3. With Friends Like These: The Supremacist Logic of Saviorism
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107 3 With Friends Like These The Supremacist Logic of Saviorism In the summer of 2014, more than sixty thousand unaccompanied minors made their way from home countries in Latin America to the Texas-Mexico border. The vast majority came from El Salvador, Honduras , and Guatemala.1 U.S. Customs and Border Protection was overwhelmed, and the humanitarian crisis quickly became a media firestorm. Republicans used the situation to criticize President Obama’s immigration policies, and nativists across the United States protested the relocation of migrants in detention centers outside of Texas. On the July 25 episode of Real Time, comedian and political commentator Bill Maher used the controversy to lampoon Republicans and antiimmigrant activists. Maher and his staff rewrote the Dr. Seuss classic Oh, the Places You’ll Go! into a parody of nativism: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! . . . and Get Kicked Out Of! With the lights turned down, as if reading a child to bed, Maher delivered his mock Seussian tale that began, Howdy there, partner. Today is your day. You’ve made it to Brownsville; Now please go away. You had dreams of Miami. You had dreams of Chicago. One day you thought, “I’ll wash dishes at Spago.” As Maher read, mocked up images from the book appeared on screen. Throughout a young brown-skinned boy wearing the stereotypical sombrero and serape was depicted as the subject and imagined audience for Maher’s Seussian reading. In the next few days the clip circulated 108 | With Friends Like These through social media. Typifying much of the liberal response, Carolina Moreno from the mainstream progressive Huffington Post lauded the skit and embraced the critique of the political right.2 Importantly, not everyone was pleased with Maher’s rhetorical strategy and comedic prowess. The Latino-focused political and cultural criticism website Latino Rebels responded to Maher’s mocking of antiimmigrant racism with “No mames!,” roughly translated as “stop fucking with me.” Of course, Latino Rebels did not take offense on behalf of the political right. Rather, the site objected to Maher’s reliance upon and reinforcement of Latino stereotypes for the sake of a joke. Maher’s skit conflated Central American migrants with Mexicans through the longenduring image of the Mexican wearing a sombrero and serape. One of Maher’s biggest punch lines was when he asserted that these children come to the United States dreaming of becoming dishwashers in highend eateries. Latino Rebels recognized that some would suggest that they missed the point of comedy and that they “should calm down a bit and chill.”3 What makes Latino Rebels’ critique so insightful, however, is not simply their objection to racist stereotypes, but rather their objection to the use of racist stereotypes as they are wrapped within and deployed to serve a purportedly liberal political agenda. For Latino Rebels, Maher’s skit positioned him as the great “White Savior” who could defend immigrants from racist Republicans while simultaneously relying upon and reinforcing anti-Mexican, anti-Latino white supremacist scripts. Latino Rebels’ critique of Maher’s skit makes an essential move as it exposes how anti-Latino racism can be mobilized to bolster central logics of whiteness. Maher’s skit evidences the politics and rhetorical position of white goodness and white saviorism. Maher’s deployment of anti-Mexican stereotypes did not seek to elicit hatred and outright disdain for immigrants. Rather, the skit sought to foster feelings of white progressive righteousness against backward bigots on the political right. As such, the skit is less about immigrants and immigration, for it transforms the experiences of migrants facing a humanitarian crisis into a joke to strike out against conservative callousness and hypocrisy. In the end, Maher and his audience shared a communal laugh as they imagined themselves the good whites, the benevolent ones who would fight those villainous bigots on behalf the immigrant children Maher had simultaneously transformed into a long-enduring image of anti-Mexican With Friends Like These | 109 racism. In this way, Maher’s skit epitomizes the supremacist logics of white saviorism. Of course this position of white goodness and saviorism is nothing new. As others have noted, whiteness has been charged with innocence, virtue, purity, goodness, and benevolence since the emergence of colonialism and the racial project. This can be seen in how Europeans aligned whiteness with Christianity through a moral duality of good and evil during the Crusades.4 Moreover, the Enlightenment project fashioned the belief that Europeans were civilized, self-governing, and rational, an...


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Subject Headings

  • Mexican Americans -- Race identity.
  • Mexicans -- United States -- Race identity.
  • Whites -- United States -- Race identity.
  • Mexican Americans in popular culture -- United States.
  • Chicano movement.
  • Stereotypes (Social psychology).
  • Racism -- United States.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration -- Social aspects.
  • Mexico -- Emigration and immigration -- Social aspects.
  • United States -- Race relations.
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