Am I not a man and brother?
Ought I not, then, to be free?
Sell me not to one another,
Take not thus my liberty.
Christ our Savior, Christ our Savior,
Died for me as well as thee.
Am I not a man and brother?
Have I not a soul to save?
Oh, do not my spirit smother,
Making me a wretched slave;
God of mercy, God of mercy,
Let me fill a freeman's grave!
As I reflect over the words of the proclamation carried by General Granger, these words standout to me. “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.” Encapsulated in this order was the medicine needed for a racially sick country which held people as product. A country whose body was torn apart by a cancer of racism and revealed itself in a destructive Civil War. A change was moving throughout the nation and the answer to the question, “Am I not a man and brother” was to be answered.
General Order #3 announced you are “a man and a brother” by stating a change in relationship as the freedman and woman were to be viewed as possessing equality in terms of existence and ownership. We are unique and unrepeatable human beings. We are human beings marked with royalty and the potentiality to live remarkably. This is an absolute quality which can not be diminished by any legislation, incarceration, or dehumanization. Juneteenth marks a celebration in which the ears of black and white skinned human beings would hear an absolute truth, “You are equal.”
General Order #3 announced you are “a man and a brother” by stating a change in relationship between masters and slaves. Previous to the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation the relationship between these persons was one of White personhood and Black commodity. White personhood was able to participate freely in the economic, social, and political development of the small infantile nation. Whereas Black bodies were commodities, bought, trade, and sold to accomplish the development, cultivation, and sustainment of the new Egypt. Black bodies and White personhood related to one another in the form of a transaction in which White personhood extracted the emotional, physical, and spiritual capital from Black bodies to create a structure which would benefit the power of White Egypt. With the announcement on Juneteenth, Black bodies experienced a change of relationship as they heard they were qualitatively the same as their White counterparts. We are not commodities and cattle to be auctioned. We are creatures and a collective mass of human beings who can create, labor and earn a wage.
General Order #3 finally announced a change in relationship as participants in the market place. General Granger’s Order #3 impacts approximately 250,000 slaves in Texas according to Dr. Henry Louis Gates. The impact of a quarter of a million persons learning they would no longer be existing and functioning as free labor is without measure. Consider for a moment if 10% of these persons now have the opportunity to work, negotiate a price for labor, and receive compensation for that labor. The terms of slave and master begin to erode in Texas and the South for our common terms of employer and laborer. These persons now have the opportunity to function as laborers and dare we say new entrepreneurs who would lay the foundations for great enterprise efforts such Black Wall Street, Madame Cj Walker, and others. Our participation in the marketplace requires a reevaluation of our economic education and the support of more entrepreneurs who will own businesses and not simply patronize a business.
This qualitative change in relationship among Whites and Blacks, the labor context, and market place did not come without its challenges. There was and there would be opposition. Sharecropping, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow were all forms of opposition to the good news “We are human beings.” Opposition arises from those who benefit from the status quo. The beneficiaries of the status quo act out of fear over the loss of security, comfort, and affluence. Fear created the unjust economic practice of sharecropping. Fear created the inequitable practice of the Homestead Act in the which the federal government supported White brothers and sisters seeking to make a new life West while Black freedmen and women struggled to move freely with economic shackles still around their ankles. Yet it is the steady rain of heavenly plagues which begin to wash away the existing reality and reveal a fresh soil of new landscapes for many to enjoy.
We are men, women, brothers and sisters. Juneteenth only affirms what is already in each and everyone of us. We are powerful and remarkable image bearers of God. We are men and women who have a long lineage which does not begin in chains and the bowels of slave ships. Our lives begin on West African shores, North African landscapes, and in the shadow of great pyramids. We have the intellect of kings, queens, scientist, theologians, and entrepreneurs. Thus our relationship to one another should be one of persons who are actively pursuing opportunities and partnerships which uplift the wellbeing of one another. We have come from different families. We have ancestors from different plantations but we are here now…together. We are here now. And just as our forefathers and foremothers huddled together for comfort and courage in dark fields to sing praises to God in whose image they were made. We need to rally together around common economic interest to achieve economic goals for the common good. Recommit yourself to work with persons of goodwill to find solutions to improve the social, economic, political, and religious situation of your fellow African American brother and sister. But not only them…let us commit to being a people who provide such an influence to the state of Arkansas and our nation all people will rise up and say with one loud voice…
“We are men. We are women.
We are sisters. We are brothers.
We will all die free.”
CONTEXT OF IMMIGRATION
In 2012, President Barack Obama published an executive branch memorandum which authorized persons, specifically children, who were brought into the United States through no fault of their own. The memorandum titled “Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion with Respect to Individuals Who Came to the United States as Children” was issued within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security led by Secretary Janet Napolitano. This memorandum provided a new label to these men and women as DACA Recipients who arrived in this country under the age of sixteen, who have lived in the country for five years without break, and not above the age of thirty years old. Two years later, President Obama chose to expand his memorandum to include any persons who did not access the legal means for immigration. During this same presidential administration of issuing the memorandum and expansion of DACA, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE) reported 409,849 persons were deported during FY 2012, 368,644 persons deported in FY2013, and 577,295 persons deported in FY2014. The USICE department was clear in each instance deportation was related to crimes committed by these persons.
In 2015, Donald J. Trump a Presidential candidate for the United States announced, “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me. I’ll build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” As we all know, Donald Trump became President in November 2016 by winning the electoral vote over Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary R. Clinton. Since his presidency, President Trump has offered much commentary in the form of tweets and interviews concerning immigration. A fair summary of his comments is his focus on what he identifies as the murders, drug dealers, and sex traffickers coming across the border.
Our current context and perspective on immigration and those persons who have specifically arrived here through means other than the Congressionally mandated process falls in to one of two descriptions, illegal or undocumented. If one possesses a strict understanding of immigration as a violation of federal law a description of these persons leads with the designation of “illegal” immigrant. Whereas, those persons who are strictly focused on the human needs and situations of these persons use the descriptor of “undocumented” immigrants. Where a person starts offers an insight on what policies he or she favors.
Finally, to conclude the context in which we exist regarding immigration and how it relates to the state of Arkansas, let's turn briefly to sanctuary cities. A sanctuary city refers to any municipality which limits through ordinance, resolutions, proclamation, or policy its cooperation with federal authorities charged with immigration enforcement. The Center for Immigration Studies, which is nonpartisan, reports the following cities, counties, and states which possess this identification: states (8), counties (143), and cities (34). The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2018 reported a more extensive number of sanctuary jurisdictions at 564. FAIR reported sanctuaries grew from 11 during the presidency of George W. Bush in 2000 to 40 sanctuaries during the presidency of Barack Obama to 338 sanctuaries in 2016 and 564 sanctuaries in 2018 during the current presidency of Donald Trump. This is an increase of 5,000% over an eighteen year period.
THE ARKANSAS PAST
In 1868, the Arkansas Legislature debated passage of a law which would give Negroes the opportunity to participate in the voting process. During the debate, J.N. Cypert of Searcy located in White County, gave testimony against the enfranchisement of Negroes -supported by Republicans - on the basis of racial characteristics in comparison to Caucasians. Mr. Cypert stated, “They(Negroes) pick up more quickly whatever knowledge reaches the child through the natural organs of sight and hearing. But the mind of the Caucasian race expands, looks to the future; it leaves edifices behind it, it builds governments and kingdoms, it rears structures that stand forever as monuments of the race. When was that ever done by the African? I mean, the negro” In this discussion of citizenship and suffrage, Mr. Grey, a Black man of Phillips County rose up as representative of the freed persons in Arkansas. His response was multifaceted as he addressed the determination of citizenship among African descendants, the intelligence of poor Whites, and what he perceived as the inevitability of Negroes gaining citizenship and suffrage. Mr. Grey addressed the racism of Mr. Cypert,
“Settle once and forever the question of human rights, by giving us equality before the law.
Then, and not till then will peace come to our borders. I have no antipathy against the white people of this country, and am not surprised at their strenuous opposition. But time has a softening influence on all human prejudices. I am willing to forget the past, and to wrap the winding-sheet of oblivion over the sod that contains the bones of my wronged and oppressed ancestors…Give us the franchise, the right to protect ourselves, our wives, and children, and we are content”(p.159).
Is this what we saw and heard this week coming from the 92nd General Assembly? Are one group of people described with such racial antipathy?
THE ARKANSAS PRESENT
The 92nd General Assembly of Arkansas concluded this week. During the state legislature, Senator Gary Stubblefield introduced SB411, “An Act To Prohibit Municipal Sanctuary Policies.” The bill was introduced February 26, 2019, passed out of the City, County, and Local Affairs Committee on April 3, 2019, passed out of the Senate on April 5, 2019 with a vote of Yeas (24) , Nays(5), Nonvoting (5), and Excused (1). SB411 was then referred to the House Committee of the same name and passed out of committee on April 9, 2019, and passed out of the full house on April 10, 2019 with a vote of Yeas (71), Nays (24), Nonvoting (4), and Present (1). SB411 awaits Governor Asa Hutchinson signature.
The question I have for myself and for Arkansas is the following, “Was the SB411 rooted in racism similar to the opposition of Black citizenship and suffrage in Arkansas post-Reconstruction? Did politicians in the Arkansas Senate and/or House express racist thoughts and intentions regarding immigrants in Arkansas?”
Reviewing testimony on SB411 from the House and Senate which you can review much can be learned from the testimony and questions of the participants. During the House City, County, and Local Committee Hearing, SB411 sponsor Senator Stubblefield opened his testimony to address the bill’s foundation involved following the law and not discrimination against a particular ethnic group. Senator Stubblefield outlined three important elements of the bill to include sanctuary policies preventing law enforcement from protecting citizens, fulfilling oaths, and defying federal laws. Being consistent with his starting point of the legality of the immigration process, he did seek to justify his bill by appealing to crimes committed by persons who are identified as “illegal” as a need for this bill. Finally, Senator Stubblefield addressed all are immigrants, he believes the process should be followed, and welcomes all people.
In the Senate testimony, racial profiling was mentioned multiple times. Racial profiling involves targeting persons on the basis of racial characteristics, rather than an individual behavior. Those who were against SB411 made allusions to the state being racially insensitive or not a welcoming a place for entrepreneurial persons who are immigrants. In the same Senate testimony, those who supported SB411 proceeded from a law enforcement perspective. Therefore, in both the Senate and House Committees groups supported and opposed SB411 spoke passionately, clearly, and offered facts and anecdotes to support positions.
ARKANSAS MOVING FORWARD
It is very important we as Arkansans not repeat the mistakes of our past. The Arkansas Legislature post-Reconstruction testified with racially charged language consistent with the culture of the defeated Confederacy. I would hope to believe the state of Arkansas has matured from that period, matured from its failures under Faubus and the Little Rock Nine, to a point in which its capital city is led by a Black Mayor. When the charge of racism is leveled against a person or group-without fact- instead of engaging with the substance of an argument the opportunity for learning diminishes. To announce someone’s thoughts, policies, or legislation as racist resurrects horrible periods of our history to include lynchings, cross burnings, and segregated schools.
There is much we need to learn from each other regarding immigration. On both sides of this important debate are men and women who are talking past one another, placing important value in what it means to be a citizen, and desire to see persons have a new opportunity. Somewhere in the middle is the solution and we can only arrive at these solutions if we engage in honest and humanizing discussion. Clear or veiled charges of racism will only cause persons to double down on a position. Characterizing a group of people only in terms of legality, not their humanity, causes persons to double down on a position reinforcing a bias which may in fact may not be true.
I have served Arkansas immigrants for the last twelve years in my nonprofit work. These men and women have hailed from many backgrounds. I understand the perspective of those who advocate from the undocumented perspective. At the same time, I have sought to understand the perspective of those who hold the illegal perspective. There is a sincere desire for persons to abide by the law. Which is equally necessary in order to protect the humanity of all regardless of citizenship.
I hope better things for our state and our nation. I hope we see the progress we have made and at the same time recognize the work before us. Arkansas has the potential to be a great house and it will take all of us to recognize who we are as humans, agree to standards which protect this great house, and continue to create opportunities for all of us to flourish as Arkansans.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
8 Debates and Proceedings of the Convention which Assembled in Little Rock January 7, 1868, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo1.ark:/13960/t6sx6w64j;view=2up;seq=160;size=125 (p.151)
9 Ibid., p.159
I had a naive optimism when the election had completed in November a fresh wave of people would be elected and prepare themselves to act as waiters to serve our country. I had believed what would arrive at the dinner tables of America would be glasses filled with civility and we would all enjoy a meal which was to arrive at the beginning of 2019.
Needless to say, I was disturbed by what was brought to our tables. What we received was more of the same language and anger which has been characteristic of our nation since President Obama’s executive leadership. What do you say when a newly elected congresswoman calls President Trump, “motherfucker?” The response was reminiscent of my children when they were younger. “Well he did it first!”
The context of our nation’s uncommon decency did not begin in January 2017. Yes the executive leader of these United States demonstrates a lack of decorum in terms of language, a combative tone with those who would challenge his most off the wall statements, and an incessant penchant to tweet. This uncommon decency which washes over our country did not flow initially from President Trump but has been flowing out of the hearts of many persons regardless of party affiliation, ethnic community, or religious commitment. A Pew Research Study (Dimock, Kiley, Keeter, & Doherty, 2014) examined how uniformity along political ideology increased in a twenty year period between 1994 and 2014. The study sadly points to an increasing adversarial sentiment in which 38% of Democrats had very unfavorable views of Republicans, while 43% of Republicans had very unfavorable views of those holding Democratic positions. Therefore, the incivility we are experiencing has been growing through Democratic and Republican presidencies. Presidencies which have experienced impeachment, unfavorable wars, accusations of Islamic influence, and now Russian influence. President Trump is not the source but a symptom.
Sadly, these two parties have positioned themselves to dominate the public square, pitting family members, co-workers, and even persons of the same religious affiliation against one another. In the same period of 1994-2014, we also saw the rise of social media. Facebook launched in 2004 essentially eclipsing the outmoded Myspace. Two years later, Twitter and its 140 characters-now 280- would also position itself as a significant communication tool which the current President uses with fervor. The public square has now moved to the technological square where persons can hide on a phone or behind a computer screen communicating some of the most damning, damaging, and dehumanizing content without fear of reprisal.
We are all accountable for the lack of decency. This lack of decency pervades our communication devices and finds embodiment in those who position themselves as our elected leaders, whether political office or religious office. If we have arrived at this place because of our collective efforts, then it requires we as a people lay hands on the future to secure a common decency for our posterity.
Noam Chomsky, crafted an article entitled, “Humanity Imperiled: The Path to Disaster” in June 2013. In this article Dr. Chomsky examined the future of humanity considering if our path to disaster would be through ecological destruction or the penultimate of nuclear destruction. I would propose that these paths are chosen only if we continue to demonstrate an uncommon decency towards one another. If we are not willing to galvanize as peacemakers to claim decency towards one another, how much easier it is to devastate our soil or the soil of another nation for monetary gain or claims of democracy? A lack of common decency willing to dehumanize persons on social media is a slow steady descent towards more conflict, more war, and the most devastating event, mushroom clouds.
Imagine how a cup of common decency can be just what we need to stop a great dinner from becoming a food fight. We just need the waiters willing to serve.
Copyright Arrowmakers 2019