Thursday, May 04, 2006

Alien Ambiguity

Many African-Americans have been conspicuously silent during the debate over immigration reform. I’m one of them. Aside from a few email exchanges and short discussions with friends, I haven’t contributed any real sweat or righteous indignation to the immigrant cause. I’m not entering debates, participating in rallies, petitioning, besieging my congressman or woman or, up until now, even bothering to write about it. I hadn’t really asked myself why this was until I listened to an NPR broadcast of News and Notes with Ed Gordon on which one of the panelists drove it home for me. She mentioned that, although many African-Americans recognize that much of the anti-immigration sentiment is fueled by racism and ethnocentrism, they are ambivalent about throwing their full support behind Latino – particularly Mexican – immigrants. I wondered why this was and came up with three reasons.

One is that, to one degree or another, some of us have bought into the idea that we’re competing with illegal immigrants for limited resources. As ridiculous as it may seem, those of us who have always struggled to keep ourselves economically afloat can’t fathom the idea of immigrants entering this country by the millions and “stealing jobs.” Of course, the idea that illegal immigrants somehow swipe job opportunities away from blacks and others is absurd. The truth is that, with regard to wages and benefits, corporations are racing each other to the bottom and illegal immigrants, unsurprisingly, will accept less compensation than other Americans. But this doesn’t make black folks feel any less uneasy.

The second reason is that African-Americans tend to lean towards the right with regard to a number of issues. Generally speaking, black folks are Christians of the God-fearing variety, who attend church regularly (sometimes two to three times a week!) and have a literal belief in heaven and hell. This informs our opinions on a myriad of hot-button issues like gay marriage, capital punishment and abortion. The only reason most of us aren’t full-blown conservatives is that, no matter how much we achieve, whites always find a way to let us know what they really think of us. Also, with regard to the law of the land, despite racist assumptions, most African-Americans have always been law abiding. Given all this, although many of us may sympathize with those who are merely attempting to obtain a better life for themselves and their families, we are reluctant to put ourselves in the position of supporting illegal activity.

The third reason? We’re cautious about being too inclusive. What would happen, for instance, if blacks and Latinos united to suppress all efforts to establish immigration reform of the wall-building variety? What would happen after 2nd generation Latino-Americans establish themselves as full, politically participative citizens? My belief is that Latinos would abandon blacks shortly thereafter. Apart from the tendency of groups to be insular and look out for themselves, some of the most adamant supporters of racial inequality are “minorities.” I can’t count the number of discussions I’ve had with Asians, Asian Indians, and Latinos who argue against affirmative action and minority “hand outs.” Further, some just flat-out look down on African-Americans. Mexican President Vicente Fox’s recent assertion that immigrants work jobs that, “not even blacks,” would want to do was, for many of my people, both a wake-up call and a ‘What-The-Fuck!?!’ moment.

I don’t want to give the impression that I support the idea of “immigration reform.” Indeed, when I see (as I did a few weeks back) a caravan of hillbillies driving down the street waving signs that read, “Illegals Go Home,” and “We’ve Been Invaded,” it angers me. I also realize the fact that Latinos and African-Americans have, at present, a common enemy and this establishes a need for unity. Yet, knowing this, I still nurse reservations. And I know I’m not the only one.



At 10:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My only issue is that if one were to think that unskilled, undereducated and virtually underemployed people, regardless of their race or ethnicity can compete .... or TAKE your job, what does that say about you are an employee, and YOUR place in the work force. If you do not want to compete with unskilled, undereducated and underemployed people here is a solution.
1. continue YOUR education
2. gain a marketable skill
3. join the work force and aggressively seek upward mobility.

Once a person does these things, they may be in a position to empathise with those who are only trying to increase the quality of life of the families.

Much as the word "crime" is often a coed word for "race", so to is the term "illegal immigrant" a code term. NOw, just think about what it refers to.

Dr. Renz

At 2:43 PM , Anonymous Viece said...

I am very lukewarm on the subject. Not really sure which way to think on it. So I listen to arguments from both sides to see how they compare. This lady I know made quite a compelling argument against immigration. She is 52 and grew up in segregation in Southeast Texas. What she said made me think. "Hispanics from the civil rights days have been lumped into the "white" category. When segregation was around, they got to go to the white school. Then, when civil rights were awarded, they were automatically included in the victory of desegregation among other things." She feels as though they have been riding the coat tails of African Americans throughout the civil rights fight and now it's their turn to fight for something. Another friend of mine said "We (African Americans) were brought over here by force. No one asked us if we wanted to come, and our opinion didn't matter if they did. (Specifically) The Mexicans CHOSE to come here, so they should go through the proper channels since they are very aware of the decision they made." Both arguments left me thinking but not really, like Andre said, motivated to write my congressman. My concern with the issue lies with all of the minors who will be orphaned if their parents get sent back over the river. The optomistic way of thinking would be that the parents wouldn't be able to live without their children. However, if they feel their child will receive a better life and better chances here, they may very well leave them here. Possibly alone, possibly with other family memebers.

At 8:20 AM , Blogger Clifton said...

I am against the guest worker program personally and I only have one reason. The day we legally allow immigrant workers to come to this country and accept a job for half of the wage that a black man can afford to live off, the employment problem for African Americans will become worse than it already is. My dad was a contractor here in New Orleans before the storm. He would always tell me about being constantly out bid on jobs by crews of immigrant workers. They were basically doing the job for practically nothing. If they are gonna come here legally then they must work for the same amount, get taxed the same amount and have the same credentials as every other American.

At 11:41 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have numerous concerns with illegal immigration and the current ideas of a guest worker program. I don’t believe we can address the problem with just one bill.

Sometimes I hear illegal immigration activists, during TV/radio interviews, compare their plight to the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement of the ‘60s was about legal citizens of the United States demanding equal rights of citizenship. Many of our people paid a very high price while fighting for rights that should have been guaranteed by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Illegal immigration is about non-US citizens, who illegally entered the country or overstayed their VISA, demanding rights of full citizenship. It is insulting to hear someone compare the two.


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