Looking toward Arizona through the smoky haze of hate coming from that state’s legislature, I, as an African American, must stand with those who oppose the new, racist laws in the border state.
I stand up because I know that the history of African Americans in this country is intertwined with the history of immigration in this country. My ancestors were brought to this country (“legally,” I might add) to do the kind of back-breaking labor that set the foundation for this country to become the richest in the world.
My family traces its roots back to the early 18th century. As far back as we can remember, both sides of my family worked in the tobacco fields, cut timber, and worked as skilled laborers in Virginia.
My great grandfather, Pompy Scott, was born in 1781. The year 1790 saw the first immigration law in our young country, stating that only free “white” immigrants were eligible to be naturalized as citizens.
My ancestors at that time were not citizens. No black man or woman, slave or free, could be a citizen then. The native people, whose land was being stolen along with our labor, were not citizens. In fact, no person of color who immigrated to the U.S. could be naturalized as a citizen until 1952.
Instead, there were laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which regulated and limited the immigration of Asians into the U.S. Our country started drawing borders right through native land in the Southwest, and later claimed that those on the other side of the border were immigrants if they crossed it.
At the same time, certain states – like Oregon – excluded black people from 1859 to 1926. In other words, if you were black and in Oregon during that time, you were “illegal.” And we all know that before 1964, we were prevented from getting jobs, buying homes, or just eating in a restaurant because we were black. Many of us are not so old that we can’t remember that.
The intent of these laws, and the new slew of laws in Arizona – from the racial profiling law SB 1070 to the ethnic studies ban – is exclusion. At the base of that exclusion is exploitation. Black people and people of color have been and still are exploited for cheap labor and for land. In this case, the rule of law is not justice.
The only time we get justice is when we fight for it.
I agree with Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement that, “There are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of goodwill will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry.”
When I heard about Arizona’s new law, I, like many black people, was upset. More upsetting is hearing that legislators in other states, including Florida, want to pass similar legislation. These laws are a diversion from the fact that the banks and corporations have spent decades ripping off working people like us.
While being exploited for cheap labor, we are fed the line that immigrants take our jobs. True, undocumented immigrants tend to work at low-wage jobs historically filled by African-American workers. But do we need or want to claim low-wage jobs as black jobs? Do we want to race others to the bottom, or do we want to see all of us lifted up? Do we want to see all jobs offer a fair wage? Do we want to see businesses that are based in and grow the wealth of our communities? These are our priorities as a community, not figuring out how to keep others down so we don’t seem so low.
There is not a limited amount of work to be done, if we look at the state of our neighborhoods: the crumbling sidewalks, the lack of affordable housing, the absence of safe and reliable transportation, the crumbling of our infrastructure, etc.
We know that there is plenty of work to be done. What we as black people face more than anything is the lack of access to appropriate education and training, biased and inappropriate credit and background checks, high levels of incarceration where we, along with Latinos, are often used as cheap labor.
The extension of laws that prevent the exploitation of undocumented people would benefit all working people.
I stand against the new law in Arizona because I am black in America, and if I ever hope to see justice for my family, for my people, then I must oppose injustice in all its forms.
Badili Jones is the political and alliance officer at the Miami Workers Center, a grassroots strategy and action center that works for racial and economic justice in Miami and beyond.