Scapegoating: The Last American Growth Industry

Recently I read a disturbing article by a young South Carolina mother entitled “A Letter to Illegal Mexican Walmart Shoppers.” (Editor’s note: the article’s original URL no longer exists. Click here to read it from Google’s cached pages.) The gist of the letter is that, in this woman’s opinion, Mexican Walmart shoppers are rude, and most of the men want her bodies. And since they are single-handedly ruining America by taking our jobs, she feels they could at least be polite and stop leering at her.

What I find both refreshing and maddening about this letter is its open and unapologetic racism combined with a total lack of appreciation for the irony of the author’s position. Most Americans are a little more guarded in expressing their racism these days, even when they share the same views. But in South Carolina it is apparently open season on Mexican immigrants, and they darn well better keep their hands off our white women if they want to keep shopping at Walmart!


It’s refreshing to get this blind hatred out into the light where we can at least see it, and I thank the author for doing that. Usually this stuff breeds in the dark. If everyone who thought these things said them out loud right away, we could then discuss them on the spot and dispel a lot of ignorance. Discussion would be a good thing. Sadly, we rarely get the chance to take it that far.

The irony of course is that no one promotes cheap labor and abusive labor prices as ruthlessly and effectively as Walmart. Those low, low prices come at the cost of American jobs, and you don’t have to be an economist to see that. The $19.95 CD player you picked up on sale under the ubiquitous smiley face was almost certainly made by Chinese workers who earn less than the cost of the item itself for an entire week’s work. Recently Walmart lost a lawsuit brought against it by its own employees for not providing them with legally required work breaks and for forcing them to work off the clock on pain of losing their jobs.

So clearly, the easier and more rational way to avoid being annoyed by Mexican immigrants at Walmart is to stop shopping at Walmart, but the problem is that many Americans have come to believe it is their God-given right to get the cheapest prices available on earth and damn the consequences. They shouldn’t have to think when they shop. They should just be able to consume at the pace they have grown accustomed to, regardless of economic conditions. That’s what we are after all; we’re consumers, right? We have to be able to consume things, and cheaply. It’s the American way.

Corporate responsibility is not a concept many American consumers understand or want to understand. And yet, somebody has to be blamed for the inconveniences in their personal lives. Mexican immigrants as a group do fit the bill. They don’t or won’t speak English, so it’s easy to blame them. (No back talk, except from people like me).

This is how scapegoats are born, and our country can’t keep functioning the way it is now without them. That’s what I want to focus on here:

Our country can’t keep functioning this way without scapegoats.

I want to focus on this because it has come to the attention of even oblivious Walmart shoppers that our country currently isn’t functioning very well. I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that our country has, in fact, become dysfunctional. In order to stay dysfunctional, we have to manufacture targets of blame for the obvious and growing problems we face: We need scapegoats. Without scapegoats, we’d have to look at the real, complex causes of our current problems, and if we do that, everything will change. Scapegoats help us to maintain the status quo, no matter how much the status quo stinks.

Like the saying goes, better the devil you know.

So, here for your shopping pleasure is a short list of some of the hottest and cheapest scapegoats around right now. Grab one while you still can! (I’m reasonably certain all of them can be found at Walmart.)

Mexican immigrants. They’re taking our jobs and ruining our country. Great jobs Americans would love to do like picking tobacco or working in slaughterhouses or roofing suburban homes in the dead heat of summer at sub-minimum wage. Let’s get serious for a minute here: Jobs that pay wages Americans can actually live on are not being snapped up by illegal immigrants. Those good jobs are going overseas to China and India. So blame your bad luck on Mexicans if you want to, while you can. Soon, however, there won’t be any good jobs for people born here, at which point you will have to be a little nicer if you want to get hired to pick tomatoes with these folks.

Married gays. It’s not the fact that the American auto industry is DOA or that the price of gasoline is on its way to Mars or that we are dumping enormous sums of money into a war we can’t win that is hurting our country’s economy right now; it’s those pesky homosexuals, always out in public doing pesky gay things like picking out drapes and going to the gym. Now they want to get married. No wonder we are doomed. God will now smite us with forest fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and gay divorce lawyers. Hard to believe that the last election was largely won by simply invoking the power of homophobia, but it was. All of you people who voted for George Bush just so Adam and Steve wouldn’t get a marriage license, how is that working out for you now? (And by the way, Adam and Steve? Yeah, you two, out in California? Congratulations! High five!)

Stupid poor people. As you probably point out constantly to everyone you know, America is crawling with people who are way stupider than you. If those people sign papers with predatory lenders that take all their money and then repo their homes, it’s their own damn fault. Doesn’t matter if they are in their 90s and live on an $800 a month Social Security check, they should have planned better when they were younger. Now they are bringing down the whole country with their stupid stupidity by way of too many foreclosures. Alleged fraud and book-cooking at Fannie Mae or Countrywide is beside the point. Those nice, ambitious young brokers who invented ways to package and trade mortgage loans as securities, ways that completely erased who held the bad debts? Those nice boys were just trying help your stock portfolio increase in value.

We should never blame Wall Street or the finance industry for their own disasters because the market is self-regulating. Ronald Reagan said so and ever since then this is the official prayer of all rich people. High rolling high finance=good. Stupid poor people=bad. Always remember that every advantage in your own life was won solely through your own efforts with no help from anyone, ever, and every disadvantage of poverty is due to the stupidity and laziness of poor people. Keep thinking that way, and pay no attention to that self-portrait hanging in your den that for some reason is aging rapidly and taking on the visage of a depraved, self-indulgent monster. Oh yes, and hang onto your money. Tight. It’s yours, all yours.

Negroes. Come on, can’t you do any better than that? If you are still holding onto this one, you are probably over 80 and aren’t reading this anyway, and you may not have even noticed that a black guy is currently running for president. Speaking of that guy, lots of working class people, especially working class white guys, are uncomfortable with this candidate’s inexperience at this critical time in our nation’s history. It’s nothing to do with his race at all; it’s his inexperience. Uh-huh. Where was all your concern when George Herbert Walker Bush’s prodigal son wanted to be President? You know which son I mean: the same son that ran every thing he ever touched right into the ground, including oil companies gifted to him by Pappy’s friends, companies that were practically fool-proof money makers, and the entire state of Texas. Where was all your concern back then? Honestly, you guys aren’t fooling anybody.

That’s my short list. I know it could be longer but I have to end this rant somewhere.

The truth is, we have serious problems that will take a degree of unity to solve that we haven’t seen in this country in my entire lifetime. We just can’t afford to tear at each other when we are losing our place as a world power and endangering the whole planet with our waste and pollution. We have to look at the problems themselves and start producing products and services, not scapegoats.

Once upon a time, long ago and for a brief but shining period, we were more than consumers. We were merchants, craftsmen, workers, artists, and builders.

Wouldn’t it be great to get back to that time before it’s too late?

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