Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

Immigrant Rights And Anti-Black Racism

A difficult, but necessary, critique by Andre Banks of the rhetoric of the immigrant rights movement, echoing comments made by Ronnie in yesterday’s post:

“There is little question that the current immigration debate, though coded and contrived otherwise, is entirely about race. Yet, the framing made popular by immigrants and their advocates is so hostile to Black people and our American experience that it seems impossible for us to stake a claim with this movement. Today’s immigrants will find that without Blacks, and a commitment to challenge racism beyond the reach of immigration policy alone, their movement will lose both its moral authority and the practical victory it hopes to achieve.

The language of today’s movement directly evokes a painful history. Immigrants who laid claim in the past to this re-imagined American dream colluded with a system of racism that made the hope of health, safety and happiness an empty promise for Black people. Immigrants on the march today threaten to go the way of the Irish, the Italian and the Jewish: they may pay the price of the ticket for American citizenship by yielding to a racial hierarchy that leaves Blacks at the bottom.

Immigrants and their advocates have gained attention by evoking the narrative of hard-working immigrants making good in the land of opportunity – the American Dream redux – with its attendant contradictions and contrivances. With cries that ‘immigrants built this country,’ a favorite calling card, this burgeoning movement at once revoked the history of slaves and their descendants and obscured important truths about power, migration and social mobility in this country. For my great-grandmother, and generations of Black people in this country before and after her, this lie is worse than silence. It is a critical and strategic omission that adds Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans to the annals of American history while relegating Black people to its shadows.

The narrative of the immigrant as the symbol of hard work that leads to opportunity can mean nothing but alienation for Black people precisely because we know this myth is false. Without our labor – not immigrant labor, but slave labor – in the fields and on the march there would be no market brimming with wealth and economic opportunity, nor a tradition of civil and political rights readily available for appropriation and exploitation.

So, listening to the language of immigrant rights in 2006, a sensible Black person might respond with ambivalence. It is difficult to take the cause seriously, much less call it our own. Immigrant rights advocates have the potential to speak broadly, and Black people more than any other group might champion an extension of human rights denied to those on the margins. But instead we are displaced from this movement by coded messages that celebrate a history of anti-black racism. “

Find further commentary and resources on the immigrant rights actions here.

posted by @ 5:16 pm | 5 Comments

5 Responses to “Immigrant Rights And Anti-Black Racism”

  1. Brendan says:

    Agreed, harsh but absolutley necessary. These protests cannot be a single event, single issue ordeal, otherwise the message they send is that the low-wage jobs many immigrants and non-immigrants work are acceptable.

  2. Alice B. says:

    The author is obviously guilty of that outdated -formerly American- way of seeing the world: in black and white. When he says “immigrant” he obviously means “nouveau or future white”. Where’s the grey? What does this analysis make of immigrants of african descent?

    Also, must “immigrants built this country” be interpreted as “only immigrants built this country”?

    There are slaves somewhere up my chain of ancestry. I am also an immigrant. Must I choose sides? It seems a no brainer to me that I should empathize with both plights, especially since plantation slavery no longer exists.

    Besides, where exactly is the conflict? For those who can’t see the grey: it is both true that slaves built this country *and* that the descendants of those same slaves do not today want the jobs that undocumented immigrants take… at least not in NY.

  3. Doles says:

    I agree with Andre in that there is an unseen and untold underbelly of the immigrants rights movement. When hearing stories or seeing pictures of the many demonstrations across the country, you see the American flag being waved on high, held up by brown hands in an effort to say “Yes, me too. I’m American too. I’m GENUINELY American because I live that American(immigrant)dream.” But at what cost do immigrants live out the dream? The immigrant rights movement, instead of being part of a radical moment jettisoning the notion of national identity, has been couched in a discourse resembling something like “we’re more pacifiable than American black folks, so we won’t complain about exploitation. We’re better labor.” I can’t knock the hustle, I’m a first generation Korean. I had that green card. I’m guilty of model minority syndrome, no doubt. However, this reminds me of two past supposedly radical movements in recent American history that have had some nasty things swept under the rug uncritically. 1)the American labor movement in the 80s that saw blue collar whites beating up and killing random Asian people because of the “Asian Invasion” of the automobile industry. It was a nightmare for the labor movement in America, I think because it lost Black blue collar support because the virtual lynch mobs all across middle America harkened back to Reconstruction-era race and sex politics. Black UAW workers were going to feel good about bashing in a Toyota with an axe? Probably not(not to say all whites would but this is how the history has been written). 2)the anti-globalization mobilization in Seattle that saw the convergence of two seemingly opposing groups: a)the white unionists, who were mad at the multinats for going abroad and outsourcing and leaving them unemployed. b)the college kids who were there behalf of the Third World(so they thought), fighting against the awful labor practices of multinats in the post-colonial world. This became an unusual alliance because the college kids were like stop the exploitation whereas the unionists were like “please exploit us, we wanna get paid.”

    I note all of this to say one thing: who is the enemy here? Big-C “capital”? The government? The conservatives? Not singularly any of these. The immigration rights movement has thus far been highly nationalist, which to me is outmoded and quite dangerous. The immigrants rights folks are going to soon sound like Pat Buchanan. Why not play up the difference in a radical move? Why not put fear in the WASPy conservative politos by saying, we’re culturally different and that’s the way it is. Let us in because it’s morally right. It’s not all about labor, it’s about CULTURE as well. Andre’s comments are right on because this immigration rights movement has a political unconscious that evokes the “culture of poverty” from the Moynihan report and the Clinton-era welfare agenda. I’ve rambled, I’ll field further questions upon request. Sorry.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Here’s another view:

    America was not “built” at all. People are still building America, and the project won’t be finished any time soon.

  5. frylok says:

    I totally agree with Banks’ critique of the immigrant rights movement – a lack of unity within progressive movements (racial and otherwise) has helped conservative America get stronger. My own theory of why immigrants resort to this (while no doubt pushed forward by an internalized model minority myth) may lie in Bell’s Interest Convergence theory (whites will promote racial advances for blacks [in this case “immigrants”] only when they also promote white self-interest). I don’t mean to equate immigrant status with blackness, as the two are clearly different and independent, but the analogy still works for my purposes: As those who seek rights, the immigrant community picks its image carefully in order to entice white voices. They feel the need to sell their community as nonthreatening: being conservative on every other topic besides immigration helps this. A gay, muslim dark skinned latino is not who their looking for, they want the most pleasing example to white america. That’s just my interpretation of the animus, though, and the Banks critique is a welcome reminder of another “interest convergence” that we need to emphasize and may be just as powerful.

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