Too many folk continue to conflate the slave trade, that holocaust experience of captured Africans, with the suffering of other immigrants.
Every day, there is something in the media comparing the times when slave families were separated (babies torn from their mothers’ breast) to what is happening at the border.
The events are unrelated.
The slaves were brutally captured, chained and brought from Africa for the sole purpose of giving an economic advantage to landowners; i.e., free labor.
Historically, immigrants, no matter where they are from, or what their color, cast, or class, have been invited, or allowed into America for betterment (theirs’ and the country’s); whether it is defined as exile (Cubans), asylum (political), persecution, escape from gang violence/ rape, or just because of better wages.
No other group arrived here under the same circumstances of the black African slave. None.
(Chinese laborers who were brought here to build the West Coast may come in as a close second, but even their history is no comparison to what happened to the African slaves.).
Look at the Native American’s experience. Some tribes don’t exist anymore. Exterminated. The survivors? While still on their own land, families were separated, rounded up onto reservations and, well into the twentieth century, their children taken to boarding schools to lose their native ways: girls’ hair was cut; forced to speak English; wear western clothes, and forget their customs- to make them ‘American.’ As horrific as it was, even their story should not be compared to that of the enslaved African. Yet, it should be told again and again, lest we forget them too.
I admit that these were inhumane, nee criminal, treatments, but we must stop talking about the slave experience, the immigrants’ or Native Americans’ out of the same side of our mouths.
These comparisons water down the history and plight of blacks in America, and threaten to reduce the impact of our suffering; deflating our ongoing efforts to gain full citizenship.
Toni Morrison’s collection of brilliant lectures and essays, “The Origins of Others,”
with a foreword by Ta-Nehisi Coates, examines the layers of otherness that black folk have experienced in America. In her essays, Morrison discusses how literature has treated race, fear, borders, the mass movement of peoples, and the desire for belongingness.
One essay, The Foreigner’s Home, includes the following statement: “Excluding the heights of the slave trade in the nineteenth century, the mass movements of peoples in the latter half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first is greater than it has ever been before.” ….”There is no doubt that the re-distribution (voluntary and involuntary) of people all over the globe tops the agenda of the state, the boardrooms, the neighborhoods, the street.”
Globalization is a real phenomenon. People will continue to relocate; most being removed by war; half, children.
That being said, it does not mean that we cannot, or should not, be sympathetic to the plight of any/all suffering human beings. We know that we are all in this together, so to speak.
There are countless examples of just how inhumane our laws, policies, and practices have been in order to support the bottom line of the dominate group (we need a border to protect us from……).
In this current war on ‘others’, even Scripture was held hostage in defense of evil acts.
Jeff Sessions, US Attorney General- the country’s highest ranking law enforcement officer- had the temerity to use a New Testament bible verse to support the unsupportable.
But this is a man -made issue. The problem of immigration, part of the ‘American’ dialogue since 1776, has always been how to deal with ‘the other’
(those who were not Anglo-Saxon, landowning males); not members of the dominant group.
And who is dominant in 2018? Republicans: majority white, middle class, religiously pious and politically conservative folk who elected Donald Trump.
Here is some history: According to the National Park Service, The Statue of Lib, a collaboration between French and American architects and engineers, was built in the late 1880s to memorialize the U.S.’s abolition of slavery; not so much as a beacon for immigrants. It was in the late 1880s when Emma Lazarus penned her moving poem about the “poor and wretched coming to these shores…..” (The last of the illegal slave ships had dropped their cargo off in Alabama in the 1850s). Emma’s poem was etched onto the pedestal of the Statute of Liberty in 1903.
Thus, the marriage of two great symbols of America: A statute. A poem. A myth.
In the meantime, children are being caged at the border, and we do care.
What to do? What to think? How to respond to this ongoing crisis of conscience-about how we live in America, and treat others? They will continue to come.
Get involved. But don’t forget who you are.