Monday, July 16, 2007

Maury County official: "We won't have a White House, we'll have a Brown House"

Maury County

Maury commissioner's skin-color comment implies preferred position of whites

Multiple negative remarks about Hispanics made by local officials in Middle Tennessee

This is not a story about what ordinary people say, which has been covered previously here. This is a story about the statements of some of Middle Tennessee's elected officials and public servants.

This Tennessean article quotes Maury County Commissioner Bob Farmer as stating a preference of skin color in American political life, in the context of Sheriff Enoch George's recent arrests of underground expatriates:
"[Sheriff Enoch George] wears cowboy boots everywhere, including with the suit he's wearing to a Safety Committee meeting on a recent afternoon. At the meeting, he has a special announcement: 13 illegal immigrants have been arrested after his men went out with immigration officials looking for a Juan Villa, who is wanted in the rape of a 15-year-old girl."

"Villa has not been found yet, George says, but the commissioners are still pleased. One asks for an 'illegal' section on George's monthly reports. Another commissioner, Bob Farmer, says after the meeting that if it weren't for people like George, 'we won't have a White House, we'll have a Brown House.'"
Farmer's sentiment, which refers to a skin color commonly associated with Hispanics*, is part of the already-documented effect of last year's political weaponization of immigration, namely the "fear [that] the sheer number of Hispanic migrants will drown American culture," and "warnings of impending race wars as hordes of Hispanics bent on re-conquering America convert middle-class suburbs into Mexican barrios" (story here).

At the national and even the local level, there were warnings about the cost of a spiraling negativity towards Hispanics in general in the context of immigration. In 2005, U.S. Representative Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) called on Nashville's business community to "stand up and make a difference, otherwise the debate on this could get out of control in a hurry" (story here). That same year, former Bush White House official Leslie Sanchez warned Republicans against fanning the intensity of immigration politics "into an anti-Hispanic free-for-all" (story here). Acknowledging and apologizing for that free-for-all in Nashville last Saturday was U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), who "[asked] a Hispanic man onstage for forgiveness for the negative tone Washington's immigration debate has taken," and said, "'We want you in America. We love you and ask you to forgive us for these negative comments'" (story here).

With the "Brown House" remark, Farmer has put Maury County on a list of Middle Tennessee counties whose officials have made negative comments about Hispanics in the past year - including Robertson County, Davidson County, and DeKalb County (see map and links to stories below).

Coopertown, Tennessee: A Robertson County Chancery Court rules that Coopertown Mayor Danny Crosby encouraged police officers "to issue multiple citations to Hispanic individuals due to the likelihood that these persons would not contest the citations in court." The Mayor's alleged justification was that Hispanics were "mostly illegal anyway" (story here). (The suspended Mayor was reinstated, because even though it was determined that the Mayor did give instructions to target Hispanics, it was not proven that this and other questionable directives were carried out.) November 2006

Smithville, Tennessee: The first Hispanic police chief in Middle Tennessee resigns, citing prejudicial behavior by city officials as one of the reasons for his departure after only a few months on the job. One of the problematic comments cited in his resignation letter was, "I am going to buy that Cuban a boat and send him back to where he came from." August 2006

Nashville, Tennessee: Metro Councilman J.B. Loring uses the words "people of a foreign race" to describe some of his constituents. July 2006

Springfield, Tennessee: Alderman Ken Cherry describes a "growing Hispanic problem" and proposes banning Hispanics from city parks. July 2006

Last year, in a different context, Vanderbilt Professor John Thatamanil stated that "politicians who can see the many shades and hues of American life only as exotic, foreign or even un-American have no role in shaping our common future" (see story here).

In addition to Rep. Cooper, mentioned above, there are other Tennessee officials who have publicly refused to succumb to hostility against Hispanics, and in the same time period in which the negative episodes above occured. A few examples include the Marshall County Library Board of Directors, which defended its trilingual Puerto Rican librarian, her Spanish-language story hour, and the library's multilingual collection (story here); Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell, whose veto saved Nashville from being the largest U.S. city with a language ban (story here); and Governor Phil Bredesen's comments in advance of the 2007 legislative session that "Illegal immigration is bad. It is OK to fight it ... [b]ut when that starts slopping over into ‘We’re opposed to anybody who speaks Spanish or we’re opposed to anybody who’s not American-born,’ I think you get into very, very bad territory. And there’s been some of that'" (story here).

As for the possibility of Hispanics in the White House, Commissioner Bob Farmer may have something in common with a majority of Hispanic voters, according to this story: they haven't heard of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, the first Hispanic to seek the Democratic presidential nomination (2008 campaign web site here). Richardson was a featured speaker at the Tennessee Democractic Party's annual Jackson Day fundraiser in June.

* "Hispanic" does not describe a single color or race (see Aunt B.'s pamphlet proposal here). And not all Hispanics are immigrants (about half of the Hispanics in Tennessee were born in the USA - story here).

Maury County Commissioner Bob Farmer

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