Joel Dreyfuss, editor at The Root.com recently penned the article, “Why Blacks Should Be Outraged at Arizona’s Immigration Law.” Mr. Dreyfuss observes that “Black Americans have not turned out in large numbers at immigration rallies, despite the fact that many African-American politicians talk of the need for coalitions with Hispanics.”
And his is only one of any number of similar articles by African-American journalists and/or activists, making me quite reflective in recent days. Many, many questions are bubbling in my brain—competing alongside my fixation on the upcoming Supreme Court (SCOTUS) nomination. I’ll just share some of them here.
For starters, have Latinos “turned out in large numbers” in support of African-American causes? Ever? Moreover, do Latino politicians “talk of the need for coalitions” with African-Americans? Ever?
And with regard to the SCOTUS, would Latinos support the petition urging President Obama to nominate a Black woman to the SCOTUS? Moreover, if an African-American woman were to be tapped for the high court, would Latino organizations write to their memberships, urging them to contact their senators to ensure her confirmation, as Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. did in support of the Sotomayor nomination?
Returning, however, to the Arizona immigration law, I see the potential for racial profiling—if its application is abused.
Dr. Christopher J. Metzler, international human rights law expert and Associate Dean, Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies, believes that “opponents of the law should express their opposition of the potential for abuse, not the law itself. While there are many things to challenge in the law, labeling it a racist law is not a winning argument.”
And there’s just no getting around the fact that securing the Mexican border is a very real problem. Few would argue this point. But some do, most notably Temple University author and professor of African American Studies Dr. Ama Mazama.
“This is their land, to begin with,” asserts Mazama, “and it is quite ironic that Europeans would use humiliating and questionable techniques to dispossess them once again of their right to be here. If anything, they should receive an apology and reparations for the wrong that was done to them not so long ago and for the wrong that is being done to them again today. Furthermore, one must question what is really going on here: are Europeans afraid that they are losing ground because of their low birth rates and might be overwhelmed demographically by the indigenous people?”
No matter your perspective, clearly, there is a real conundrum here, and hard decisions will have to be made.
Let me be absolutely clear here. It is absolutely wrong to randomly stop people in the streets based solely on their race or nationality. For example, if Arizona law enforcement officials were to set up checkpoints seeking proof of citizenship from all Latinos, this would be outright racial profiling, which is insidious and specious. On the other hand, if there is a valid reason for a police stop, like a traffic violation, then I don’t see a problem with Arizona police officers asking for proof of citizenship, which is what the controversial new law actually requires.
Metzler reads the statute similarly. “There is nothing in the text of SB1070 (the Arizona immigration law) that gives law enforcement officials unfettered authority to stop, question, arrest, and detain any individual they suspect may be in the U.S. illegally.”
“The law allows questions of citizenship to be raised by law enforcement only if a person has been detained because they are suspected of a crime or a violation of the law, such as a traffic violation. In other words, the stop must first be legal,” adds Metzler.
Granted, there may still be valid issues with the law; however, we must find a way to address illegal immigration. And, if one has proof of citizenship, why not just show it? Or, as Stanley Crouch colorfully asserts in a discussion on overcoming America’s racial barriers in the documentary Ralph Ellison: An American Journey, “If you got the grits, serve ’em.”
It’s not like requiring a literacy test to vote—as was routine in the disenfranchisement of African-Americans during Jim Crow. Nor is it, like some have suggested, comparable to the “slave passes” that were required for enslaved Africans to “legally” go anywhere alone. After all, my enslaved African ancestors—brought here through forced immigration—would have loved nothing more than to return to their African homeland.
I mean, could somebody please tell me, how can there be any realistic resolution of the immigration dilemma if, at some point, IDs are not checked? Personally, I think that the application of the Arizona law bears watching … however, I think most of the uproar is political. And please know that I’m not mad at my Latino brothers and sisters for exercising their political muscle. I’m just saying … Finally, I wonder if there would be such an outcry if Florida were to suddenly pass a law requiring that all Haitian immigrants prove citizenship—or, say, all African immigrants in New York—as Mexicans must in Arizona. Would Latinos rush to form Black/Brown coalitions and take to the streets in solidarity with their darker brethren? (Disclaimer: And, Lord knows, I’m all for Black/Brown coalitions; I just want them to be reciprocal).
Moreover, would Latino organizations suddenly boycott the offending states, as the Alphas did by canceling their national convention in Phoenix (reportedly forfeiting over $300,000 in fines and penalties)? And would the New York Knicks or Miami Heat even notice the situation, let alone wear special jerseys in solidarity, as did the Phoenix Suns on Cinco de Mayo?
Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University finance professor, observes similarly, saying “what must also be noted is that all of the energy that the [Phoenix] Suns are willing to put behind this protest for the Latino community has never been shown for the African-American community. For some reason, the Black men wearing athletic uniforms have almost no willingness to speak out in the name of their fellow African-Americans wearing prison uniforms.”
And, moreover, while our anointed African-American leaders are taking to the streets in Arizona, President Obama is about to nominate his second Supreme Court Justice—and, so far, not one of the supposed African-American contenders has even been granted an interview. But do Black (and Latino) politicians, activists and Greek letter organizations even care? And would they publicly support the petition urging President Obama to nominate an African-American woman?
Based on their response so far—or lack thereof—not so much …
Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant, cultural critic and assistant professor of English composition & Africana literature at Virginia State University.
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