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.
Labels: Cultural Criticism