Saturday, May 2, 2009

Swine Flu Racism

Monica Yancey teaches at the University of New Mexico, Central New Mexico Community College and Bernalillo High School. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico and blogs at Monica's Universe, where this essay originally appeared.

The Swine Flu is creating an excuse for heightened fear, anger and hatred toward Mexican people (regardless of citizenship or place of birth).

I work in a high school where about half of the students are Mexican (I live in New Mexico, after all). The past few days, however, this isn't perceived as positive and/or neutral to the non-Mexican students at the high school. I have heard, on more than one occasion, a non-Mexican student say to a Mexican student something along the lines of, "Watch out for him, don't let him touch you, he'll give you Swine Flu." I respond with something profound like, "Guys, knock it off. Not cool."

I hate the idea of a young adult walking around campus all day being teased and treated like s/he has some sort of deadly disease, treated like an untouchable.

Anger, hatred and fear against Mexican people exist in the United States. Swine Flu is just a new excuse for those irrational feelings. As it turns out, my little classroom is not the only place where the Swine Flu is making life harder for Mexican people in the United States.

Some conservative talk show hosts have found that the Swine Flu magically validates racist sentiments and race based conspiracy theories targeted toward Mexican people.

These reasons, and many more, are why I was very pleased with Barack Obama this past news conference where he used the words "exploit" and "illegal immigration" back to back. Instead of being suspicious of and hating Mexican people in this country, he is opening up the dialogue: we are exploiting a huge work force by denying citizenship, rights, visibility, and so on. It's unbelievable, actually, that there is hatred—when really, if anyone should be angry, it is those who are continually exploited.

How sad that a serious health crisis is only an excuse for racism and not for care, concern and love.

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