"IMMIGRATION HARMS BLACK AMERICA," was the
name of a document that recently found its way into my email box.
The fundamental issue that this document raised was that immigration
posed a threat to the economic well-being of African-Americans.
It is a concern that reverberates in African-American communities.
Yet, while the concern for African-American well-being is well placed,
the source of the problem is not always correctly located.
African-Americans, as a group, continue to bear the
brunt of living in a white-supremacist society whose capitalist
economy has been exceptionally good at increasing inequality and
keeping a disproportionate number of African-Americans in poverty.
Presently, the US is the third most unequal industrialized society
in the world.
If you are African-American, the enormous wealth gap
that exists on average between you and your fellow white citizens,
is reason enough to be concerned with your economic well-being.
The racial wealth gap between whites and Blacks, measured by net
worth, is about $116,000. This wealth gap has nothing to do with
right wing babble about “culture of poverty” and other such folly.
The racial wealth gap has everything to do with the
numerous social policies that have created wealth for whites, while
simultaneously blocking wealth creation for African-Americans and
other racialized peoples. The policies of the Federal Housing Administration,
that provided $120 billion in loans for home ownership between 1934
and 1968, of which 98 percent went
to whites, is a good example.
The African-American community also continues to experience
the highest levels of unemployment of any group in the country.
The official figure is said to be about 9%, but most of us know
that this figure is flawed because it excludes those incarcerated
and those who have stopped seeking work. Racial discrimination
in hiring continues to plague African-Americans. A recent study
found that a white man with a criminal record could find employment
more easily than an African-American who has no criminal record.
When one takes these things into consideration, one
can easily grasp why African-Americans are extremely concerned about
the implications of immigration for the economic health of their
Historically, immigration has had negative implications
for African-Americans. For example, the influx of immigrants has
often served as disincentives for employers to reduce discrimination
The debate in African-American communities about immigration
is also tied to racial/ethic tensions between them and immigrants.
Most immigrants, including racialized immigrants (even Africans
from the continent and the Diaspora), come to know African-Americans
often through the lens of white supremacy. We are all bombarded
with the negative stereotypes about African-Americans that abound
in commercial pop culture. Therefore, we often relate to African-Americans
in negative ways. In fact, many immigrants are often encouraged
not to identify with African-Americans. As Toni
Morrison puts it, immigrants all learn “negative appraisals
of the native-born black populations” in the bid to become “American.”
immigrants often do not recognize that whatever opportunities we
get are largely possible due to the struggles for racial-social
justice that African-Americans waged and continue to wage. Immigrants
often fail to realize that African-Americans built the rungs on
the ladder to success, which we seek to climb. By no means are African-Americans
perfect, for they too have their biases. Yet, for the possibilities
that racialized peoples now find available, be they immigrants or
not, we owe a debt to African-Americans.
Still, African-Americans have an interest in defending
the rights of immigrants.
First, it is consistent with the Black Freedom Movement.
That long and ongoing struggle for justice and a non-racial democracy
that has been waged by the first Africans brought here against their
will, embodied in the life work of Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker,
continues to the present.
Second, immigration is not the cause of the economic
problems confronting African-Americans. Critically, the challenges
that African-Americans face emerge primarily from the combined forces
of white supremacy and this capitalist economy, which privileges
the interest of corporations and the super-rich over all people.
For example, immigrants do not cause the high levels
of unemployment and underemployment in African-American communities.
Latina/o immigrants are not major employers, so even if they practice
exclusionary “ethnic hiring,” they are seldom capable of hiring
large numbers of African-Americans. Rather, it is the owners of
corporations who decide to hire workers who are easier to exploit
because being “undocumented” often means being more vulnerable.
Major business owners also prefer hiring immigrants to African-Americans
because anti-black racism remains endemic, and African-Americans
are the groups most likely to join unions to defend their rights
Further, Latino immigrants did not create the impoverishment
of African-American communities. Rather, it is a result of (1)
ongoing racial discrimination; (2) the massive deindustrialization
of the U.S. since the 70s; (3) systematic disinvestment from urban
areas; (4) white flight and its attendant destruction of the urban
tax base, and the re-location of jobs to mainly white suburbs; (5)
gentrification; and (6) corporate outsourcing of U.S. jobs in their
quest for more profits.
Of course, there is competition between African-Americans
and Latino workers for certain jobs. Yet, is it better to fight
over jobs that are underpaid while CEO’s are extraordinarily overpaid?
According to USA Today, CEO’s running the biggest 100 companies
in the U.S., receive median pay of about $17.9
million dollars. Can supporting anti-people, pro-corporate polices
peddled by the right wing, improve the economic realities of African-Americans
or anyone else for that matter? Can supporting explicit white supremacist
policies that criminalize immigrants benefit African-Americans,
who remain under siege by the criminal injustice system?
Certainly, it is in the interest of African-Americans
and the majority of people for immigrant workers to have greater
security. Certainly, African-Americans, immigrants and all workers
gain from policies that guarantee living wages to all workers, that
strengthen the rights of workers to unionize, and that ensure meaningful
employment opportunities for all.
The pro-immigrant marches and the multiracial support
they have received demonstrate that there exists an opportunity
a powerful alliance between African-Americans and immigrants. Not
only because African-Americans have always been at the forefront
of struggles for positive social transformation, but also because
African-Americans, immigrants, and everyone else share an interest
in creating a more just society. Importantly, the central issue
for such an alliance should be racial economic justice. Focusing
on racial economic justice would benefit other racialized groups
and would include defending the rights of immigrants. It would also
go to the heart of U.S. economic inequality.
Therefore, it is critical that African-Americans support
immigrants and build a Black/Brown led, cross-racial movement against
white supremacy and economic inequality. The widespread demonstrations
across the country make plain the emerging opportunities for patriots
to positively transform this country in fulfillment of its promise
to the world. History shows that African-Americans have always
honored that responsibility. They have always led the struggle
for full equality. Why should this moment be any different?
Chaka A. K. Uzondu is an Education Coordinator
for the Racial Wealth Divide Project at United for a Fair Economy.
Email Chaka at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chaka's most recent articles can be read at http://www.racialwealthdivide.org/.