With the unavoidable amount of coverage of issues around immigration and deportation in the U.S., there’s one prevailing narrative among a portion of Black people. There’s an argument that Black activists, organizers and others in our communities need not put our time and efforts into addressing immigration because “that’s not our issue.”
This is an entirely nonsensical (albeit very much typical) stance for several reasons:
First and foremost, Black immigrants exist
It’s wild to me that this would even need to be explained, but not every Black person in the U.S. came here the same way. While 100’s of thousands of Africans were brought to the U.S. for chattel slavery, millions were taken to Central & Latin american countries. Over 4 million enslaved Africans were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese, alone. Next to Africa, the largest population of Black people is in Latin america. Are we really assuming that none of these people came to the U.S., post-Emancipation? This isn’t including all of the people who immigrated to the U.S. directly from Africa. As of 2015, the overall number of Black people in the U.S. who came here from other countries was just under 4 million. And rapidly growing (which should be no surprise, given how U.S. foreign policy ravages Black and Brown nations around the globe, to the point where people have to leave).
Black people are disproportionately targeted by immigration policies
As with most any other form of oppression in this country, Black people are disproportionately affected by immigration policies. While Black people only make up around 7% of all immigrants in the U.S., they make up 20% of those targeted for deportation. Unfortunately, this jarring fact is erased in the larger discourse around immigration, which often centers Brown and/or Indigenous immigrants in the narrative. Mexico is often considered synonymous with immigration issues, but they currently make up around half of all known undocumented immigrants, a steep decline from past years. Meanwhile, immigrants of African descent, from various nations, are on the rise.
Immigration is ingrained in the (anti-Black) prison industrial complex
This, in conjunction with the previous two points, is an important rebuttal to people who claim that immigration “isn’t our issue.” While we know that Black people are the primary target of oppression from police in the U.S., we generally haven’t connected the dots that this directly ties in with immigration. One of the main reasons that Black immigrants are disproportionately found and detained by ICE, is because they were originally profiled and detained by police. Many immigrants have ended up deported, all going back to a simple traffic stop. Also, the private prison industry, and its labor exploitation of incarcerated people, is pretty widely-known to function as modern-day slavery. But what isn’t talked about as much is how the same is now being done for detention centers, specifically for holding immigrants. Also similar to private prisons, these detention centers coerce detainees into putting in labor in order to pay for basic necessities. They make all of around $2 per day. The parallels, here, should be obvious.
These are just some of the foremost examples of how immigration issues directly affect Black people. So, why is it that so many people in our communities have such a problem with us focusing any energy on immigration issues? Why do people consider this a “distraction” from “our” “real” issues? How could one respond to an issue that clearly affects so many within diaspora with retorts of “we have to put our own race first?” Well, I have a theory on this and it’s actually pretty simple:
They simply don’t care and want the rest of the Black community to also not care.
And to go a step beyond that, I want people to notice a pattern with this kind of dismissive attitude towards Black immigrants. Notice how it’s often a particular demographic of the Black community (primarily cis-hetero, abled, male U.S. citizens) driving that narrative? And notice how this is the same demographic that carries similar bitterness towards Black activism that centers issues affecting LGBTQ people, women, disabled people, sex workers, etc (even though, like immigrants, all of these issues also affect large amounts of Black people)?
That’s not a coincidence. This is just another instance of a demographic, which has already historically been centered in most everything concerning Blackness, feeling salty because Black people are now, in greater numbers, addressing issues that (they falsely believe) don’t directly affect them. It’s lowkey just them finding a pseudo-intellectual way of screaming “NO! OVER HERE! PAY ATTENTION TO ME!!!”
What makes this impulsive selfishness really insidious is that they have the gall to frame it as part of some kind of “Black Unity” or “Black/Race First” praxis. When they say things like that, or “We have to focus on our own issues,” what they really mean is they want the community to only focus on the specific issues that are most heavily associated with Black men who are cisgender, hetero, abled citizens…nothing else matters to these folks.
I want us to peep that BS and be clear on what actually is happening, there. Thus, not allow yourself to be manipulated into abandoning issues that are crucial for us to address if we ever wanna actually see real, lasting progress for Black people.
Much like with issues concerning people who are LGBTQ, women, sex workers and/or disabled, etc., issues concerning immigrants need to be addressed from a Black/diaspora-centered perspective if we want to develop complete, holistic solutions for addressing anti-Black oppression.
We’re not free unless we’re all free. Period.
P.S. For those of you who this applies to…who want Black people to only focus on such a specific, limited portion of the Black community. If you’re gonna do that, that’s your prerogative, but at least be honest. Stop trying to frame your selfishness under the guise of “Black Unity” and just say that you’re self-centered trash with your chest. Please & Thanks!