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Republican-Sanctioned Stereotypes

Roberto Rodriguez

Many Republicans and conservatives do not seem to know, or appear to not have the faintest clue, as to what is a racially insulting and dehumanizing image. At least they feign ignorance.

It is the same ignorance that was used to claim that there was nothing wrong with usage of the "Black Sambo" or "Chinaman" images of a generation ago. It is the same ignorance that was used to claim there was nothing wrong with using a Mexican bandit - the "Frito Bandito" - to sell Frito Lay's corn chips. And then came the 1960s.

These people that feign ignorance nowadays always seem to work for political campaigns. Unless the topic is sports mascots. For example, the 1960s bypassed the Washington Redskins and Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians. The dehumanization of American Indians, particularly in the sports universe, has been normalized.

That aside, the rest of these operatives seem to work on political campaigns. But they are not ignorant; they know precisely how to tap into deep-seeded fears and how to stir up profound hate.

The 1988 Willie Horton ad by the Bush I campaign is always cited as a prime example of what campaigns are willing to do to scare the electorate: associate Blacks with crimes. Fast forward to 2010 and fear [and hate] of brown people has also become acceptable and normalized. Nevada Senate hopeful Sharron Angle's campaign has exploited images of Mexicans coming across the border. However, her explanation is that they actually may be Asian. She made that explanation in front of little children, mostly Mexican, telling them that they too looked Asian.

Across the country, "illegal aliens" have become this year's election year political piñatas, particularly for those on, though not limited to, the extreme political right wing. This year, a campaign is not complete without an ad of invading brown hordes. Fear [and hate] works in any part of the country.

If one were to substitute the words illegal aliens for say Blacks or Jews, etc - all that is said about so-called "illegal aliens" - would be deemed shocking and socially unacceptable. And yet the use of the dehumanizing terms "illegal aliens" and "wetbacks" are but code words for Mexicans... regardless of where they were born. Thus politicians venomously speak of illegal aliens and even wetbacks, lest they be accused of being racists. The use of such terms, as opposed to "Mexicans," permits them to believe that they have been granted a racism exemption card.

In Arizona, this is a canard. Here, political operatives have resurrected an image right out of the 1960s. The unflattering image is that of an unsmiling Mexican man, with a massive, oversized moustache. It was produced (photoshopped) and paid for not by Tea Party types or minutemen or vigilantes, but by none other than the Arizona Republican Party (ARP). The image is that of Congressman Raul Grijalva. It is not a generic hit piece; it is a campaign flier mailed out on behalf of his opponent.

The ARP denies that the flier is racist (surprise). Their rationale is that Grijalva has a moustache and he uses it as his campaign logo. A look at the two images will not create confusion. His own image is not offensive. However, the Republican version unleashes a blatant Mexican stereotype made to elicit fear, hate and revulsion. The truth is, conservatives have targeted Grijalva - head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus - for his stand against SB 1070, the racial profiling measure that has been temporarily struck down by the courts, and also been denounced by UN Rapporteurs.

Of course, his opponents have a right to boycott Grijalva all they want and they have the right to make any [distorted] claim they wish. That does not mean the rest of us have lost the ability to see a blatant stereotype in the ARP fliers. In reality, the flier projects a stereotype even more vile and sinister than the Frito Bandito.

That in 2010 such stereotypes can be created and defended tells us something about our nation's state of affairs. It can be dismissed as just an extension of Arizona's extremist politics, including Sheriff Joe Arpaio's call for an army of vigilantes to prevent "illegals" from "stealing" the 2010 election. It's even more insidious than that. It is proof that the anti-illegal immigrant hate is actually good old-fashioned anti-Mexican hate, regardless of place of birth.

It is easy to see why Chief Wahoo has survived into the 21st century; apparently, Grijalva too is being honored by his opponents.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Roberto Rodriguez

Roberto Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Arizona and a member of the Mexican American Studies Community Advisory Board, can be reached at:

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