I’m back in Atlanta after a busy week at the National Association of Black Journalists’ convention in New Orleans, immersed in my routine and turning my radio dial to WAOK 1380-AM, our city’s premier black talk radio station.
Before I can pull out of my driveway, I hear enlightened host Mo Ivory battling with a caller who is saying this:
“…. well, some of them are illegal” and “…the police have to stop them because some of them don’t have papers” and so on.
Take away “illegal” and “papers” and you could be listening to a white American in the 1950s justifying Jim Crow laws against Negroes (no, wait, we’re black… no, no, African-American now).
How quickly we forget. And I’m not just I’m not just talking to Black America. Sure, we’re the latest example, but this oppression amnesia, this myopic indifferent to discrimination is something humans have struggled to overcome since the beginning of time.
Remember 8th grade English and George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” a fairytale of sorts where the pigs overthrow the human farmer and establish a fair society but soon begin walking upright and discrimination against non-pigs?
The lesson in that classic book was clear: more often than not, the oppressed becomes the oppressor.
In the case of African-American and the treatment of Latinos in Arizona and other parts of the country, too many of us are acting like the pigs.
Too many of us are eager to do what was done to us.
Listen to the rhetoric on the radio or even to your own black friend or neighbor who espouses the anti-immigrant view.
They are justifying targeting and deporting a specific group—brown people primarily from Mexico and three or four other poor countries in Latin America—while ignoring the fact that this country quietly absorbs undocumented immigrants from Europe and many parts of Asia every single day.
They are doing what was done to us and we should be ashamed for it.
Do I think every person from Latin America is an advocate for Black Americans? No.
As a student of other languages I have experienced blatant racism from light-skinned Mexicans (rubios) while studying Spanish and living in Mexico. I once was barred from a rubio and white American nightclub because of the color of my skin. But, I also have made friends with mestizos (the racially-mixed majority in Mexico) and indios (indigenous people) as well as progressive rubios. And I seek coalitions with Latinos seeking coalitions with me and my people, and expect other African-Americans to do the same.
I’ve heard people talk about how “the system” is playing minorities in this country and I have to agree.
Like it or not, we are not the majority in this country. African-Americans make up a mere 12.3 percent of the U.S. population, according to 2010 Census figures. Latinos are only 15 percent (that includes black Latinos) and other major ethnic groups comprise about 10 percent of the country.
So, if we want to address our concerns as oppressed people we need to align with others with similar experiences and form coalitions and speak on influential platforms. Together.
Talk all you want to about them and the problems you think they are bring to this country but if we don’t make and keep alliances—with them— we’re going to be left out in the cold.
— Janita Poe is an Atlanta-based commentator and former staff writer for the Chicago Tribune and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.