Last weekend in Los Angeles somewhere between half
a million and two million legal and illegal immigrants and their
supporters hit the streets protesting the same federal legislation
that brought at least three hundred thousand into the streets
of Chicago two weeks earlier, and smaller crowds in dozens
of other cities. As this article is written, the U.S. Senate
has just stricken
the most onerous provisions of pending immigration bills which
make an instant felon out of anybody “illegally present” in the
US, and lay a felony charge of “human smuggling” on anyone rendering
medical care or other services to the “illegal humans” among us.
In Georgia where both Republicans and some right-wing
Democrats like State Senator Kasim Reed of Atlanta proposed
state level measures which echoed and exceeded the petty viciousness
of congressional Republicans, similar proposals still live on.
Reed sent us a letter defending his indefensible position which
we will print in next week's BC, but the issue
is too important not to revisit now.
How should black people view the wave of immigrant
labor that has undeniably impacted us? How do we make sense
of the current anti-immigrant hysteria? Can African Americans
benefit from following the lead of Lou Dobbs and Senator Reed,
blaming and scapegoating immigrants for lowering wages? Or
do we help our people best when we stand up for a living wage
and dignity for everybody? While the answer seems clear enough
to us, some BC readers are not so sure.
Y. Denise asks:
Why should we, of all people, fight for the
rights of immigrants; regardless of the trials they go through
to get here? Why is it that these groups can hate us,
and openly and heinously undercut us at every turn. I am
not just talking about Hispanic groups; I am also talking
about other blacks. I never see any of them coming to our
aid – in anything, and you have the nerve to say that we have
to be on their sides? Many don't even live in our communities,
don't support our communities and they don't hire from our
communities. How much more self-destruction can we heap
upon ourselves? Their fight has nothing to do with us at
Denise raises an unrealistic but oft-heard complaint
about small retail immigrant business people that needs answering.
Why don't those small businesses in our community hire more
In the first place, hours are long and income
is low for most startup small businesses, and most fail within
a year of startup. Job One is just staying in business. For
immigrant business people, Job Two is to hire their own families.
Family work is cheap, sometimes for mere room and board. The
business owned by a family or close friend is also the prime
place to land for newly arrived relatives and close friends
with limited language skills and sometimes with no papers.
For small operations with low profit margins, hiring an American
who expects to get paid a living wage and on time can be a huge
additional expense. And if you do it, you'll have to explain
to the extended family why that spot is not available for your
sister-in-law or cousin Isaac. Job Three is to send money home,
because of course everybody back in the old country imagines
you're rich. You're in America, after all.
Given all this, it just ain't realistic to suppose
small immigrant retail businesses will hire a lot of their American
neighbors. Some. But not a lot. We need to get over that
seems to imagine immigrants hate and “undercut” us. With all
due respect, we suspect she may be projecting in the first instance
and misdirected in the second. There are many voices in the
ears of immigrants. White America teaches everybody to hate
and fear black folks, and immigrants bring along their own helpful
baggage as well. Cultures across the planet have ancient traditions
that put lighter skinned people higher on the social pecking
order than darker ones. Dark skinned Mexicans and Indians –
the ones from India – are socialized to hate themselves, much
the same as we are.
But immigrants bring other stuff to the American
table, too. In the countries they hail from there are traditions
of working class militancy and solidarity deeper and more widespread
than anything here, and traditions of broad left wing social
movements tougher and more enduring than we see here in the
U.S. In Mexico, Nigeria, Indonesia and Brazil, in South Korea
farm, factory and service workers join unions by the millions
and fight for their own rights, often at great personal cost.
These are traditions that black America can use
and learn from, traditions that will raise all our standards
of living if we choose to adopt them. But they can't be put
into play as long as immigrants don't have the same right to
live, to organize, to bargain collectively and to strike that
every one of us has. Immigrant labor only “undercuts” the wages
of black Americans when immigrants can be threatened with jail
or deportation for standing up to their employers. Their fight
has everything to do with us. If black America refuses to make
cause with them, we cut our own throats.
Two weeks ago, Guest Commentator Rhone
Fraser compared the white liberal “moderates” of the King
era, who were more interested in order than in justice, to the
spineless “moderate” Democratic office holders and candidates
of today, prompting this response from reader Jack Harrington:
I wish to comment on the idea that white moderates
hold a significant degree of political power in our contemporary
political structure. The three branches of government clearly
are under the control of the neocons and conservative Republicans
and Democrats of various social and economic stripes.
Moderates have been phased out, in Congress
for example, by the simple expediency of being barred from
meetings, having meetings called in the middle of the night
for votes, etc. The White House, by the same token, has no
use for moderates, they pursue their own strange and deadly
agenda, as in their response to Katrina.
In addition, over the last 25 years, the label
moderate has shifted to the right by a significant margin,
so that a contemporary moderate would have been a “centrist”
Republican around 1975 or 1980. The label moderate has been
twisted every bit as much as the label liberal over this
Many moderate and liberal Americans of all colors
have been involved in protests on any number of issues. We
are in the streets because other, more immediate and more
effective avenues are closed to us. We do not have the reins
of power in our grip. We are spied upon, arrested and harassed,
isolated and kept from power.
Actually, we think Jack is confusing the kind
of whites and others who attend meetings and demonstrations
against the war, and would vote for antiwar, progressive and
pro-impeachment candidates if only they could find any, with
the white Democratic political class themselves.
It is worth noting that Americans do presently
enjoy the freedom to get out here and get organized, if not
the democratic access to media that would make their efforts
much more effective. Nobody's knocking at our doors and disappearing
us in the middle of the night for calling or attending neighborhood
meetings, or reading the wrong library books, and unless you're
in the military, nobody censors your email and web usage. It's
up to us to use the freedoms we do have to fight for more of
them, and for more people.
Ivan, a BC reader in Washington
state knows a little about that:
I marched with Andrew Young in the 1960s, and
Dr. King, and Fred Shuttlesworth, and John Lewis. Andrew Young
knows he is betraying
what he once claimed to stand for. I cut him no slack. I pity
the fool who thinks Wal-Mart is the friend of working people
– of any color.
And let us not forget the black moderates of the
Congressional Black Caucus, neutered by the presence of a handful
of DLC and open right wingers, refusing to take any stand as
a caucus in the absence of unanimity. Well, almost any stand.
Cynthia McKinney certainly thinks she should get her seniority
back, and isn't ashamed to say so. But in this case, the
CBC's silent majority speaks volumes.
BC reader Randy Short recalls
how in 2002, a congressman from North Carolina called Cynthia
McKinney the b-word,
and wonders what would happen if that epithet were directed
Thank you for the article... I hope that you
sent a copy of it to each member of the CBC. I would like
to hear the response but I imagine they will be quiet about
I wonder what would happen if a white man would
call Nancy Pelosi a bitch in the presence of one of the Black
CBC male members. The National Guard would probably have
to be called out to pull the CBC member off of his behind.
I used to respect some of these guys. Now I wonder.
Cynthia McKinney deserves to have her committee
seat and seniority returned.
Finally, in the March 16 BC ThinkPiece,
Derek Smith expertly deconstructed the movie Crash, winner
of this year's academy award for best picture. Smith detailed
how the heralded “honesty and complexity” of the film, praised
in many quarters for being a complex and unsparing portrait
of race relations in the US, amounted to merely humanizing its
flawed white characters while trivializing its flawed black
In so doing, Smith explained to at least one BC
reader the source of his unspoken misgivings about the movie.
Reader T. Burroughs writes:
I have tried in vain to explain to conscious
Black people why I don't like "Crash." I was beginning
to think I was insane.....
Another reader had already found some of the necessary
language to describe his misgivings. From Jon Nelson we heard:
I very much appreciated the think piece on "Crash."
I sometimes find it useful to borrow an idea from feminist
theory when discussing race relations. While members of all
races can behave badly, or harbor prejudices, there are power
relationships between the races that actually define racial
This idea was summed up for me by a friend,
a white cop. I was politely dithering something foolish to
the effect of "Why can't we all just get along?"
When he interrupted me, "That's not the problem,"
he said, "There's plenty of nice people out there. The
problem is that the white man has been fuckin' the Black man
for the last 500 years. That's the problem."
I'll take my wake up calls anywhere I can get
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