March 7, 2012

A Reflection on Our Journeys to Justice

Post by Tia Oso, BAJI Arizona Organizer
As February just ended I reflect on Black History Month and conclude that it is always an awesome opportunity to talk about the often untold stories and contributions of African-Americans in the U.S.  One such story is that of the Great Migration.

BAJI Phoenix was invited to present at the Phoenix College NAACP/Black Student Union weekly meeting and chose to educate the students and staff  on this little known but very influential period of Black History.  Faced with life as 2nd class citizens that daily faced the threat of violence and dehumanizing treatment in the South, not to mention a decimating boll weevil attack on King Cotton, millions of Blacks packed up and left the South in search of greater freedoms and booming economic industry in the North, the Midwest and West.  The lively followup discussion featured varied insights. Especially strong opinions were shared around the idea that recent immigrants to America, particularly Latino, are facing similar persecution under  “Jaun Crow” legislation and social norms today . I was not surprised to hear young black people say things such as “why do we have to hear about this?” and “illegal is illegal”. There is a disconnect and gap in our historical knowledge as a culture.  The U.S. school system and society at large allows for a limited and very narrowly defined outlook on the history of Black people in America.  Many of the students did express appreciation for the presentation and commented that it had opened their eyes to the similarities in which White Supremacy and discrimination has effected and continues to affect people of color.

A little over a week later, I presented an abbreviated version of the material to a crowd of black, African and Caribbean students and alumni.  It was amazing to see the nods of recognition coming from people that have migrated thousands of miles. Recent immigrants from places such as Senegal, Haiti, Nigeria and Eritrea identified with the plight of African-Americans at the turn of the century fleeing the south for opportunity, for asylum, for refuge, for freedom, for opportunity, for education.  People move for a myriad of reasons and it takes courage, hope and faith to make the journey and succeed once you arrive.

Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns” details the stories of three such brave souls during the Great Migration. This historical narrative is riveting in its depth of feeling and illuminating in detailing the harrowing physical, mental and social terror and injustice Blacks experienced as a matter of law in the U.S. and their use of migration as resistance and fight for progress.  As it has been for centuries and, as is conveniently left out of public discourse on the immigration, the very basis for the founding of the United States, migration is a natural human tendency. People migrate for survival, to sustain and improve their lives and will continue to. The use of discriminatory practices to limit the rights, freedom and safety of people that are in search of a better life is a disgrace. Maybe we can all take a lesson from history to inform how we can create a just and equitable world today.