Some things never change; one of them is the divide and conquer strategy; the favorite tactic of the capitalist ruling class. So much could be written that has and although the figures cited below are now much, much worse — with prison populations of over 2.2 million and unemployment and racism ravaging communities in ways unbeknownst to us at the time, the analysis we present is still the same. This is the tragedy of repreated farce.
Turwanire Mandla is a Pan-Africanist and long-time associate of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture). In 2000 Turwanire and I collaborated and penned the following for The Daily Challenge, the only black daily newspaper in America at the time. We offer it once again, as Marx’s evidence for farce and tragedy – as we witness Arizona. Turwanire currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona.
IMMIGRANT BASHING: WHO BENEFITS?
The Daily Challenge, New York
One of the great dilemmas facing the African community in the United States is how to deal with the issues brought to the forefront by so-called immigration, be it legal or illegal. As a Pan-African (myself, Turwanire Mandla) and a man of conscious who has spent the last 30 years struggling for African renaissance, I and my colleague, Danny Weil, believe as a conscious and mature people, all of us should act as such. This includes viewing such issues as immigration critically, from a progressive perspective.
To begin with, we should view immigration from the standpoint of our position as a moral and ethical people. Black people, whose history at home in Africa and abroad has been to know the worst of human sufferings and thus would not wish such suffering upon any human being. Secondly, living in what seems to be a permanently racist society, we must view all things from the position of enlightened self-interest tempered and informed by this healthy moral and ethical outlook.
Let’s start with the matter of enlightened self-interest — because we believe in our hearts, we know what is morally and ethically right. Today, the media, the President, and other political pundits proclaim that America is riding the greatest and longest economic expansion in the country’s history — never mind that a substantial portion of the African-American community and many others are not cohabitants in this prosperous “fairytale” American economy. In fact, both the wages and net worth of Africans is declining, in real terms, economically.
We all know the racial income gap is wide between Whites and Blacks. Yet the racial wealth gap is even worse. The median Black household had a net worth of about $7,400 in 1995. This was about 12% of the median wealth of $61,000 for Whites. And the median Black financial wealth (net worth minus home equity), is a mere 1% of the $18,000 median financial wealth of Whites. All this in a society where in 1997, when Bill Gates was but small-b billionaire, he was worth more than the combined gross national product of all of Central America — Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Belize. And while Gates and other cybernetic Robber Barons get richer and richer, the people of these corrupt and exploited countries continue to immigrate to North America in hopes of escaping repressive governments, drug traffickers, persecution, poverty, high infant mortality rates, and malnutrition.
And, consider the fact that in this “fairy tale economy” the dismantling of the gains achieved by the Civil Rights movement is proceeding at “a trotters clip.” Affirmative action is under an assault by both political parties and neo-liberals of all stripes. Talk of less government and more privatization of public institutions such as the Post Office, jails, prisons, schools and the like, are thinly disguised attacks upon the economic and social base of African as well as all working people.
Make no mistake — we live in a racist country where the corporate-entertainment media conceals more than it reveals. Let’s not be fooled by the appearance of Black faces in government, on television or in the corporate suites. Let’s not get caught up in the emotional stranglehold of the times, where Black heroes are honored at the Lincoln Center while the prison guards, the largest employment in growth in America, welcome African youth to swelling penitentiaries. Let’s not be fooled by the false allegation of a level playing field, when youth are targeted by referendum initiatives such as Proposition 21 in California that would criminalize portions of the hip-hop generation and mandate that 16 year old offenders serve time with hardened criminals.
Racism is alive and well in the hearts and minds of most White Americans. The dragging of a Black man in Texas, the racist police frame-ups and killings of youth in Los Angeles, the shooting of innocent bystanders by police in Guliani’s (Little Mussolini’s) New York — these are all examples of a climate of racism and intolerance in this country.
Today, in the United States, we are expected to believe that yesterday’s racists and their offspring are today’s “color Blind people of conscious”. For the sake of our own self-interests, we in the African community need to wake-up and realize that we are getting a whiff of the outhouse, not the coffee house. As America begins to racially mirror the world in a way never imagined by its so-called “founding fathers”, the myth of the American melting pot, a 20th century folk tale, is now exposed in all its hypocrisy.
In fact, one of the newest and most insidious expressions of racism in this country is the spread of anti-immigrant sentiments. Since the power of the Civil Rights Movement made out-and-out racist language a political “Black hole”, today’s racists hide behind concerns for what is euphemistically called “the American way of life” — a discreetly manufactured Euro-nationalism. Under close examination, the definition of this “American way of life” turns out to be little more than the Eurocentric way of life. Hopefully, in upcoming installments of this article, we will examine the ideas involved with the so-called American, Atlantic, or Eurocentric way of life, allegedly under assault by the “new-immigrants” with their ‘Third World’ ethos and natural propensity for crime and violence.
The newly arriving immigrants to this country are the Native peoples of the Americas. They have come from Mexico and Latin America to work in the fields picking food for our tables. They are surplus workers from East Asia and China coming to labor in the new Silicon Valley sweatshops of post-modern America. They are Africans from various parts of the Indian sub-continent who come to America to work 60 hour weeks in its service industries. And they are Africans from all over the African continent and the so-called Middle East, as well as from the Caribbean, especially Haiti and the Dominican Republic. They come to drive taxis, work in restaurants for minimum wage and no benefits, and labor in transnationally owned corporate hotels. In a racist country that is historically famous for its violence against people of color, potential victims such as the African masses must of necessity seek allies wherever they can be found. Our need to build strong coalitions with newly arriving immigrants in our attempt to challenge racist, classist, sexist and homophobic social and economic policies is more profound now than at any other time before.
Quietly, immigrants from the Balkans and the European sections of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are being welcomed and integrated into White communities across the United States without much comment or media attention. It is the immigrants from the so-called ‘Third World” who have attracted the attention and animosity of America’s anti-immigrant forces. In California, substantial segments of the Africa-American community voted with these anti-immigrant forces to pass Proposition 187 — a statute denying so-called “illegal” immigrants basic human services.
Let’s keep in mind that the vast majority of these immigrants are Native Americans moving back and forth from north to south in their own land. And I suspect it would not be a stretch to say that the vast majority of those Whites who voted for proposition 187 are the precisely same people who form the core of the anti-affirmative action forces. Let’s begin to ask ourselves as a people, despite any contradictions between ourselves and the Native-Americans of Mexico: “Where do our real interests lie? With the Native peoples or the White racists?”
All too often our response to immigrant people, even African immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, is conditioned by very short-term conflicts, anecdotal rumors about job loss, demagoguery, propagandistic appeals, and an automatic resort to prejudice we seem to have borrowed from Euro-America.
Consider the following: if the racial gap in wealth and net worth is devastatingly wide for Africans, then think about the wealth and net worth of Latinos. The median Latino household had a net worth of only $5,000 in 1995. That’s just 8% of that of Whites. And Latino’s median financial wealth was actually zero! Nada! Who is stealing whose job? Where are the living-wage jobs worth stealing?
Behind the anti-immigrant bashing and “blame game” mentality is the cold fact that today, financial wealth is more concentrated in the hands of an elite few than at any other time in American history. The top 1 percent of households, own nearly half of all the financial wealth in the country. And among that 1%, the richest 1/2 percent of these households has 42 percent of the country’s financial wealth. This situation certainly isn’t benefiting either newly arriving immigrants or Africans. In fact, the immigrant bashing is keeping working people divided, unable to assess their real interests and incapable of resisting their oppressors.
Anti-immigrant bashing is destructive to all communities of working people — African, Latino, Asian, and Caucasian. Working to overcome racial and cultural bias should the goal of each and every community member interested in personal and social liberation. Understanding what unites us in oppression is as equally important as understanding what uniquely makes us different. Resisting the neo-liberal agenda will require the combined forces of all of us — newly arriving immigrants and natural born American citizens.
Turwanire Mandla and Danny Weil