Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fear of a Brown Planet:
Blacks and Immigration Reform

“I’ve been wonderin’ why
People livin’ in fear
Of my shade (Or my hi-top fade)
I’m not the one that’s runnin’
But they got me on the run
Treat me like I have a gun
All I got is genes and chromosomes
Consider me Black to the bone…”

- Public Enemy
“Fear of a Black Planet”

When Chuck D. rapped the above lyrics with his trademark fist-in-the-air inflection, he was not only affirming his blackness, but also rhythmically rebelling against police brutality, racism and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. It was 1990. The socially conscious hip-hop movement boldly ushered in a brand of nationalism that appealed to young blacks who otherwise felt powerless. It was hip to be as visible as an Afro pick and just as defiant. Red, black and green medallions abounded, sentences were peppered with Malcolm X rhetoric, and tee shirts gleefully proclaimed, “It’s a Black Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand!” The revolution thrived on the majority culture’s perceived fear of empowered minorities, and it declared to the world that blacks were on the come-up and would no longer be marginalized.

The recent Latino-led protests over immigration reform are tinged with the same bravado of that hip-hop movement. Mexican flags and culturally conscious tees like “I’m in my homeland” and “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us” at the marches signify that brown folks are no longer trying to get in where they fit in. Like blacks, they are affirming their identity and broadcasting their disenchantment with a society that seeks to criminalize and dehumanize them.

So, I wonder why as an African American, a member of a fellow oppressed group, I don’t feel solidarity with the struggle of mi hermanos and hermanas. I try to pinpoint the emotion I feel when faced with the televised spirit of la raza, the sea of chanting, protesting, marching, Latinos.

I’m ashamed to admit that it is fear.

I wrestle with this because it’s not like I’m some xenophobic, ultra-conservative, border-patrol fanatic. I consider myself conscious (semi, some would say), have friends of all races, have dated Mexicans and know that the struggle for human rights is not “their” struggle, but our struggle. And yet, I can’t shake this feeling of uneasiness when I see Latino students leaping over schoolyard fences to join protests and watch brown crowds shutting down traffic on the 110 freeway.

Sadly enough, I’m not alone. An observant blogger at slate.com mused over the lack of black faces at the 500,000-strong protest in Los Angeles, and also the silence of black leaders on immigration reform. Author and political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson explores this growing sentiment (resentment?) in his three-part article “Why So Many Blacks Fear Illegal Immigrants.” In the piece, Mr. Hutchinson observes that black frustration with immigration is nothing new. In 1994, nearly fifty percent of African Americans backed Proposition 187, a measure that denied public services to undocumented immigrants. He also points out that in California, Blacks have significantly supported anti-bilingual ballot measures.

Is it that we fear competition, and these political moves are our way of keeping Latinos in their “place”? I don’t belong to that frustrated black chorus accusing illegal immigrants of taking “our jobs.” By and large, Hakeem is not cleaning toilets, washing cars, slaving over a stove or engaged in other menial tasks. Hector is. Besides, many of the posts I’ve been reading in support of tightening our borders are from middle- to upper-class blacks who are liberal in their politics. It’s distressing to admit that we can be just as biased and intolerant as the majority culture can be.

I wonder if rising black-and-brown tension over immigration reform is simply masking an unspoken, perceived threat of African-Americans being supplanted as the “default” minority in America? After all, statistics remind us that Latinos now outnumber blacks in this country. Advertisers are going after their dollars, politicians are going after their votes and the entertainment industry is capitalizing on their culture. Do we hesitate to link arms with our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters and sing “We Shall Overcome” for fear of contributing to the “Latinoization” of America? Do we fear that it will no longer be a black thing, but a brown thing – from hip-hop to ‘hood films to Capitol Hill?

These are difficult questions, and I don’t have any easy or quippy answers. What I do know is this: As members of historically-disadvantaged groups, Latinos and blacks can each relate to feelings of displacement and an outside fear of our respective cultures. As much as we scorn the American nightmare, we're all hustling to achieve the American dream. We want better lives for our families, better jobs, and an acknowledgement of our individual contributions to this country. Border control should start with eradicating la linea that separates us.

In “Fear of a Black Planet,” Chuck D. also raps: All I want is peace and love/On this planet/(Ain't that how God planned it?) This admission almost seems like a non-sequiter considering the defiance and separatism inferred from the previous verses. And that’s really a metaphor for the dialogue on anti-illegal alien legislation going on in the black community. As compassionate, conscious folk, I really believe that we seek to build bridges with other minorities, and yet we still want to maintain our identity and nationalism in this patchwork quilt that is America. I wonder if we will ever get to a point in the discussion where it’s not a black thing or a brown thing, just an us thing? Now that would be revolutionary.


Anonymous said...

Masterful writing talent at work here! Articles such as this one inspire the reader to become involved in the issue. Ms. Sconiers has a pen to be reckoned with.
Write on!!!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

You go girl! You are so good at it. I am going to buy 30 copies of your book.

Your rasta friend!

Anonymous said...

I have to admit that I really had a distaste for Mexicans -- after all, they had a funny accent, they ate weird food and they enjoyed loud music. Then I got to meet some very hard-working Mexicans, learned about their devotion to their families, observed their work ethic, started to understand their culture, and realized what a fool I was to generalize about any group. I thank Ms Sconiers for her inciteful observations -- fear is a strange thing -- because fear can be felt even when it is not real. I am not black and I am not Latino -- but I have come to understand that people -- all people -- need to be respected. Thanks for expressing your thoughts

Keyneica said...

Thanks for keeping your emotions real. On the fear tip. Fear is something taught and encouraged in our society. It is a mechanism of capitalism and breeds the belief that the pie is only so big. As some reach for a slice, the remaining portion is smaller. Because of fear, (which is not real - only illusion), we become disconnected with our source (God, higher power) and forget the promise that there is abundance for everyone. When we forget that our source is infinite and therefore has infinite resources and abundance then we become separated from our fellow man. We are all one through God. Daily, we have to remember this when fear (of any sort) enters our minds.

Well said Nicole! Also, honesty, goes a long way in discussing and healing our fears. Bravo!

Visions of Vida said...


Thanks for the wonderful reminder that God is our source, not man and whatever God has planned for us, no one can take away.


DSPerey said...

DiVa: I appreciate the perspective you place in your blog. It is easy for minority groups to say, "It's not our people, so..." instead of supporting what is right to eliminate division among all people, we begin to fear and discount the real issues that divide and conquer our groups. I remember the protests that I took part in as a militant Pinoy during my undergraduate years. There is renewed energy in the air, and I welcome it. BUSH and the extreme right are going too far. We must not follow the game that they are promoting and (like anonymous said), try to build bridges instead of walls.

E.S. said...

I don't think it's all fear. We DON"T CARE. That's the bottom line. The
2000's have been good for blacks not too much negative focus like in
the 90's with gangs, drugs and teen pregnacy. A lot of us have our own
problems and when the focus is off of us we don't care about much else. The
NAACP doesn't care I haven't seen them at all (and they are supposed to be
for colored people. It's just a lighter shade of brown). Jesse doesn't care
he's marching against an election that's gonna happen any way in New
Orleans. They don't care because there is nothing for them to gain. If there was
something in it for them you would see them front and center. Me
personally I understand some of the individual situations that would be hurt by
the possible immigration policy but on a national level I think it's high
time. The focus should be all who come in illegaly not just folks from the
south. They are probably the hardest working folks alive.But if I try to get
into Mexico or any other country illegaly I will have some major problems.
Only in America can people who break the law get so much. Call me cold I
understand it but I am real about it. Come in the right way you can
stay. Just my thoughts let me know what you think.

Nona said...

Great article! I think we see how “united” the “Mexicans” are in their quest for jobs, housing, business---they seem to really support each other—while like she says, we have really adapted to the white American way, everybody for themselves—anybody different is a threat.

Tonya said...

You have crafted an intelligent piece on this explosive issue. My congratulations to you for taking the time to chronicle the plight of the Mexican people in America in such an enlightening manner. How soon WE forget!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm a black American who used to be quite ignorant on the subject. However, since the protest I've delved in and done quite a bit of research and guess what...the fear is justified and so is anger. Check out this article:


Anonymous said...

I must thank your Mom for sending me this link. An exceptional article in my opinion which should raise very interestings points of view.

I am an African American and here's my take. On most occasions, I see 'Hector' doing much of the landscaping, cement/bricklaying and busboy tasks. On just as many occasions, I hear 'Joe American' say "that ain't enough money for me". The difference is 'Hector' doesn't mind starting at the bottom as long as it's a job. 'Joe American' on the other hand, believes he should have a desk next to the President and hasn't worked in a pie factory. It's not just African Americans who won't take the low paying, menial positions. It's Americans.

I'm not opposed to Mexicans or any other nationality being able to come into the country as long as the playing field is level. In fact, because they do jobs that many will not, they provide a valuable service. My problem with the whole situation is just as e.s. said "come in the right way and you can stay". Force the playing field to be level.

Now that I'm off my soapbox, you continue to write, Lady and touch as many people as you can. I'm very proud of you.

Remember the night your Mom, you and I went to the steakhouse?? Whatever happened to that plate?? :-)

jnetsworld said...

The dynamics of fear and apathy and how we play into it shape our world. Artists, writers, and church leaders have been advocating connection and understanding and yet we play into the hands of the media and political leaders whose bottom line is control and power.

You write powerfully, passionately and compassionately... continue leading. The voice of love and peace is strong is not to be underestimated. It is a conversation to yet be further developed.

Carry on peaceful princess warrior.

dwilder said...

I enjoyed your observations on the black/brown situation. Sometimes I think we as black people like being held down and we are afrsid we will no longer be he "depressed group". We need to move on a stop looking for excuses for some of our self imposed degradation.

James Carlson said...

Recognize B4U Legalize – a proposed new slogan for African Americans

It needs no explanation. The debate is all over the news. What to do with 11+ million Hispanics that have come into this country illegally has pitted the church against itself, politicians against each other, and has become a “wedge issue” for many Americans.

It is this author’s contention that the role of black people in this debate, and the opportunity of blacks to be heard, is once again passing them by.

How many rights and changes in the fair treatment of minorities did black civil rights movements initiate? How much of the Hispanics’ quality of life is the fruit of a tree planted by the struggle of African Americans?

Fair treatment and media attention has always been apportioned in a race-dependent fashion. Jill Carroll can foolishly walk into a war zone, get herself kidnapped, and is given an escort home by American soldiers, complete with military planes, upon her release from capture. Yet, tens of thousands of blacks can be crushed by hurricane devastation, and bureaucracy ignores prevention and delays intervention for them. In another instance, a hate crime and rape is committed against a black college student and exotic dancer, and nothing gets done and little is said; but a little boy getting deported to Cuba, as Elian Gonzalez did, gets weeks of national attention and activism.

Certainly, a point-by-point case could be made for examples contrary to my argument here. The take home message is the historical and overwhelming pattern of ignoring the black race of people in this country; discounting or downplaying the issues confronting black people whenever possible; and giving deference, if not preference, to issues facing fairer-skinned groups than blacks.

Blacks were forced to come here when whites discovered Africans were the best source of cheap labor for the Americas. Now, hundreds of years later, we are examining just how unkind and impolite we should be to this new group of individuals found flourishing under the cast-aside workload of America.

Why are we listening to the illegal Hispanic voice, no matter how many million strong, when we have yet to fully address the plight of generations of black men and women beaten, murdered, raped, and worked to death, then cast aside by society? Americans have discounted the decades of oppression by labeling any discussion of what black people have endured as, “Playing the race card; holding me responsible for what my great-great-grandfather did,” or worse yet, as an “excuse for being lazy.” So, let me get this right. A person goes to war for 4 years and is entitled to a lifetime of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet, enduring 200+ years of oppression and then being forced to pitch your tent among your oppressors is somehow something the black race should “get over”? Blacks have war zones in their neighborhoods, in many communities the children have no hope that anything will be any different or better for them than it was for the past several generations. Yet here we are, urging our nation’s lawmakers to “have compassion” on the little brown, Spanish-speaking child that, to no fault of her own (defenders say) fell out of an illegal alien’s uterus in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Is that harsh? Certainly. Yet, I feel so much contempt, so much rage, at a citizenry and establishment that seeks mercy for the illegal alien—all for the sake of not alienating (no pun intended) the Hispanic vote and Hispanic workforce—while absolutely failing to recognize what went, and continues to go wrong with, our illegally-imported black citizens.

Before one more word is spoken, one more dollar spent, or one more breath exhaled in the name of compassionate assimilation of the undocumented Mexican immigrant, I believe that each and every problem black people are facing today should be resolved to the satisfaction of that race America in the media keep bellowing about how we are “a nation of immigrants,” their very rhetoric proving that they have forgotten the millions of descendents of African slaves that did not immigrate, who were stolen, but who did build this country. It may have been white ideas and white money, but it was black blood and sweat that made this nation great. Why have we forgotten? But if we disappeared or had a “Black Strike Day,” no Senator would miss us until he turned on ESPN.

Rise up, black people, and unite your voice! Rise up, black people, and think! The Chinese do not cross the ocean in shipping containers and are not pulled from stockyards because they believe this country is oppressive. These Mexicans are not utilizing a support network that brings them from Mexico to Chicago because there is no opportunity to be had here. To the contrary, America is free and is the land of opportunity.

Black people, use everything at your disposal to make a difference where you are, doing what you are doing, for the cause of black people across this nation. If we, our legacy, and our contribution to this country can be silenced and made nil by 11 million illegal aliens, then we might as well do as many propose . . .

. . . . and go back to Africa.

Get busy. Tell the powers-that-be to RECOGNIZE (blacks) B4U LEGALIZE (brown)

James M. Carlson-Concerned Citizen
Vero Beach, Florida (and formerly of CA, IL, AR, LA, MN, WI, and MT)

Anonymous said...

Ms Sconiers, I applaud your criticism--not always easy, especially whenever it comes to our own fine selves.

Today I read about another instance of fear-one that crosses minorities, from color and ethnicity to sexual preference. This morning D.C.'s mayor Anthony Williams publicly condemned the remarks of one Rev. Bishop Alfred A. Owens Jr., pastor of Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church-- and part of D.C.'s interfaith council.

In April Owens said, "It takes a real man to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. I'm not talking about no faggot or no sissy."

Needless to say, the International Federation of Black Prides, a D.C.-based organization concerning the black gay community, applauded Mayor Williams for his courage to stand up for what's right.

Thank you for a fine essay and a nod to Public Enemy, old school and dichotomous like me. I remember when kids in D.C. wore Malcolm X t-shirts, embracing the physical trappings (Last Poets criticized that kind of stuff in the early 1970s)--without ever reading X's book. In the end, Malcolm, Chuck D, and Sly just wanted the same hippy thang: peace and love.

Wish they woulod've taken the time to discover that.

Thanks, Nicole.