¡Hola mi Gente!
There is nothing I detest more than to see my own people allowing racist, white supremacist thinking take root in their minds. One point in fact is the misdirected and false perceptions of native-born people of color about immigrants. When I listen to African Americans or Puerto Ricans, for example, go off on immigrants, it makes my blood boil because they are co-opting and assimilating the language of white racists. And these white racists know it and use that ignorance to make some us agents of division within our own communities.
Let’s take that tried and true myth that immigrants are taking away the jobs of African Americans and other native-born people of color…
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The Immigration and African American Jobs Myth
Knowledge makes a man unfit for slavery.
-- Frederick Douglass
The comedian, David Chappelle, had a brilliant skit which highlighted the [mis]adventures of a blind white supremacist who didn’t know he was black. It’s an instructive metaphor for what some call internalized racism -- a state of mind in which people of color sometimes adopt a white supremacist mindset that results in self-hatred and hatred of their respective or associated racial group.
Nowhere else is internalized racism demonstrated by blacks and other people of color than in the issue of immigration. As a Latino of Puerto Rican descent, I am a citizen by lawful decree. All Puerto Ricans are born citizens. And sometimes that puts us at odds with other Latin@ groups who don’t enjoy citizenship status and resent us for it, or when we Puerto Ricans adopt the immigrant views of the dominant US culture. I can’t stand to watch, for example, two closely related groups such as Dominicans and Puerto Ricans go at each other. I’m not saying it’s common, because it isn’t -- this is demonstrated by the large rates of intermarriage between the two groups, but there are always some people who fall prey to their own internalized racism.
This is also very true of African Americans, some who espouse the same vile views of anti-immigrant nativist and white supremacists (here). In addition, myths and stereotypes about Latin@s -- such as the myth of our supposed indifference/ resistance to learning English, for example -- are held by quite a few in the African American community.\
Recently, Rippa posted an article on his site (here) challenging the notion that immigration is harmful to the African American community and one commenter posted a long screed that managed to enumerate almost all the Latin@ stereotypes. I responded contentiously, but also citing empirical studies showing that this particular individual’s views weren’t just wrong, but bigoted and unfounded. I have gotten to the point where I believe interacting with such individuals only serves to reinforce the anti-immigrant ideology, but sometimes I can’t help myself.
One of the ways white supremacists get the upper hand is by exploiting the natural tensions that exist between Blacks and Latin@s and other people of color. It’s as if some of us can’t wait to submit to Da Massa’s shackles. The point here is that this individual’s internalized racism is so entrenched that no facts, no responses grounded in empirical proof will shake that person’s bigotry. Of course, the person in question has yet to post any evidence concerning his or her bigoted assertions. I encourage said person to post an article with evidence to back up his/ her claims here. I’m sure Rippa would be open to it.
One abiding and controversial issue which anti-immigrant groups exploit is the myth that the presence of immigrants in the U.S. labor force -- specifically undocumented immigrants -- has a major detrimental impact on African Americans employment. These anti-immigrant/ white supremacist groups argue that undocumented immigrants, who tend to work in less skilled occupations, are “taking” large numbers of jobs that might otherwise be filled by African American workers.
There’s one major problem with this talking point: there is no evidence for it.
It is important to acknowledge that African Americans do face daunting economic and employment problems, and that the legacy of discrimination continues to be felt in communities large and small across the country. Anti-immigrant organizations have coldly seized on these troubles, however, to leverage a particularly nasty kind of argument against immigration. Some of these self-professed advocates for African-Americans have long-standing ties to nativist and hate groups.
The facts about this issue are plain. A recently released report by the Immigration Policy Center (here) analyzes the existence of immigrants in the workforce and compares it to African American unemployment. If immigration was having a harmful affect on rates of African American employment, it should follow that rates of unemployment among African Americans should be higher in areas with large numbers of immigrants in the labor force, especially immigrants who are relatively recent arrivals to the United States and willing to work for lower wages than most African Americans. The IPC report, however, shows just the opposite and, in fact, finds that there is little apparent relationship between recent immigration and unemployment rates among African Americans, or any other native born racial/ethnic group, at the state or metropolitan level.
One example of this is found in comparing Miami and Cleveland:
Recent immigrants are 17 percent of the labor force in Miami, but only 3 percent of the labor force in Cleveland. Yet the unemployment rate for native-born blacks in Cleveland is double that of native-born blacks in Miami. As with most efforts to make simplistic arguments about unemployment, there is no one-to-one relationship between the presence of immigrants and unemployment in the African-American community. [emphasis added]
That is not to say there is zero competition or that African Americans have no problems finding employment. It means that, controlling for everything else, there is no relationship between immigration and black unemployment. More importantly, in order to move toward a real solution, we need to look at structural issues -- the mass incarceration of African Americans and other people of color and the consequent disinvestment from education, for example -- and how other societal issues are obstacles to African Americans reaching their full potential.
The IPC report is not the sole study, there are numerous articles (here, here, and here) on the issue by noted academics. Gerald D. Jaynes, a professor in the department of economics and in the Program in African and American Studies at Yale University, has studied the impact immigrants have on African Americans for years and has repeatedly found that “the effects are relatively small, and in any event secondary to other causes of less educated workers’ dismal employment and wage experiences.” (click here) And because the work of immigrants often complements that of U.S.-born workers, “immigration can actually create jobs.” (click here to view Jaynes’ congressional testimony.)
Furthermore, Dr. Stephen Pitts, a labor economist who has also taught African-American studies and now resides at UC Berkeley, holds workshops for workers to explain the real villain is not immigrant workers, but rather bad apple employers who exploit both communities. Pitts argues that African Americans should not allow themselves to be pitted against another ethnic and racial group who themselves are struggling for equality and improved conditions in their communities (here). This argument bears repeating when examining the motives of anti-immigrant groups who claim to speak for native-born workers.
It’s no wonder that civil rights groups, who have and continue to fight for African American equality, are now standing up for immigration reform because they know raising the living and working conditions of immigrants will level the playing field and improve the lives of all workers in America. These groups have cautioned against letting anti-immigrant groups speak for the African American community.
The anti-immigrant crowd, almost exclusively composed of White leadership, likes to portray itself as standing up for African Americans. But let’s get fuckin' real, my black brothers and sisters, this recession was not caused by immigrant workers “taking jobs” from Americans. It was caused by the economic meltdown brought on by the greed of financiers and unregulated market practices that pushed our economy to the brink of disaster. It is caused by the failure of neoliberal social and economic policies that now see more African Americans sitting in prisons than there were slaves in 1850. Our shared economic struggles are the consequence of the willful intent to use economic resources to enslave us all.
Rather allowing ourselves to be led by the nose by racist white supremacists who certainly don't have our interests at heart, why don’t we start funneling our energy against the real forces that are literally destroying all of our communities.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…