With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, I don’t know what makes someone a redneck. But, in the immigration debate, I have a pretty good idea of what makes someone a racist.
You won’t learn it from listening to how the issue is discussed on conservative talk radio. Or as I call it: “Immigration for Dummies.”
For instance, many right-wing radio hosts are in denial and insist they have absolutely no idea how the GOP got labeled as “racist.” They assume it’s simply because they want to stop illegal immigration, most of which comes from Mexico and Latin America. It’s as if Republicans were just sipping iced tea at the Lincoln Day Banquet and a stranger came up and hung a sign on them with that awful word on it. They don’t deserve to be saddled with that title, the hosts say.
C’mon, folks. Let’s get real. Republicans are always preaching to the rest of us about how we need to take responsibility for our actions. So it’s only fair that they own up to the offensive things they’ve said and done over the years when it comes to immigrants – both legal and illegal.
Recently, a reader defended President Donald Trump for dividing families through deportations and then put me on notice: “Please don’t respond to me if you’re going to call me a racist.”
That was not my plan. Generally speaking, the “racist” label fits if you can’t talk about the immigration issue without describing immigrants by using a d-word: dangerous, defective, diseased, damaged or detrimental to society.
For example, there is nothing wrong with running for president and making border security a major part of your campaign.
But you might be a racist if you say something like: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
A member of Congress is free to speculate about what the America of tomorrow will look like given changing demographics.
But you might be a racist if, like Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, you say that you’re not worried about whites becoming a minority because “Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other before that happens.”
It’s fine if, as a reader, you fire off an email to a Mexican-American columnist saying that Trump should deport every illegal immigrant.
But you might be a racist if you make value judgments and declare that you want these folks removed because “Mexicans are such SCUMBAGS.”
It’s understandable that one could worry about the strain that immigration puts on our environment, resources, infrastructure and programs.
But you might be a racist if you claim that “Mexicans will destroy us just by being here.”
It comes with the territory if you tell that columnist that you take exception to something he has written.
But you might be a racist if you tell him to “get the (expletive) out of here and go back to your drug-infested thieves of the world.”
It’s acceptable if you’re an elected official who is passionate about patching up a porous border and fixing a broken immigration system.
But you might be a racist if you compare immigrants to – drawing from actual quotes – cows, rats, dogs, grasshoppers, cockroaches or livestock.
Americans should be able to have a real discussion about whether too much immigration causes overpopulation.
But you might be a racist if you use insulting language about how the supposed promiscuity of Latinas leads to high reproductive rates.
Finally, it’s natural to get angry when horrendous crimes are committed by illegal immigrants who shouldn’t even be in this country. The heartbreaking case of a 14-year-old girl in Rockville, Maryland, who was allegedly sexually assaulted by two older students who are here illegally is just one recent example.
But you might be a racist if you use tragedies like this to make sweeping generalizations about whole groups of people and “Willie Hortonize” every illegal immigrant in this country as menaces to society who are prone to violence and predisposed to engage in criminal activity – even while many Americans continue to invite these brutes into our homes so they can raise our children while we go to work.
In the immigration debate, you don’t get called a racist by accident. You have to put in the effort. Sadly, a lot of Americans pull it off.
Ruben Navarrette can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.