Immigration and justice for all

If you couldn’t tell from Saturday’s fiction, I’ve had immigration on my mind. Specifically, the place of the Black community in the struggle for immigrant rights.

At the U.S. Social Forum, there was a workshop called “Crossing the Color Lines,” featuring a panel organized by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) to discuss a vision of just immigration and the role Black folks could play in achieving it. The panelists had some moving stories and words about crossing community lines and finding solidarity, but when it came time for questions, some of the audience members made it clear that their doubts, coming through an “us” and “them” mentality, remained: “Well, they don’t show up at our rallies.” “Well, it’s true that they’re taking our jobs!” “Well, they don’t want us around.”

It’s clear that if we keep thinking this way, as separate communities with separate concerns, we will remain divided. The frustration is understandable, of course. With the high rates at which unemployment plagues the Black community, it’s easy to point a finger of blame at Latino immigrants whose labor is cheaply exploited so employers can cut costs. It’s important to remember, however, that this system hurts all communities of color. Immigrant communities are hurting as well, and it’s not their choice to run things this way but the choice of those who see people of color not as humans but as animals who can be exploited, denied fair wages and benefits, and denied jobs altogether when they demand fair labor practices. It can be hard for anyone to find a decent way to make a living when facing the racism and classism that affects Latino and Black communities alike.

There’s also the fact that in spite of the way it’s framed in the media, immigration isn’t solely a Latino issue. I keep this in mind because, while some of my ancestors came to this country in chains centuries ago, my father arrived here from Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970s. Articles like this one claim that Black immigrants aren’t concerned with Latino immigrants’ issues, because many come with a more specialized focus on things like law and medicine, and therefore aren’t competing for the same “crumbs” as many low-income Latino immigrants. Sure, it’s true that my dad came here to attend school and eventually become a doctor. I can assure you, however, that that doesn’t mean that he’s been free of discrimination against people of color or immigrants. Let anyone who has walked away from his care, preferring to be seen by a white American doctor, tell you that the racist eye sees no difference between a Caribbean-born doctor and a Mexican-born farmworker.

The comments on that article are really disappointing — everything from blaming Latino immigrants for their own problems to saying that Black people are “takers, not givers,” and would never rally for anything. Such comments show a mindset that can only do more harm to communities that are already hurting. Communities that need strength, solidarity and support, not the pointing of fingers or the deepening of divisions that keep us apart. The first issue of the BAJI reader features a speech that the Reverend Nelson Johnson gave to the Low-Income Immigrant Rights Conference in December 2007. Rev Johnson speaks of building bridges between our people, saying, “we cannot and we must not allow black and brown people to be pitted against each other in a painful spiral to the bottom. That’s why we want to organize joint conferences with Latinos, blacks, whites, and others to work out together the road forward. We must build these bridges, for when people cannot work with each other even though they share deep mutual interests, it opens the door for a small privileged group to make decisions that are not in our interest.”

As Black folks, we can’t afford to sit by and allow those in power to continue a system that hurts our immigrant brothers and sisters, even if we think it won’t affect us. Once we look into each other’s eyes and recognize a shared struggle, we can begin to move forward.

“In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.”
-Audre Lorde

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Published in: on July 6, 2010 at 10:34 AM  Comments (2)  
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  1. […] recognition of the role of marriage in race and immigration movements. Unjust immigration policies have torn apart queer partners and their families, and perhaps working […]

  2. […] Immigration and justice for all […]


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