Disposable People

*disclaimer: this post is going to be slightly more political/opinionated than my usual ones. I do not claim to have all the answers. These are just my thoughts, there will be much sarcasm, and your mileage may vary.*

I could not help but notice that well over 50% of on-line conversation recently (and by “conversation,” I mean “screaming into the void that is the internet”) has been, on one side, outrage over the treatment of undocumented/illegal immigrants, and on the other, outrage that the former side appears to be advocating breaking the law. At the same time, I’ve been reading a true-crime book involving human trafficking, police brutality towards African Americans, and systematic exploitation of immigrants by business interests. The story is true, the story is documented . . . and it happened a hundred years ago . The more things change . . . The coincidence prompted me to decide: since there will probably never be a good time to air my opinions on immigration, I might as well share them now, while they are at least topical.
I consider the term “illegal immigrant” somewhere between misleading and downright ironic. Why? Because the current border laws, border enforcement practices, or the lack thereof, do not appear to me to have been put in place to prevent people from coming into this country. They are there to prevent said people from having any rights once they get here. The laws are there so the government can pretend these people don’t exist, and large corporations and the wealthy can have a source of virtual slave labor. It’s pretty much an American tradition. You didn’t see the first American colonists growing their own tobacco; they imported slaves for that. Once slavery was outlawed (after centuries and a God-awful war, of course), legalized segregation ensured, at least in the South, that the majority of the Black population remained in de facto slavery. About the time I was born, the Civil Rights Movement did away with most of those laws—and I doubt it’s a coincidence that not long afterwards, we started seeing larger and larger numbers of so-called “illegal” immigrants. I mean, it’s not like rich white folks are going to nanny their own kids, cut their own grass, or shovel their own horse shit. That would be like expecting big grocery chains to give living wages to the people who harvest their produce. I mean, why pay a citizen minimum wage, plus insurance, plus Social Security, and so forth, when you can pay some “illegal” five bucks an hour. Plus, if they complain, you tip off INS, they get shipped back home, and you wait for the next crop of “Disposable People” to swim across the Rio Grande.
I mentioned before that I was born a white southerner. I was also born a nerd. The term “disposable people” is a direct reference to a conversation in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Measure of a Man.” For those who aren’t quite as hopelessly geeky as I am, let me explain that the episode focuses on a court case to determine whether or not the show’s android character, Data, is a person, and therefore entitled to equal protection under the law, or simply a piece of property. The expression is one coined by the ship’s bartender/philosopher, Guinan (a woman of color—Coincidence? I think not), when she discussed the history of humanity’s continual efforts to find someone else, some group that could be considered “other,” to do all the dirty work of civilization. The phrase stuck in my head, and returns to me every time I hear people arguing about civil rights, immigration, or pretty much anything to do with the (usually reprehensible) treatment of persons of color in America.
Does this have anything to do with my fiction writing? Of course it does. In a previous post, I explained that the situation of the elves in my world was influenced, in part, by the displacement of the indigenous population of North America. But it’s also influenced by the treatment of African Americans and Hispanics—by pretty much any group of people that have been treated as “disposable” by the European majority in the United States. Now as a certified Wonder-Bread Brenda, I feel I don’t have the perspective or authority to write from the direct perspective of a person of color. On the other hand, I definitely have the experience to write from the perspective of a well-meaning but utterly sheltered middle class dork just coming out of their culture bubble and realizing that hey, their life is nothing like the lives of so many people around them, people they may have ignored or even taken advantage of without even realizing it. Hence Eddie. He has no ill-will against the elves in his kingdom, but neither does he know much about them, or even realize just how poorly his people treat them, when the series first opens. That changes. Not overnight, not rapidly—but in time, over time, I see him developing from someone focused solely on his own problems, to someone who begins to question the world around him, to, finally, someone who is willing to challenge the status quo. In other words, I plan for him to grow up.
Who knows, maybe someday the human race will grow up too.

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