There is a lot of talk about how immigrants have built America.
There are those marching on behalf of allowing illegal immigrants be given permanent status even though they and/or their parents have broken the laws of immigration. And there are hordes of people shaking their fists and demonstrating against President Trump for his stance on trying to make America safer by denying new immigrants from certain countries, and detaining other immigrants returning to America from countries known for terrorist activities.
After watching the growth of legal and illegal immigration since the 1940’s, I began to see how some white politicians, business people, and others have used immigration as a buffer between white economic success and black economic lack of success. At one time black people comprised the second largest population group in America. Now, with heavy emphasis on more legal immigration, and turning a blind eye to possibly illegal immigration of more than 11 million, African Americans are now the third largest population, following those who now identify as Hispanics who are now the largest, and fastest growing, population between white people. Some has suggested that by 2043, Hispanics (legal and illegal) will be America’s largest population group.
When I worked in agriculture from the 1940’s to the 1960’s, I observed the growth of Mexican field laborers. In my early years of serving as a migrant worker with my mom, a very hard-working native-born black woman, I saw the fields covered with mostly black workers, a few workers from Mexico and other countries, and some white workers. Gradually, there were very few white workers, mostly black workers, and a growing army of Mexican workers. I discovered that some of the workers from Mexico were enticed by farmers to come and work, and then return to Mexico. I began to be appalled at the living conditions the white farmers gave Mexican workers, but the workers seemed to be so glad to work hard and make more in one day than they could make in their home country in a week or two. They would come to America and work in the fields, with some working in restaurants, cutting grass, and doing other menial work along with the working class black Americans. These immigrants worked hard together, looked out for one another, were not forced to learn English, and seemed happy to return to Mexico with their hard-earned money. Then I began to see changes.
During my high school and college years, I noticed fewer black people in the field; fewer black people cutting grass; fewer black people working in restaurants; fewer black people serving as maids; fewer black people doing janitorial work; and even fewer black people repairing roads and building highways or doing construction work. I was proud when my stepfather helped build the runway at Edwards Air Force Base, later used for Shuttle landings. I was amazed at how he and other black laborers cut through the very dangerous Grapevine highway between Bakersfield and Los Angeles, California making the drive safer for future drivers. But later, employment began to shift away from these men.
I watched the shifting employment with more immigrants from Mexico, other Latin America countries, and immigrants from Cuba, Russia, other parts of Europe, and immigrants from England, India, some parts of Africa, and others around the world flooding into America. I observed some black leaders complaining and demanding more jobs for black people. It appeared that the tide was turning against hiring black people in favor of hiring immigrants. Black people were demanding more: more rights; more justice; more money for their labor; more job opportunities; more equal rights; better housing; better education; and a bigger cut of the American Economic Pie. Black people began to become more demanding. The immigration work force continued to increase. Some other groups began to complain about the inequalities for women, for the elderly, for the disabled, for gays, and even from some field workers who were championed by Caesar Chavez who led vegetable and fruit strikes in the fields. Farmers were desperate. They demanded action from Congress to make things better for the farm laborers. Politicians became more involved. Business people didn’t want their lettuce and grapes to languish in the fields due to a lack of better housing, health care, and increased wages for the workers. By this time, Mexican laborers had just about taken over the needed labor force for the fields. Mexican leaders cried out then and now that if Mexicans didn’t do the cheap labor that farmers needed, who would do the work. Labor unions, political leaders, and others saw their work result in better economic gains for Mexican and other field workers. But, those who had done the heavy lifting and hard work of early farming and menial work saw their economics fall by the wayside.
Black people watched economic gains increase for others, while their economic gains diminished. However, the drug, liquor, and sex market in black communities began to flourish. Young black men who had dropped out of school and unable to find a “decent” job, found opportunities in these markets for making more money than their grandfathers, or even their high-school and college-educated fathers. Other black people complained about their treatment from white people. They took to the streets, even breaking laws and causing economic chaos in some cities. Government programs for black people increased. Politicians and corporate leaders wanted programs to keep angry, young black men (and some women!) busy, especially during the hot, summer months.
There were marches, complaints to the government, and demonstrations against companies either not hiring black people, or hiring fewer black people. However, white companies were now protected from such complaints, thanks to civil rights’ laws—they could now hire “minorities” who were not black Americans and not be hauled into court for racism, discrimination, or favoritism. They could avoid a black boycott. They didn’t want a Dr. King or a Rev. Jesse Jackson, or other leader, calling them out for the hiring practices against black people. The same laws blacks had worked for decades to get passed in Washington to develop a level playing ground for them now began to be used against black people in favor of white women, disabled white men, veteran white people, older white Americans, and now included white gays. However, those groups were also some of the same people who hired people who looked like them, as well as hired “minorities” as long as they were not African American.
When the government encouraged unions to hire black people, especially black men, the unions dragged their feet. Law suits had to be initiated against the unions. Sit-ins had to be started against the unions. The media had to be pushed to speak out against the unions regarding the continuing discrimination toward black people. At last, unions began to hire and put a small trickle of black men into union training programs. Black men were moved into apprenticeships. Some black men became union leaders. Black men were able to make enough money to buy homes, save money, and put their children into college. However, this soon changed as unions were off the hook by hiring more “minorities.” When the government forced companies to set aside some contract work for black people, the word “Negro,” was changed in favor of “minority.” Of course, we wanted EVERYONE to be able to learn how to bid and get government contracts. However, we assumed that the companies understood since they did not have any black people receiving those lucrative government contracts, the government would make sure that black people would finally get a level economic playing field, or at least, a still bumpy economic playing field, but with a chance in the future to really level the field with our hard-working ethics, honesty, and ability to come in under budget and on time. Boy! Were we fooled!
At some of the first meetings, we saw a large contingent of white women coming to bid. Some of us laughed! Surely, THEY would not get these government set-aside contracts. Were we ever wrong! Although a few black people won contracts, most contracts went to white women and other “minorities.” When we inquired, we discovered that many of the white male contractors “sold” their business to their wives, or stepped down to a position of vice president, and moved their wife into the president and CEO position. These men knew the business, did most of the work in the field, but worked under their wives who qualified as “minorities.” Almost every black man in those meetings were stunned. But, they were also very angry. Some even said: “They (white people) will NEVER give us a chance! They will always make sure that they keep the money by finding some loophole.” Of course, some contracts went to some immigrants who had not been the country very long, but they had those needed skills. The same thing happened when we tried to get car dealerships and gas stations. It seemed like others had more money, better credit, but as a “minority,” even as a white woman, they got the dealerships and the gas stations. I met one very hard-working young man from the Middle East and asked how he was able to get a gas station. He said, “My father and family members work hard.” Okay, I was okay with that until he made the next statement, “We now have 37 service stations!” Although everyone in his family worked hard, they also came to America with needed skills—and they had a lot of family members in America, and they all had what was needed: money! Many of the black men with some skills in construction of houses, bridges, roads, and freeways then looked at the construction industry—again. But, they found other roadblocks.
Soon, white and Hispanic women were not just working in offices, but were hired as flag people. More Hispanic men were trained and hired to operate heavy equipment. Black men complained bitterly to each other. When I complained to a very large company about their lack of hiring black men, they would just point at all the “minorities” consisting of women and immigrants working. At one company, I saw a black man working for a union and was so happy that I spoke to him. He looked at me very strangely, and replied with an accent—he was from Sudan! Later, I observed more “black” people working in gas stations and remembered how it had been for black men to get dealerships and gas stations, and was so happy to see that finally, black men were not just fixing tires and doing the menial labor, but they were behind counters. When I spoke to some of them, they replied with an accent…they were from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria, and were from other Middle Eastern and African countries. Although there were no longer native-born black men who came from native-born American parents, native-born American grandparents, native-born American great-grandparents, and those with native-born heritage going back to the formation of America, these other “black” people now qualified to be hired as “minorities.” There were many who could not speak very good English, but they were bi-lingual, and some were even tri-lingual. The employment gap for the masses of black people was becoming more narrow. But, there were still some jobs that could hire black men and women, so many of us looked for other employment opportunities.
As I observed other employment opportunities, I noticed that many jobs had a phrase that would keep almost 100% of black men from qualifying—“must be,” or “preferred” bi-lingual! As time went on, I noticed more companies placing signs in different languages to help newer immigrants. While earlier-arriving immigrants pre-1960s had to, or were forced to, learn how to read, write, speak, and understand English, latter-arriving immigrants, especially since the 1980s did not have to learn any English. Those who took the United States Citizenship Test and Interview could become American citizens after paying fees and jumping through other requirements. I also noticed that they could take the test and go through the interview using subtitles and getting help in their own language. Some immigrants had sponsors who taught them the ropes of citizenship and how to use benefits of living in America. They were even invited to apply for federal jobs later, and shown how to run for office. In fact, I noticed that many immigrants were given much more help for knowing how to navigate in America much better than native-born black people. Some black people surmised that if the masses of black people had sponsors on how to interpret tests, and how to navigate the American culture like immigrants, many would no longer have any need for government programs.
While America was making the economic playing field more level for immigrants (and anyone white!), black people began falling further and further behind economically, educationally, and socially. When I challenged some of those in authority about the continuing subtle racism and discrimination toward black people, I was told “They [black people born in America] have welfare and other civil rights programs to make things easier for them. Plus, if they REALLY wanted to work, they would stay in school, have a better attitude, and pull themselves up by their bootstraps like immigrants and others!” Of course, nothing was said about how to help those without boots, or those who have been so discouraged by subtle racism they were just stymied. What was needed was for Americans to help with the leveling of the economic playing field for blacks who didn’t know how to do what was needed in order to create more opportunities for black people so that they would no longer need government programs!
Dependency on the government by black people has been going on since right after the Civil War, and it was still hard for the masses of black people to break away from guaranteed help to jump out and try to survive without government assistance. Many had tried, but so many more had failed. And with every failure came the impression that it would be impossible for some in the next generation to get the needed boots and the bootstraps to pull themselves up out of poverty, as well as climb out of the whole of near-poverty. But, there was a thin sliver of hope from a few Americans willing to help get boots, bootstraps, and pull these descendants of slaves up out of the hole of dependency, despair, degradation. Even during slavery, after the Civil War, and up to the present-time, there were a few people willing to give a hand up for many black people reaching up and reaching out.
Some politicians, corporate leaders, business people, ministers, reporters and editors, and social workers tried to make the economic playing field more level for black people, others worked hard to overcome any new law or plan that would help the masses of black people become financially independent with skills to take care of their families, enjoy a little American Economic Pie, and allow them to leave a financial legacy for those following them. Thus, many black men found some leveling of the economic playing field by becoming more proficient in sports, music, and in the world of entertainment. However, white men learned how to mimic whatever black men did and also mastered new moves on the playing field; copied black music for a wider general audience; and created more opportunities for those who understood money-making from books, plays, record labels, TV shows, and movies. For example, there are a lot of black men playing football and basketball, but very few black managers, coaches, and owners. As recruiters develop more ethnic groups, some looking like black Americans, into sports, there are fewer openings for black men in certain sports, like baseball. White recruiters are also making sure that the buffer zone between white and black people become even more crowded with newer immigrants.
When public schools discovered that more white teachers were leaving the field of education, recruiters began recruiting teachers from Russia, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, and other countries. Some blacks found it very difficult to compete with the better educated and better trained immigrants who often spoke better English, and knew their subject extremely well. When the health industry found out that they needed many more people for almost every industry in health after the 1980s, instead of developing more black people, they sent recruiters to the Philippines, the Middle East, India, European countries, and even into Africa, to fill the employment gap that some black people thought would be filled by them.
These new immigrants rose quickly and became leaders in software corporations, in huge mega-billion corporations, in education, in politics, and in almost every industry in America. Unfortunately, the masses of black people saw their almost bright future become gloomier. However, the criminal market grew with their involvement in drugs, liquor, women, and other vices. It seemed that there was little discrimination or racism in the underworld industry. And, a lot of money could be made.
At the same time of the economic struggles of the masses of black people, some of the crème of black people continued to move up, regardless of racism, discrimination, bad policies, dysfunctional families, limited beginnings, poverty, and more. Sometimes, it was a minister, coach, educator, business person, or just a concerned citizen who saw something of value in a black person and was moved to do something positive. Without government pressure, without any civil rights laws, without threat of a lawsuit, without media attention, and without guilt of the past, these white people, Anglo Americans and some immigrants, took it upon themselves to join some Jews and other Anglo Americans who had been quietly helping an African American child, helping an African American family, helping an African American business, helping an African American church, helping an African American organization, or even helping an entire African American community achieve a measure of positive personal and sustainable economic development. With such help, more than 5% of African Americans have been helped.
However, the wealth gap between Anglo Americans is about 20 times that of African Americans. This means if only 10% of Anglo Americans invested just 10% of their income in sustainable African American business enterprises, the wealth of African Americans would probably increase at least 2%, and the distance between Anglo American wealth and African American wealth may decrease a mere 1%. Just imagine if 20% of Anglo Americans (2 out of 5) invested more than 10% of their wealth into African American sustainable enterprises, Anglo American wealth may only drop another 2%, while African American wealth would rise 3%, leaving Anglo American wealth only 13 times more than African Americans. Such an investment may cause African American drug dealers to stop selling drugs as their brains would be needed to help run the sustainable African American enterprises. Such a move could cut crime in African American communities about 50%, saving taxpayers at least 30% on their tax bill since America would need fewer prisons, fewer prison guards, fewer judges, fewer police, fewer police cars, fewer juvenile halls, fewer detention halls, and just fewer investments in operations that continue to take more funds from tax payers. And, Anglo Americans and immigrants would increase their income from their investment in African American enterprises because many African Americans would just spend more money with them instead of sending money overseas since America is their only home country! Do we have any takers out there?