By now most have heard of the petition circulating online asking the White House to deport Justin Bieber. Since the petition has gathered over two hundred thousand signatures, the White House will have to issue a response. So far, Press Secretary Jay Carney has deferred any answers related to visas to the Department of Homeland Security. While no one can be absolutely sure, many doubt that Bieber’s legal issues, or this petition, will affect his immigration status. What is interesting here is what the Bieber scandal, the petition and the reaction to it tells us about class, race and being “foreign” in America.
Many will dismiss the petition, alleging that celebrities are not important when one considers the many problems faced by this country. Others will point out that the petition is only about fairness, as it asks for Bieber to be treated the same way that any other immigrant (undocumented or not) would be treated. The problem with the latter is that it is not a comparison of apples to apples, because there cannot be fairness without equality. Bieber may be an immigrant, but plenty separates him from most immigrants in this country. For one, he has money. Lots of it. His socioeconomic status gives him access to the best legal defense, making him less likely to end up with a felony conviction that would affect his immigration status. Just think about this, according to the New York Times, 80 % of felony defendants cannot afford an attorney and have to rely on a public defendant. Furthermore, defendants in immigration court do not have the right to counsel as they do in criminal law. For many immigrants, paying for an attorney that will help them avoid a criminal conviction, or fight deportation proceedings (which can take years) is cost prohibitive. Furthermore, as if wealth did not constitute enough advantage for Bieber, he has something else in his favor, the color of his skin.
As pointed out by the recent social media campaign #undeportable, there is a racial bias in the treatment of Bieber. Anti-immigrant rhetoric is heavily aimed at Latinos. For proof look no further than this past Sunday. During the Super Bowl, Coca Cola aired a commercial titled “America the Beautiful” sung in different languages. It did not take long to start hearing the uproar on social media. Fox News commentator Todd Starnes posted on his Facebook wall, “Coca Cola ad features America the Beautiful sung in multiple different languages- but mostly Spanish. Not sure what the point was – unless they’re sending a message to those 12 million illegals about to get amnesty that Coca Cola is the official soft drink for illegals coming across the border.” The comments on Starnes post and the official Coca Cola page got even uglier, from people swearing off any Coke products to calling the commercial a slap in the face to America. A question lingers: What then does it mean to be foreign in America? Is it simply a question of nationality, the place where someone is born? By definition, foreign is not only something or someone from a country different than ours, it is also what is strange or unfamiliar, “the other.” Who is “the other” in this country?
In the United States, if you’re not white, you’re foreign. A brown body, a black body is foreign because their cultures do not blend with that of the predominant culture. Justin Bieber is the epitome of the mainstream: a white, straight, and wealthy male. While he is an immigrant, he is the perfect example of “non-foreign,” he is not “the other” and comparing him against a brown immigrant does not hold water. That is why a white person will rarely be asked the question “What country are you from?” while many will ask a Puerto Rican if they are U.S. citizens without hesitation. That is why last year, when Sebastien de la Cruz sang the national anthem during the NBA finals and Marc Anthony performed “God Bless America” during the MLB all-star game, social media exploded with hateful comments labeling the performances as “un-american.” That is why when Miss America is of Indian descent she is called a terrorist. Because in the end, for many, being “an American” is not about where someone was born, but about the class that they embody, the culture to which they belong and the color of their skin.
[Photo: Flickr/Robert Couse-Baker]