In the 1977 cult classic Which Way is Up, Richard Pryor plays a black migrant worker in the employ of a large fruit company. Set against the back drop of the Chicano Migrant Worker’s Movement led by Cesar Chavez, the plot follows the antics of Leroy Jones (Played by Pryor) who, quite literally, falls into the role of a union activist of a Chicano based labor union on an orange grove in rural California.
After joining the union, Leroy is frightened away from the migrant camp by the hired goons of the company. He secures a job in the heart of Los Angeles by using his celebrity status as a union activist, which is depicted in a photograph of him and labor leader Juarez.
Leroy’s status is then co-opted by “the man,” who seeks to use Leroy to control the other workers. Leroy is easily frightened and soon becomes a tool of his boss. He is pitted against his old latino comrade Chuy. Chuy is interested in organizing a union at the plant. He is persuaded against union activity by Leroy. Due to the fact that he is easily frightened, Leroy loses everything: his wife and children, his side chick and his child with her, his friendship with Chuy (who leaves with his side chick and his child), and finally his job. When he’s lost everything, he regains his dignity and walks off into the sunset.
40 years later, migrant workers are still at the forefront of American political discourse. Only this time the discussion is void of Richard Pryor’s comedic genius. It is a sad melancholy of pornographic patriotism and xenophobia. It is replete with both recriminations and incriminations of displaced brown faces crossing the borders, fleeing an economy collapsed by the misadventures of a neo-liberalistic monster called NAFTA. The term migrant worker has been replaced by illegal immigrant as we undergo an insipidly amorphous quest to “Make America Great Again.”
However, a new phenomenon has developed. Black Americans have added their voices to the discordant symphony of Trump’s no more room available for “illegal immigrants.” According to an article in Vox Magazine, the source of this new position appears to be the belief that immigrants will take jobs away from black people born in the US.
In a 2013 poll on immigration reform, 34 percent of black respondents stated that immigrants took jobs away from American workers. While 39 percent of respondents believe that immigrants drive down wages for African Americans, approximately two-thirds supported a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. A handful of studies show that these assertions are not entirely untrue. They indicate a small but noticeable negative impact of immigration on African-American employment.
Mayor John F. Fitzgerald
In all honesty, we must admit that our response on this issue is somewhat whimsical, if not, down right hypocritical. We didn’t say a mumbling word when illegal Irish immigrants flooded cities like New York, setting up political machines complete with party bosses which doled out sectors of municipal government to Irish Politicians John F. Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald turned the police force into an Irish army that sat about 125th street in Harlem making sure that Black Harlemites knew their place.
Fiorello H. LaGuardia
We scarcely murmured when a mass Italian migration flooded Ellis Island, bringing with it a burgeoning sub culture of criminality that controlled organized crime in New York City for decades. Yet there was no massive outcry for borders across New York Harbor. Like the Irish, they flooded not only executive branches of government, but also public sector jobs like the fire department, safety inspectors and the police departments. Under the administration of Fiorello H. LaGuardia, Harlem was red lined and thriving black enterprises like the Savoy Ballroom was closed for a nebulous rumor that it was a haven for the City’s syphilis outbreak. A rumor that was never investigated, much less proven.
We were also curiously silent when white Cubans, arguably the most bigoted sector of the Latino community, washed a shore on the Floridian coastlines during 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. We watched with appalled fascination as they took over huge sectors of South Florida and erected Republican strongholds that Jim Crowed Black Americans into crumbling ghettos like Liberty City. To this day, they are one of the most politically powerful minorities in the state of Florida.
Did we cry out for the deportation of their illegal immigrants? Were we in fear of their employment potential? No! We watched and celebrated while Hollywood gave an award to a light skinned Italian actor for portraying a dark skinned Cuban gangster. So why now? Why is there an increasing sector of Black Americans joining Trump’s abominable crusade against illegal immigration? If we had no problem with labor displacement by the Italians, Cubans, or Irish, why are we so righteously indignant against people just across the border?
The dirty little secret is that many of us long to experience, just once, the omnipotent power of whiteness. Instead of being the discriminated, we get to be the discriminator. By joining the club, we get dibs on the power to exclude no matter how temporary or illusory. This new found momentary union with Trump’s America, bring us ever closer to the final stages of a cataclysmic neurosis, in our quest for total assimilation into the ether of the American mainstream.
In short, we get to be the bully we have always dreamed of being. The removal of illegal immigrants will NOT change the rate of mass incarceration. It will not ensure full employment with a living wage. It will NOT alter our seemingly inescapable lot at the bottom of the economic food chain. It will NOT alter the echelons of plutocratic power in American politics. And it will NOT ensure you a job. Not even a low paying one.
It will enable a pathetic puppet show. A show where two weak racial groups cannibalize each other to the death for the bones of a carcass that has long since been picked clean by predatory capitalism. They will dance on the strings to the tune of fear. They will march to the recalcitrant drum beat of reactionary politics, played by the pied pipers of wedge issues. It is an offbeat tango that would be funny, if it wasn’t so poignant. It’s bad when the strong abuse the weak. It’s even worse when the weak abuse the weaker.
Well anyway! Make America Great Again!
TONY MACEO is a Senior Blogger at the Negromanosphere and the Chief Blogger at Power and Strategy.com. Like, share and subscribe to the website and the You Tube Channel at Power and Strategy. Also become a patron @powerofstrategies on Patreon. Also if you are a chess player, check out our chess supplies on sale at PowerandStrategy.com.