Wednesday, April 28

Deciphering Diatribe: Arizona, Alabama, Immigration


diatribe (noun) [dahy-uh-trahyb]. Definition: A bitter, sharply abusive denunciation, attack, or criticism.

That is the definition, but the history of the word tells the real story. It's Greek, derived from the verb diatrībein, made up of the prefix dia-, "completely," and trībein, "to rub," "to wear away, spend, or waste time," "to be busy."

It's a word every American ought to know. And if they knew the word, they might recognize it as the perfect definition of the political climate today, fueled by one of the most divisive administrations in history. When you see it, it's easier to dismiss it.

Diatribe In Arizona

The Arizona law didn't start as diatribe, but it certainly has ended up there.

While national estimates bear out a decline in illegal immigrants (sometimes called unauthorized immigrants), Arizona has seen a 42 percent increase in the number of illegal immigrants from 2000 to 2009.

The intent of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 was to curb illegal immigration apparently propelled by a recovering economy and talk of amnesty (with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid among the biggest supporters of including amnesty in immigration reform). Among the most debated provisions in the law is whether police officers in Arizona can ask for identification based on suspicion or whether such a provision leads to racial profiling and subjects legal citizens to unnecessary scrutiny.

The entire issue has drifted into diatribe after the law has been branded "racist" and "anti-immigration." When the conversation shifts in that direction, it's diatribe. There is nothing left to be discussed because it is a waste of time.

Diatribe In Alabama

In Alabama, the driver's license test is currently offered in twelve languages. The expansion of multiple languages likely came into existence because once the test was offered in an alternative language, the state could hardly discriminate against other alternative languages. The cost to the state is considerable.

For whatever reason, Tim James decided to make the issue one of his platform planks as part of his gubernatorial campaign. He produced a television commercial that has since been called controversial.


The entire discussion has drifted into diatribe, being branded as "racist." On the heels of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, it's now considered another example of "racist" legislation with diatribe thwarting any reasonable discussion.

Immigration And English

When my grandmother immigrated to the United States in the 1960s, she did so legally. Still, she remembers how frightening it was arriving in New York City without being able to speak a stitch of English. Doubly so because the person who was to meet her arrived late. For a few hours, she was on her own and was occasionally asked for identification.

There were no special provisions for her. She had to learn to speak and read English. And even when she did learn, her accent frequently drew derogatory comments like "kraut" from some citizens still reeling from World War II. Over the years, she came to realize that the discrimination she experienced was the same as anyone who was part of any mass migration into any country.

Immigration requires something from everyone. It requires citizens to accept a certain enthusiasm (or, at minimum, tolerance) for cultural differences. And it requires immigrants to accept a certain amount of responsibility to partially assimilate, starting with a respect for the law and language. Until people figure this out, there seems to be little room for discussion.

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