Monday, March 20, 2006

Running on fumes

Michael Leahy has a fascinating profile of the Herndon, Va., Minutemen in Sunday's Washington Post Magazine that at least begins to peel away the layers of the group's motivations and makes clear to what extent they are fueled by the fumes of racial stereotypes.

This comes out particularly in Leahy's discussions with George Taplin, chief organizer of the Herndon day-labor watches:
Meanwhile, it infuriates him that local politicians refuse to admit that the presence of undocumented day laborers has created slums in Herndon, ushering in squalor, crime, danger. Take a ride down Alabama Drive, near the former day laborer site, he says. "Nobody in Herndon will walk around those apartments at night; they're afraid . . . Here's a question: Would [people] walk over to that public park behind [the apartments] where all the drug deals go on at night? Would they let their daughter walk over there at night alone?"

Town authorities deny the park is crime-infested or riddled with drug sales, he knows. But he's convinced it's political denial.

Are you saying that undocumented Latino day laborers are involved in drug deals in the park? he is asked.

"Oh, I didn't say it was," he replies. "I just said, Are you, would you allow--" He pauses in mid-sentence.

There could be Anglos in the park, too, right? he is asked.

"Oh, no," he answers. "I can tell you that. Because no Anglos will go to that park."

So, who is selling drugs there?

"It's part of the Hispanic community. It's probably gang-related. MS-13."

Are day laborers selling drugs in the park?

"I didn't say they were."

(You may recall that the Minutemen have a history of paranoia about MS-13.)

What's especially noteworthy about the piece is that it becomes clear that the Minutemen Leahy interviews are primarily driven by the perception that Hispanic immigrants are bringing crime to their previously "safe" (read: white) neighborhoods. A reliance on ill-grounded stereotypes may or may not be evidence of racism, but it certainly is characteristic of knee-jerk nativists.

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