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April 29th, 2010


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03:16 pm - Musing on Arizona and Bigotry
The vile immigration law recently passed in Arizona doesn't particularly surprise me, because I visited Arizona in the early 90s with my friend Aaron, and this law reminds me of my visit to Tucson. I was in Arizona for a few days and visited by Arizona and Tucson. My primary memory of Phoenix is of the ugliest city that I've ever seen, which seemed to largely consist of freeways, used car lots and pest control agencies. Given that I was living in LA at the time (which is exceptionally ugly during the day, and deceptively lovely at night), the fact that I found Phoenix ugly is particularly striking.

However, what I most remember about visiting Arizona was a day I spent in Tucson. It was clear that there was something seriously wrong with that city when we drove in – we can in through the hispanic & native american slum. It was quite literally that – multiple square miles of run down depressing poverty where everyone seemed to be either hispanic or native american. Then, there was the downtown – a large, well off, and generally pleasant and artsy city, where the vast majority of people were white, with a small number of asian and black people. There were a few hispanic or native american service workers evident, but not many. The downtown seemed far more functional than many US downtowns, with an abundance of high-end galleries (many of which featured native american art and native american designs being sold by white people) and a wide variety of nice-looking restaurants.

However, the single most striking thing I saw in Tucson was the downtown bus mall. Like Portland, and many other cities, Tucson has (or at least in the early 90s had) a central area where all of the city buses converged. It was an area several blocks long with what looked like several stops for every bus route in the city. It was a utilitarian but not ugly area with abundant shade and metal benches. However, what struck me was the people. At one end of this multiple block strip were a group of people waiting for the bus who were predominantly white, but with a moderate number of black and asian people. People were talking and interacting with one another to a degree common in fairly functional cities. Then, literally more than a block away was another group of people – all of whom appeared to be hispanic or native american, who were also interacting with one another. There was literally no one in between these two groups. At the time, I was considerably less aware of racial issues than I am now, but I still remember those two groups of people who did not interact or even glance at one another. I was vividly reminded of images I had seen of the pre-desegregation South. The bus mall in Tucson is my most vivid memory of Arizona and also why their recent immigration law did not surprise me.
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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:April 30th, 2010 10:20 am (UTC)
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I was heartened to read yesterday in the Washington Post that the Justice Department may sue Arizona to overturn that stupid law. A coalition of civil rights groups is also going to court over the law, too.

Since the law is not going to take effect until summer, there is an excellent chance it could be tied up in court by then.
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From:kynn
Date:April 30th, 2010 11:56 am (UTC)
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I live in Tucson and so maybe I am kind of biased here, but I think you are kind of doing a disservice to this town -- which has been one of the centers of opposition to this and other anti-immigrant laws.

Tucson is not, of course, above criticism -- but blaming Raul Grijalva's hometown for SB 1070 is pretty misguidedly incorrect and displays a profound ignorance of political realities in the Old Pueblo.
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From:heron61
Date:April 30th, 2010 07:58 pm (UTC)
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I can easily see individuals, even many individuals in Tucson opposing bigotry, but what I saw when I was there was a city with deeply entrenched segregation. However, that may have far more to do with economics and the desires of the wealthy than any popular opinion. I also have no idea if that's changed in the course of 18 years, but I also know that I've never seen anything like the sort of segregation that I saw there.
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From:kynn
Date:April 30th, 2010 08:36 pm (UTC)
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so if it may or may not have changed in the last 18 years, what exactly does it have to do with this bill?

i'm lost on the point you're trying to make beyond "hey i have unrelated anecdotal evidence from 18 years ago, and so therefore ..." -- actually i can't even get that far as to fill in what goes beyond the "therefore."
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From:heron61
Date:April 30th, 2010 09:24 pm (UTC)
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What I know is in Tucson, in 1992, I saw a level of segregation that I had not seen outside of film footage of the 1950s South. I didn't explore Phoenix sufficiently to see anything similar, but it wouldn't suprise me to see it there. My point is nothing more than in a social climate like that, a law like the one passed does not surprise me.

That doesn't mean that many people in Arizona don't oppose that law or that everyone there is a bigot. Institutional racism is not the same as most people being bigots. I did not see evidence of widespread bigotry, what I saw was a level of institutional racism at least as bad as what I saw in a few of the worst small towns in CA that I've visited, and worse than anything I've seen in any other city.
[User Picture]
From:kynn
Date:April 30th, 2010 09:54 pm (UTC)
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... at the bus station, you mean?
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From:heron61
Date:April 30th, 2010 10:10 pm (UTC)
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The large slum inhabited almost exclusively by hispanic and native american people formed a rather a significant part of my impression - especially since outside of the bus mall very few of these people were visible in the downtown. It's clear from what I've recently read about Arizona that Tucson is not the origin of the deeply entrenched racism that seems endemic in that state, but it is also just as clearly not immune.

To be honest, Arizona, like Texas and the entire South, looks like an excellent place to leave - I don't see the political and social polarization of the US getting better in the next decade or so, and if we're really lucky the reactionaries will become less powerful on a nation level, but part of this happening will almost certainly involve concentrating their power in the more solidly red states. If we're not lucky, the entire US may be a good place to leave, but I don't think this is going to happen - but I could easily be wrong.
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From:kynn
Date:April 30th, 2010 10:34 pm (UTC)
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silly me, i forgot that visiting an area 18 years ago for one day and observing a bus station is all that it takes for privileged white dudes from another state to make authoritative statements about complex social issues.

To be honest, Arizona, like Texas and the entire South, looks like an excellent place to leave...

yeah what's wrong with all those stupid native americans and latin@s, why don't they just leave arizona? well, i guess at least the white people can do that, amirite? hooray for the privilege of easy geographic mobility!

ps: i'm white too, but you really should check your assumptions which say that parachuting into a region for a day and seeing poor people of color gives you multiple decades' worth of expertise on a topic. things are not as simple as you think, especially if you advocate "leaving" as such a facile solution. check your white privilege here.

what did the poor POC say about tucson, arizona, and racism when you talked to them 18 years ago? i mean, you did talk to them about it, right, instead of just forming your own opinions based on your white-man powers of observation and infallible conclusion-drawing?
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From:heron61
Date:May 1st, 2010 10:15 pm (UTC)
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I'm not denying that many people can't afford to move. All I'm saying is that it definitely looks like either the entire nation is on the verge of a (hopefully) brief surge of racist populism or (more likely IMHO) this surge will mostly be limited to the most regressive portions of the US, and that it's going to be increasingly unpleasant and perhaps even increasingly dangerous there for anyone who isn't part of that racist populism. Leaving certainly won't be possible for many, but such places (most definitely including Arizona) look to be getting worse, and I see plenty of evidence that this will continue for at least the next few years, with no reasonable chance for improvement until the current madness burns itself out.

All I'm ultimately saying is that Arizona looked remarkably segregated to me 18 years ago, and is now passing multiple laws that are horrifying even from the PoV of the institutional racism found throughout the US. The opinion I formed of Arizona in 1992 has been confirmed by various news reports I've heard about racism (and the general reactionary social climate) in Arizona in the years in between 1992 and today - it looks to me to be a deeply racist state that's in the process of getting even worse.
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From:kynn
Date:May 2nd, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC)
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...it looks to me to be a deeply racist state that's in the process of getting even worse.

Arizona's population is more diverse and less segregated than Oregon's.

i mean, for serious, you guys are 93% white there. we're 25% mexican-american in Arizona, and that number is on the increase.

isn't oregon the most racist state in the union or something? isn't portland less integrated than tucson if you look at the facts and figures?

isn't it real easy for you to sit back and ignore problems in your own backyard while tut-tutting at tucson arizona based on your very privileged white observation of people of color 18 years ago?

maybe just maybe a discussion of arizona's racial politics needs to start with facts and not self-righteous white out-of-staters declaring that the state is "deeply racist" and "getting worse." educate yourself first!
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:May 2nd, 2010 09:45 pm (UTC)
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FWIW, the 2009 state figures have Oregon being 90% white.

More to the point, there isn't a massively racist immigration law or
equally racist and appalling laws surrounding education. Oregon has a deeply racist past, but the laws and practices have changed. I'm not denying that Oregon (like every other state in the US) has serious problems with racism. However, claiming that Oregon is as or more racist than a state that has just passed several utterly vile laws. You can be in denial about the fact that you live in one of the most racist states in the US, but the facts remain - Arizona is a state firmly in the grip of the Republican party, which is the party of racism. It's a center for Tea Party activity, and it's a state that recently passed some of the most racist legislation in the US. Oregon is none of these things.
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From:kynn
Date:May 2nd, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
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this is the same self-righteous argument that says that the south is more racist than the north, while ignoring the fact that the reason there aren't as many people of color in the north is because of ignorance of racist sundown-town laws that are in their "deeply racist past."

meanwhile, 10 hate groups in Oregon, 15 in Arizona according to splc. 4 hate groups centered in portland, 1 hate group centered in tucson.

oregon's got 3.8 million people, arizona's got 6.5. looks to me like you've got more hate groups per capita also.
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From:heron61
Date:May 2nd, 2010 10:10 pm (UTC)
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So, the fact that most people in your state consistently vote for openly bigoted candidates who pass openly bigoted laws has absolutely no bearing on how racist the populace (as a whole) or the government of Arizona are - interesting logic there.

Edit: Oregon has an exceptionally racist past - Arizona has an exceptionally racist present day - in Oregon things have been improving wrt race for at least the past 15 years, in Arizona racial problems are clearly getting worse, and of late they've been clear getting worse at a rapid rate.

Edited at 2010-05-02 10:13 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:kynn
Date:May 2nd, 2010 10:33 pm (UTC)
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didn't say that.

i did, however, note that my city doesn't vote for the openly bigoted candidates and oppose the openly bigoted laws.

but hey don't let that stop you from drawing conclusions from a bus station visit you took 18 years ago, and saw with racist white eyeballs.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:May 2nd, 2010 10:47 pm (UTC)
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So, the large & obviously segregated slum I saw was clearly an optical illusion - I suppose there are points of view where that idea makes sense.

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