What's the Matter with Picking on Kansas

Last week’s Economist has a book review of Philip Legrain’s Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them. As I understand it Legrain argues that immigration does not do economic harm to receiving countries and is highly economically beneficial for sending countries. The reviewer jumps off from Legrain’s economic analysis to talk about the intersection of anti-immigrant sentiments and racism. In the U.S. most low-skilled immigrants (and I think this is the relevant group to be thinking about since it seems that most of the anti-immigrant sentiment focuses on this group) are non-white. The same is not true in the U.K. where the addition of poorer countries to the EU has lead to an influx of lesser skilled immigrants from Poland and elsewhere. The reviewer contrasts the lack of protest about the incorporation of European immigrants to the reception of muslim immigrants.

In the U.S. the rhetoric around immigration (particularly undocumented immigration) focuses heavily on the effect that they have on our economy and society. They take our jobs. They lower our wages. They leach off our social services that our tax dollars pay for. The evidence suggests that these effects are either entirely non-existent or at the least significantly less strong effects than lots of immigration opponents seem to think. Still, these sorts of images are used to reinforce exclusionary politics. And as The Economist points, racism will likely continue to drive immigration policy in rich countries for the foreseeable future.

So I could take a stand here and rail against the racist hate-mongers who drive these policies of anti-immigrant-who-is-other but the problem of bigotry is an interesting one because eventually you realize that there are a lot of people living in glass houses. A few days ago I pulled into the parking structure at UCLA and noticed a truck with a bumper sticker that displayed the word Kansas in big letters and then in smaller ones underneath “as bigoted as you think.” This strikes me as a pretty typical liberal holier than thou attitude. I have a number of acquaintances all too ready to hold court on what’s the matter with not just Kansas, but the entirety of the midwest. Apparently bigotry is just fine as long as it’s aimed toward “red-necks.” I’m not sure that I have an erudite commentary that would coherently link these two threads of thought. But I am quite convinced that they are linked, that unchallenged denigration of “other” is no more acceptable from the urban coastal elite than it is from the middle of the country. Moreover I remain unconvinced that Kansas (by which I mean any of the “red” states) is particularly more bigoted than anywhere else. Southern California isn’t precisely a uniform tableau of tolerance. There is, perhaps, a more heterogeneous set of hatred here than elsewhere but I’m not quite sure that I’m confident enough in the material my house is constructed of to be throwing stones at others.

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