Here's where the ease of unedited communication via social networking gets way out of hand. Over the weekend, a startling image appeared in my Facebook feed. It was a picture of the slave ship image on display in Tavis Smiley's America I Am exhibit that you can currently see at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in downtown Charlotte. The picture shows how cruelly and horribly slave traders packed human beings in ships bound for America.
Someone had posted that image on Facebook along with the words, "I don't remember Southern states complaining when undocumented workers came over like this."
I had to do a double-take. I understand and sympathize with what the person who posted it was trying to get across. The treatment of undocumented immigrants, not just in the South, but in far-right communities across this country, is appalling. Here at Creative Loafing, we recently opted in to the "Drop the 'I' Word" campaign to eradicate the word "illegal" in describing human beings. We're deadly serious about issues of human rights with regard to undocumented immigrants.
But — and this is a huge "but" — to compare the plight of today's undocumented immigrants with the treatment of Africans who were kidnapped, chained and packed into slave ships bound for America is callousness on an unbelievably disrespectful level. Forget the ignorant need for some non-Southerners to consistently harangue the South (as if it's one big monolithic blob) for behaviors that many, many Americans in areas far beyond the South are guilty of today — this ostensibly left/liberal message fails on every level imaginable. I would have just shook my head and moved on to the next absurd item in my news feed had I not noticed that the image and message had gone completely viral — it had been shared on Facebook 4,405 times and also tweeted. People were commenting, "Good one" and "Seriously, I am so sharing this one" and "Slavery by any other name is still slavery."
This is the most destructive, self-defeating sort of "progressive" political statement one could make, and it just opens the floodgates for far-right conservatives to have a field day with left-leaning illogic. Fortunately, my always-astute West Coast friend and colleague, L.A. Times social critic Ernest Hardy (Blood Beats: Vol. 1 Demos, Remixes & Extended Versions and Blood Beats: Vol. 2 The Bootleg Joints), ignited a thread opposing the misguided message. "I fully expect to be slammed for this...," Ernest wrote, "in the same way that any sort of commentary on the subtextual (and sometimes that shit ain't even subtext) anti-Black racism that peppers so much 'progressive' discourse amongst POC on the so-called left, is shrugged off or shredded without real consideration." Even more fortunately, many supported Ernest's criticism.
The final word on this, however, came from Latina blogger Liz, who pens "The Tortilla Chronicles" (http://tortillachronicles.tumblr.com), a blog that covers everything from race and immigration to hip-hop. "Dios mio y medio," she wrote. "These comparisons are ridiculously unnecessary and are probably rather insulting to the Black community. Transatlantic slavery will never equate to the current problems undocumented workers face today in the US. As an inmigrante I get how tough life can be. We are belittled, ignored, exploited, denied basic human rights and when we're sent off to those detention holdings — like any other prisoner — we are forced to do slave labor. Pero, that in no way means that we need to peg our struggle to the horrors that was the transatlantic slave trade."
Thank you, Liz. And to that I add: As a Southerner living in Charlotte, N.C., I understand how bigoted our area has been and continues to be in our society and our politics. But that in no way means that every racist, bigoted human rights violation that ever existed in this country — or by this country — must constantly be projected geographically onto just one part of the country, no matter how conservative that part of the country generally votes. This nation will never get to a place of healing and change if we're constantly blaming some elusive, collective "other." That's called denial.
Now, for a little levity: We have a cover story this issue on the diversity of Southerners right here who are making the best of the upcoming Democratic National Convention. Are they in bed with the Democrats? Are we? Maybe. But we won't kiss and tell — too much.