Sometimes you find the greatest wisdom from the most unlikely sources. Years ago, I was getting my hair cut by a barber who considered himself to be the expert on all things socio-political. His sensitivity to the issues became especially heightened when I came in for a visit, since he knew that I had a bit of a platform to share my ideas. On the topic of immigration, he cited the manner by which many Americans describe immigrants, especially undocumented residents from Mexico. Many Americans, in jokes and emails, describe Hispanic immigrants as uncivilized, odd, and even less than human. The barber summed it up nicely when he said, “They’ve become the new niggers of America.”
I agreed with his wisdom, especially since he cut my hair for free. What is sadly true in America is that our nation’s reaction to those who are different from our selves is one that is laced with fear, snobbery and malevolent intent. That is the foundation of the new immigration law in Arizona.
By now making it legal to racially profile black and brown people, the state of Arizona has continued its quest to be officially known as the most racist state in America. They are the same state that for years refused to acknowledge Martin Luther King’s birthday as a national holiday, they systemically violate human rights of prison inmates, Arizona State University insulted Barack Obama by failing to offer him an honorary degree when he became president of the United States, and Arizona government is now going to require the president to prove his citizenship before running for office in 2012. Therefore, the outrageous legislation on immigration reform is right on time from a state that has proven itself to be increasingly obtuse in its thinking.
WATCH BLACK ARIZONANS DISCUSS THEIR VIEWS ON NEW IMMIGRATION LAW
With that said, let’s talk honestly about the immigration mess in America. The decision of a relatively racist state to do something that is probably illegal and clearly unethical does not imply that there may not be a reasonable explanation for their overreaction. Phoenix, Arizona has become the kidnapping capital of the world, with more kidnapping incidents than any place on earth, other than Mexico City. Much of this violence is related to drug cartels and illegal immigration. That’s one of the reasons that over 70 percent of the people in Arizona support this legislation. By failing to protect our borders, the United States government has put states in a position where they have no choice but to protect themselves. Those states having the least concern about being politically correct are going to do whatever is necessary to fix the problem.
When it comes to the African-American community’s take on this issue, we have a choice. On one hand, a partnership between black and brown people to fight this misguided legislation would be an opportunity for us to work together to form formidable political coalitions. Our experiences with racial profiling and civil rights help us to empathize with hard-working, honest immigrants who find themselves under siege by law enforcement. On the other hand, African-American resentment toward those who they perceive to be taking their jobs may keep us from stepping up on behalf of our brown brothers and sisters. While the threat of losing jobs may seem to be a figment of our imagination, it is probably not: the real wage of the American worker has not increased since 1999, due in part to the fact that cheaper labor comes from across the border.
Some say that immigrants take jobs that working class Americans don’t want, but they fail to mention that Americans once wanted those jobs when the wage increases matched the rate of inflation. This is further convoluted by the fact that the U.S. economy has not created one net new job for the last 10 years. Bottom line: some people don’t want to share, and resources are limited. The side you take on this debate is an ideological one, determined by whether or not you feel that America should liberally open the door for others to come here to create a better life.
Personally, I plan to head to Arizona to support efforts to fight against this law. It is unfair and I would argue unconstitutional. My opposition to the law is built on my liberal values, and I would like to see the federal government create some clarity on this important issue. Additionally, I empathize with citizens who have worked hard to provide for their families, and do not wish to see them terrorized by overzealous law enforcement.
All the while, I can look at the citizens of Arizona, even those who don’t agree with me, and understand their fear of drug cartels, and their frustration with a federal government that continues to fail them in an important way. Fear is a funny thing, and when it comes to protecting our families, we are willing to do almost anything. While Arizonans do not have the moral high ground when it comes to this new law, the truth is that they probably have little reason to care.
WATCH REV. SHARPTON DEBATE SHERIFF ARPAIO ON IMMIGRATION LAW