On Reifying Anti-Blackness Through So-Called Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Mariame Kaba (5/8/13): Something else that I am thinking about is how the current “immigration” reform public discussion is almost exclusively about managing Latino bodies. What this leaves out rather glaringly are all of the other bodies that might also want to claim a stake in any “immigration reform.” In my case, I am thinking about sub-saharan Africa which has been made invisible so far in this so-called “reform” effort. So the reality of anti-blackness in American culture is playing out once again in this so-called reform. The racial caste system is perpetuated; only this time a few Latinos (who are seen as deserving) will be afforded a “pass” into”respectability.” So the racial dimensions have always been prevalent in American immigration reform but they seem particularly stark right now.

Rozalinda (5/8/13): I think there are many reasons why “immigration”has become a “Latino” issue in the US — partially due to the security apparatus itself, the disproportionate focus on enforcement against Central and South American migrants, especially Mexican migrants, who seem to be the primary targets for detention and capture. But this is also because of the close links between Spanish Language media, NGO’s and the Hispanic Caucus of the Democratic Party , and the political value of the “Latino vote.” There are many ways that the racialization of people who are politically “red-brown” is also specifically “non-black” or even”anti-black,” and in this the mainstream movement is a principal player. There are many ways that the hypervisibility of some bodies render others invisible in the debate and work to reinforce existing structural oppressions

Mariame (5/9/13):

I wanted to expand on the theme of anti-blackness in the current CIR discussions (such as they are). The issue is being tiptoed around because I think that many of us really would like to see the status of the people who are our family, friends and allies normalized.  But let me speak for myself.  By virtue of being born in this country, I have citizenship and its attendant privileges.  As such, I try to be conscious about how this makes me sound if I complain about the current problems with CIR.

On the other hand, I also have family (uncles, aunts, and cousins) who are undocumented and living in the country so I have a real stake in their ability to potentially attain some form of “normalized status” if not full citizenship.  So I’ve been “holding my fire” so to speak about this current “reform” process and the current bill.

Yet as I think you know, I have myriad critiques. It’s hard to know where to begin. Today, I want to expand on what I touched on yesterday: the anti-blackness that I see as replete throughout this current CIR process. Just this week, I read an article in the National Journal about the Black Caucus’s resistance to the Senate Gang of 8 bill http://www.nationaljournal.com/magazine/how-democrats-could-blow-immigration-20130502?print=true. From the article:

 “The Congressional Black Caucus, whose 43 House members represent more than 20 percent of the Democratic caucus, is still on the fence.It wants to restore the Diversity Visa lottery, a program stricken from the Senate bill to appease Republicans. Long a target of GOP lawmakers, the lottery allocated 55,000 permanent-resident visas each year to countries that have low levels of immigration to the United States; just under half go to African nations.

Senate negotiators replaced the Diversity Visa with a merit-based system that awards some weight to underrepresented countries, but the CBC says it’s still not sure this would give fair treatment to African immigrants. Now the black legislators are threatening to withhold their support from the immigration bill entirely if the diversity program, or a strong alternative, is not included. It’s a “deal-breaker,” says Rep. Yvette Clarke,D-N.Y. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., has termed it “a red line for the CBC.”Those two and Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., cochair the group’s immigration-reform task force.”

So according to this article, Republicans say that the lottery must be dropped from the Senate version of immigration reform legislation in favor of a merit-based system. What does this mean? No one can say.Apparently Chuck Schumer is convinced that he can bring the CBC around to supporting this “merit-based” system. This smacks of anti-blackness or at the very least anti-Africanness tome. It should be pointed out the Schumer has already carved out an extra 10,500 visas for Irish immigrants under the “new” program. Again, what are we to think about this?

The New York Times published an article on Monday about black workers claiming bias in farm work http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/07/us/suit-cites-race-bias-in-farms-use-of-immigrants.html.The article is troubling to me in many ways.

The article points out that CIR seeks to “expand guestworker” programs.  [There is a dissertation to be written about guest worker programs as simply slave labor by another name but that’s for another day]. Anyway, the article posits that black people who live near farms are suggesting that they are being frozen out of farm employment because owners prefer Mexican migrants.  From the article:

 “They like the Mexicans because they are scared and will do anything they tell them to,” said Sherry Tomason, who worked for seven years in the fields here, then quit…

Offering a quote like this out of context is profoundly counterproductive. It may indeed reflect the particular feelings of Ms. Tomason but shouldn’t there also be some analysis provided? Why are Mexicans scared? Why will they do anything that is asked of them? Yet NOTHING in answer to these points. Clearly Ms. Tomason could benefit from some political education but why doesn’t the Times provide its readers with a context for the experiences of Mexican migrant workers?

The article interviews farm owners who suggest that they would like to hire local workers but that they just can’t find any who are willing to do the farm work.  Again, some context, please? Let’s be clear that these jobs are terrible, back-breaking,and deeply exploitative. The fact that Mexican workers are forced to do this work suggests something about how desperate their circumstances are. Shouldn’t our focus then be on ensuring that Mexican workers can’t be treated as slaves? Shouldn’t we be talking about improving the working conditions on farms for ALL?

Here’s a quote in the article by another black person: “We are not going to run all the time,” said Henry Rhymes, who was fired —unfairly, he says — from Southern Valley after a week on the job. “We are not Mexicans.”

Presumably what Mr. Rhymes means is that he refuses to be personally exploited and treated as disposable. Does that come through in his quote or does it sound instead as though he is looking down at Mexicans in contempt and that he sees himself as superior? Mr. Rhymes position is eminently sensible. Black people have already been slaves. We are not interested in being re-enslaved. Instead Mr. Rhymes comes across as perhaps lazy and certainly bigoted towards Mexican migrant workers.

Articles like this one succeed in keeping the focus off the large agribusiness companies who are protected by politicians and who’s main interest is larger profit margins. To hell with worker safety, living wages, and common decency. Instead of the spotlight being on the rapaciousness of agribusiness, we have another article pitting black workers against Latino migrants. As I’ve mentioned, the article makes it appear that black people are somehow lazy for not being willing to be subjected to exploitative work. Anti-blackness once again.

Who else is invisible in this story? The Mexican undocumented migrant worker. He/She simply appears as the foil to the subject of the story which seems to be black workers complaining that they are being discriminated against and kept from work. All this is to say that this is a major distraction from the fact that Mexican workers are a captive labor force on these farms. I want to see articles about that. But this is intentionally obscured by the media’s interest in reifying anti-blackness (24/7).

These are just more thoughts that I’ve been having this week…