Race, Sports, Music and Immigration Rights Collide In Atlanta

By Arturo R. García

Before it even took place, the irony of the Atlanta Braves hosting a civil rights celebration Sunday had been pointed out, not just because of the team’s name, but because of Georgia’s recent enactment of House Bill 87.

The bill, modeled after Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, targets undocumented immigrants and their employers, and had set off a controversy even before Carlos Santana, being honored by Major League Baseball at the game, took the opportunity to speak out against both laws. But as it turns out, the Mexican-born singer wasn’t the first pop-culture figure to do so.

Santana’s declaration that Arizona, Georgia and the people of Atlanta “should be ashamed of [themselves]” was met with boos, according to The Nation’s Dave Zirin, who also reported that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig left the game in the fifth inning without comment.

“If Selig really gave a damn about Civil Rights, he would heed the words of Carlos Santana,” Zirin wrote. “He would move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Arizona. He would recognize that the sport of Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente and Curt Flood has an obligation to stand for something more than just using their memory to cover up the injustices of the present.”

Santana didn’t back down from his commentary after the ceremony, either, as he was quoted by various outlets as saying:

“This law is not correct. It’s a cruel law, actually. This is about fear. Stop shucking and jiving. People are afraid we’re going to steal your job. No, we aren’t. You’re not going to change sheets and clean toilets. …This is the United States. This is the land of the free. If people want the immigration laws to keep passing, then everybody should get out and leave the American Indians here. This is about civil rights.”

Like SB 1070 – currently being examined in the courts – Georgia’s new law empowers law-enforcement officials to arrest anyone if they fail to produce proof of citizenship upon request. But days before Santana embarrassed MLB by living up to his award, someone a bit closer to the action spoke up against the new law: Atlanta Hawks forward Etan Thomas, who told Zirin:

I can’t believe that anyone would be in favor of racial profiling. This bill is very similar to the Arizona bill and authorizes law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of “certain criminal suspects.” So this means they can pull anyone over at anytime and their only crime could be minding their business. That goes against everything this country should stand for.

Thomas is no stranger to public discourse: he’s written columns for The Huffington Post and CNN, and released a poetry collection six years ago. He’s also, as of Wednesday morning, the only pro basketball player to speak up against the new law.

The league has courted the Spanish-speaking market – and make no mistake, Spanish-speakers are always in the crosshairs of laws like HB 87 – in recent years, most visibly by its’ “Noches Latinas” games, where selected teams wear special jerseys. One longshot possibility, if HB 87 ends up staying on the books, is that Thomas’ Hawks would get the opportunity to protest the law much like the Phoenix Suns did after Arizona’s law was signed. It’s a longshot, though, because the team’s owners are reportedly trying to sell the team.

Carlos Santana photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Etan Thomas photo courtesy of Getty Images

  • Tednite1

    No matter how much JT and The Brick say its not there, it still is there.

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    Bravo to Carlos and Etan for speaking truth to power! Normally it’s a big risk for celebrities to speak out for/against any controversial issues so I commend them for taking a stand towards justice and not budging from it.

  • Guest

     Santana spoke truth to power…awesome.

  • Anonymous

     I like what Carlos did despite being booed at. :) We gotta speak up when we see injustice.