Black responses to the Arizona immigration law

by Guest Contributor Daniel Hernandez, originally published at Intersections


The signing of SB1070 in Arizona has sparked a wave of negative reaction across the United States and across the political spectrum, from Barack Obama on down. There are numerous calls for a boycott of the state, a pledge against the law for people of faith, and a statement from the Major League Baseball players association condemning SB1070.

Some high school seniors are now deciding against going to college in Arizona. One comment on the New York Times blog post on the topic struck me as particularly intelligent, and hinting at the root of African American disdain for SB1070.

Barbara, a Duke alumnus, writes:

When I was a student at Duke there were many male African-American students who felt like they were being profiled because of the relatively high rate of crime on campus, and the fact that a disproportionate amount of it was attributable to young black men in the community. In some cases students were held even after they proved they were students. It made their college experience a lot worse than if they gone elsewhere. It’s a legitimate consideration.

It’s not that I don’t understand that border states face special challenges and find the lack of progress frustrating, or that I don’t agree that Mexico has long shown lack of inclination to face its social problems because it has a safety valve next door — I share those concerns. But there is simply no way to enforce this law without targeting Hispanics. I don’t care if that was the intent or not, it is almost certainly going to be its practical effect.

Indeed, history runs in cycles, and the U.S. has seen far too many discriminatory and hateful laws or practices that have targeted and abused African Americans for generations. Yes, we know that African American anxiety about Latino immigration to the U.S. exists, and exists widely. But Arizona’s new law burns at the boundaries of our notions of justice and fair treatment under the law, which assaults any reasonable person’s sense of decency — regardless of color.

This is why so many prominent black Americans and black organizations are standing up against SB1070. At the top of the pack, for pure inspiration, is Chuck D, the former frontman of Public Enemy, who released a special track against the bill called “Tear Down That Wall.” (Public Enemy, of course, has a track that has gone after politics in Arizona before.)

In a joint statement with his wife, UC Santa Barbara professor Gaye Theresa Johnson, Chuck D makes a call:

These actions must stop. I am issuing a call to action, urging my fellow musicians, artists, athletes, performers, and production companies to refuse to work in Arizona until officials not only overturn this bill, but recognize the human rights of immigrants.

The producing credits and lyrics to “Tear Down That Wall,” along with the track itself, are available at that link, or here. Professor Johnson, by the way, is preparing a manuscript entitled, “The Future Has a Past: Politics, Music and Memory in Afro-Chicano Los Angeles.”

In the sports world, tonight in Phoenix, the Suns will sport jerseys calling themselves Los Suns in a Western Conference semifinal game, a powerful expression of solidarity with Latino Arizonans. Jean-Jacques Taylor, a sports columnist in the Dallas Morning News who is African American, wants the NFL and other major sports organizations to speak up against SB1070, too.

At The Root, Joel Dreyfuss lays out, “Why Blacks Should be Outraged at Arizona’s Immigration Law.” The National Black Caucus of State Legislators, meanwhile, has decided to cancel a conference scheduled in Scottsdale, jointly with its twin Hispanic legislators organization.

But one the most remarkable repudiations of the law in black America comes out of the board of directors of Alpha Phi Alpha, the oldest and most prestigious African American fraternity in the U.S. Alpha Phi Alpha released a statement on the day Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB1070, saying the law makes the United States “resemble Cold War-era Russia or World War II-era Nazi Germany.” A week later, the fraternity announced it would be cancelling plans to hold its annual convention in Phoenix.

MLK, an Alpha Phi Alpha brother, would have had it no other way.

“Our late Alpha brother the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said, in a letter he wrote while sitting in the Birmingham jail, ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Alpha Phi Alpha’s decision to boycott Arizona continues the same fight, fought during the Civil Rights era,” writes the group’s national president, Herman “Skip” Mason.

As many as 10,000 visitors would have gone to Pheonix in July for the Alpha Phi Alpha gathering, the fraternity says, bringing plenty of money with them. Now all that cash will be spent in Las Vegas.

* There is more coverage of SB1070 worth reading at The Economist, The Washington Post here, here, here, and here, The Daily Beast, and at CNN.

** And here, the North County Times in San Diego helpfully informs us what documents to carry on your person next time you travel to Arizona.

(Image Credit: by Irfan Khan, L.A. Times.)