image courtesy of Paul L McLord
Hyphen's newest blogger is a happy first: Dexter will be beefing up our comparative race perspective, especially on issues jointly affecting the Asian American and black communities. Also throw in his transnational perspective as an American living abroad in Japan and hip-hop expertise (Dexter runs The Mixtape Show, the #1 ranked hip-hop show in Apple's iTunes Music store), and you're looking at a classic Hyphen overachiever who is very close to out-Asian American'ing us all. Well played, Dexter.
So, this Arizona law is alternately familiar and weird to me.
When I first heard about it, I got this weird déjà-vu feeling where I kept thinking that I’d seen this law somewhere before. Then I realized that I had.
- I lived in Japan for the past two years, where there is a law that requires anyone who is not a Japanese National (don’t get me started on that definition) to carry either a passport or an Alien Registration Card at all times. And while it’s not technically legal for police to stop you and check your ID for “looking foreign,” mainstream xenophobia and a weird loophole in the law allow for it. This ensures that everyone -- whites, blacks, Indians, Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, and hell, weird-looking Japanese people -- gets stopped at some point on suspicion of having non-Yamato blood coursing through their veins.
But I also find this situation sort of odd since we've heard an awful lot about how reprehensible/illegal/in general not good the law is, but we haven’t heard of what systems like this are like when they’re actually enforced: what they do to your mind when you’re on the receiving end.
Which is weird, because this isn’t anything new. Actually, to a lot of us, it should kinda ring a bell.
This is simply a better, faster, harder, stronger version of a system that has proven effective in breeding fear and distrust between police, citizen, and immigrant communities in Japan (and other places with varying tones of difference -- but I only know about the US and Japan, so I won’t speak more broadly) -- except this time, instead of a gentlemen’s agreement, it’s a full-blown law. And while the law is now on pause thanks to a temporary injunction, that hold is just that -- temporary -- and we are still looking at the very real possibility of the hammer dropping soon.
So, for those of you who are unfortunate enough to be nonwhite and live in Arizona, or any one of the number of states that are thinking of introducing similar legislation, I will tell you what it’s like living under this law.
In a word, it sucks.
This law is going to make the act of going outside scary. This is because you now know that police need even less of a reason to make your day hell -- and you can really only make up for so much by wearing nicer clothes and “talking white.” It's not such a hot idea to go out anyway, because your neighborhood is going to get pretty unsafe, as people will be afraid to call the police when a real crime happens -- which is going to open the door for more and more violent things going down.
This law is going to make you antisocial. You will come up with vague yet clever excuses ahead of time to tell the girl/guy you like as to why you don’t want to go to the restaurant on the nice side of town, because getting stopped by the police for being brown right when your date is going well is really, really embarrassing. You will also start to get nervous when hanging around in public with friends who have accents, because that is going to make you guilty by association.
This law is going to piss off your white friends, who will be angry at being mistaken for an “illegal” just because they have a tan or tried to copy your haircut.
This law is going to make you flinch whenever a police officer walks by. You’re going to hesitate to pick up that wallet that someone left on the bus seat and turn it in to the police station, because the last time you tried to be a good Samaritan you had to prove that you were allowed to exist, and that made you feel bad. You will instead ignore the wallet, which will later be stolen.
You will otherwise be a paragon of citizenry, however -- you will never spit out your gum, skateboard on public property, or jaywalk. And your car? Perfectly maintained, lest you get attract attention to yourself with for a dim headlight.
This law is going to give you a photographic memory. You will make sure to buy running shorts with pockets in them, because you need a place to hold your ID in case a police officer decides to stop you during your evening jog. You will also never, ever leave your wallet in the car. Also, your eight-year-old sister is going to need to get a state ID, and you will be very good about putting it into the front pocket of her pink overalls for her so that she doesn’t forget it when she goes to play with her friends at the park.
This law is going to make you more observant. You’re going to learn where police officers tend to be at the mall, at the train station, and downtown, and learn that if you keep your head down and just stick to the walls and stay away from the middle of any open spaces, you have a lesser chance of getting noticed and/or stopped.
This law is going to make you resent and be suspicious of other ethnicities who don’t seem to be getting harassed as much as “your people”; this law is going to make you feel victimized, and this law is going to make you feel scared.
And that’s really what this law is about -- keeping us divided, keeping us in our places, and keeping us afraid.
Sound familiar yet?