON — More than 30 federal officers in an airport program intended to spot telltale mannerisms of potential terrorists say the operation has become a magnet for racial profiling, targeting not only Middle Easterners but also blacks, Hispanics and other minorities.

In interviews and internal complaints, officers from the Transportation Security Administration’s “behavior detection” program at Logan International Airport in Boston asserted that passengers who fit certain profiles — Hispanics traveling to Miami, for instance, or blacks wearing baseball caps backward — are much more likely to be stopped, searched and questioned for “suspicious” behavior.

“They just pull aside anyone who they don’t like the way they look — if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry, or if they are Hispanic,” said one white officer, who along with four others spoke with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity.

The T.S.A. said on Friday that it had opened an investigation into the claims.

Street Harassment Film

When Sofie Peeters moved to Brussels for a film degree, she found herself confronted with a depressing problem almost every time she left her front door. Walking around her local neighbourhood, the mixed, working-class district of Anneessens, at any time of day she would be greeted with cat-calls, wolf-whistles and jeers of “slag” and “how much do you cost?”

Sick of wondering whether it was her fault for wearing particular clothes, she made her end of year film on the topic, armed with a hidden camera to record the street harassment.

For more, go here. Thanks, A!

Bernard Mboueyeu

Sad, sad news – Bernard Mboueyeu a journalist asylum-seeker from the Cameroon, has tried to commit suicide for the second time, rather than be deported, after his asylum application was turned down. Up until recently, Mboueyeu was living in Sheffield with his spouse and family. He is currently detained in Campsfield ‘immigration centre’. He fled his homeland after being tortured by President Paul Biya’s forces for reporting on students being attacked during the demos in 2006. He married charity worker, Sharon, in 2010. But the UK border agency has decreed that he must return to Cameroon and apply for a spouse visa there. He fears imprisonment, torture and death if returned. Minister David Blunkett has tried to help stop Bernard’s deportation. But Immigration Minister, Damien Green has refused to intervene.

There’s more from the Guardian here.

A short snippet of interview footage:

An immigrant in limbo between two Americas

“Maria Gomez, a UCLA graduate with a master’s in architecture, grew up believing in the American Dream while living in its shadows as an illegal immigrant.”

An immigrant in limbo between two Americas, by Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times (June 8, 2012)

Click here for this important, timely, moving story

… makes me think of my grandparents migration, my parents work, and how my situation(s) in the world relates to the situations of others… What do readers think of Maria Gomez? Does this story about her relate in any particular ways to your views of certain stereotypes or your moral judgments about immigration?