Alabama to Arizona: Ain’t I A Human?
By William Anderson
Interviewer: Would you agree that’s you’re on the lunatic fringe of the American Negro movement?
Malcolm X: “Well I think this, America’s whole situation is a lunatic fringe, any time you have a country that refers to itself as the “free world” and a “democracy” and at the same time has 22 million of its citizens who aren’t permitted citizenship; why that in itself reflects lunacy. A collective lunacy on the part of Uncle Sam. And you almost have to be insane, to deal with an insane man on an insane situation.” [London 1964]
Two weeks ago I was at a march against Sheriff Joe Arpaio organized by Peunte Human Rights Movement. M.E.Ch.A was having their national conference that weekend and I was in Arizona riding around with my friends from the Puente Human Rights Movement. They were showing me the ropes of the state that had influenced my life quite dramatically. At that march I found myself standing with a bullhorn in my hand. I looked out over a crowd of five to six hundred Mechistas and thought, “How do I say this? How do I explain that I am one with their struggle?”
We had marched for miles and I was becoming exhausted. I decided to talk about the United States’ addiction to cheap labor and slavery. I spoke about the world we live in; how our country seeks out populations it can exploit. The prison industrial complex rips into the heart of the debatable statement “All men are created equal”. Apparently some men and women have always made better laborers and slaves. I closed my speech by talking about how the Alamo was a staple in U.S. history exposing how the empire would fight tooth and nail to maintain a slave state. Today we’re still fighting slavery and exploitation in the USA. Private prisons like CCA and the Geo Group push for anti-immigrant legislation and take advantage of prejudiced politicians.
When Arizona passed SB1070, I felt enraged in ways I had never experienced before. As a black male, I was more than familiar with being racially profiled in my local Alabama suburbs. So, being on the ground in the capitol of immigrant oppression made me question: Why are people of color always under attack? Why are poor people always under attack? What do marginalized groups have to do to fix this? I was horrified by Arizona’s bold intolerance. With an ethnic studies ban, a bill to sponsor state militias, and a self-proclaimed “immigrant concentration camp,” you begin to wonder if you’re viewed as a human being by those in power. This sentiment was echoed by posters all around me by the artist Ernesto Yerena Montejano that screamed, “We Are Human!”
I realized something in Arizona. The scariest thing any oppressor can see is the oppressed working together. I took joy in seeing how much the black community had in common with the chican@ community. I am a straight black male from Birmingham, Alabama. I organize black and brown, queer and straight, abled and differently abled, atheists and believers to fight injustice. I saw the blood stream of hatred flowing in the desert and it only inspired me. That’s what Joe Arpaio, Jan Brewer, Russell Pearce, Mickey Hammon, Scott Beason, and any other venal anti-immigrant politician does not realize. You can ban and oppress all you want, but you are only uniting us. I bought a La Raza book in Tucson. I would not have bought that book unless you had created the incentive by banning it. I love it so far, thanks! People of color have been disenfranchised since this country’s inception. If boarding schools, slavery, Jim Crow, prison leasing, genocide, and stolen land have not broken us, do you really think any legislation you pass will? I cannot imagine the naiveté that you must embody to think any prison can break the spirit of those who Stokely Carmichael said were “born in prison”.
In the spirit of Tecumseh, Toussaint L’Ouverture, John Horse, Harriet Tubman, and all those I consider my founding fathers/mothers; in the spirit of those that saw the greater picture of the marginalized rather than just their own group, I will continue to work with the people of the sun for a better tomorrow. A tomorrow where we all learn our histories, speak our languages, wear what we want, worship who we want, love who we want, and live with our families in peace. From the sweat dripping off of a child laborer in the fields of North Carolina and the rebirth of slavery in Alabama , to the undocumented youth trekking the nation and the uprising that has been taking place across Arizona. We are one and we are stronger together.
This is dedicated to Greater Birmingham Ministries, PUENTE Human Rights Movement (Sandra, Orlando, Diane, Jovana, Maya, Ericka, Carlos, Westli, Ernesto, Jennifer, and everyone who showed me love), and to all the undocumented youth in AZ who are changing the world with their bravery. Love.