Sunday, March 7, 2021

Two Documentaries That Help Explain What's Happening Today

I recently watched a documentary series on Netflix titled, Amend: The Fight For America. Will Smith narrates the history of the 14th Amendment, specifically Section 1.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

If you recall, that is the amendment Trump said he could get rid of with an executive order. But like so many other forms of nonsense that came out of his mouth, that was a lie.

As this series documents, the history of the United States has been a struggle to actualize the ideals set forth in the 14th Amendment. And, as we see today, that struggle continues.

It was in the midst of the episode on the 14th Amendment's impact on immigration that I first learned about the largest lynching in American history. It wasn't what I expected.


While trying to learn more about that incident, I came across a PBS documentary titled, The Chinese Exclusion Act.


I have to admit that, while I knew bits and pieces of this story, the overall look at this country's history with Chinese Americans was not only new to me, but I was astounded at how so much of what is happening today is echoed in this particular story. 

For example, I was reminded of the fact that when Christopher Columbus stumbled onto these shores, he was in search of a trade route across the ocean to Asia—particularly China. While Nixon has been heralded for opening up our relationship to China after the communist revolution, not many of us know the role that Abraham Lincoln played in securing trade with China following the Opium Wars. In other words, trade with China has been a central focus of this country from the beginning

But it was in the demonization of the Chinese that so much of what we're hearing today had its origins. The lynchings discussed in the video above were part of a terror campaign waged against the Chinese in the West that resembles what happened to African Americans in the Jim Crow south. 

The racist rhetoric we're hearing from right wingers these days about immigrants has its roots in these events from our past. That is important to know as conservatives launch an all-out demonization of China, which has led to a significant rise of hate crimes against Asian-Americans over the last year. 

You'll need a Netflix subscription to watch Amend: The Fight For America, but The Chinese Exclusion Act is available on PBS's web site. I highly recommend these documentaries to everyone. I guarantee that watching them will not only make you smarter, they'll put what is happening today into historical context—which is always a good thing. 

4 comments:

  1. I think we're about to complete a cycle. Allow me to explain.

    In the 1960s, "conservatives" in America proved themselves to be on the wrong side of racism: actively hateful, actively trying to harm non-whites.

    Ronald Reagan came along, and for all his trickle-down nonsense, I think his real appeal was that he figured out a way to be racist that didn't make a person look like a monster: deny the racism, make like whatever you're trying to do is about a strong economy, offer justifications (it's fine if they're flimsy, the point is that you've offered justifications), and never break kayfabe. It worked spectacularly; for years and years Democrats tried to offer economic incentives to win Reagan Democrats back, but nothing worked.

    By the 1990s, you had the Newt Gingrich types saying (almost) out loud what Reagan was denying. The "out loud" part started getting loud enough that Dubya had to start talking about "compassionate conservatism", with the tacit admission that ordinary conservatism doesn't involve compassion. Even so, Dubya was good enough to still make sane noises about Muslims and the like.

    Then Obama became president, and the racism against him got harder and harder to deny. Then Trump becamse president, and the racists dropped any pretense of being anything but. They ended up more or less where they were in the 1960s, as unabashed champions of hatred. We can expect that the Republicans will, within a few election cycles, find a new Reaganesque figure who shows them a way to disguise the hatred once more. The question is how well they will succeed; it will be necessary to repudiate Trump's white supremacist wing, once they're small enough.

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  3. I only learned about the “Mexican Repatriation” a couple of years ago:
    “ The Mexican Repatriation was a mass deportation of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans from the United States between 1929 and 1936. Estimates of how many were repatriated range from 400,000 to 2,000,000. An estimated sixty percent of those deported were birthright citizens of the United States. Because the forced movement was based on ethnicity, and frequently ignored citizenship, some scholars argue the process meets modern legal definitions of ethnic cleansing.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_Repatriation

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