As time has progressed in our class, I have seen more and more examples of how laws mean nothing without the enforcement behind them. While we see the government “making new laws” in order to improve or help the black experience most of these laws were not being enforced everywhere. So while these laws were on the book “guaranteeing” rights for the people they were not actually helping anything. I was reminded of this when I was reading an article about Antoinette Harrell who is a historian and genealogist.
What peaked my interest with Ms. Harrell was her research into slavery that continued into the 1960s. This interesting part of this is because all slaves were supposed to be free after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. However some of her research led her to finding out about some workers who reminded me a little of indentured servants. They had a specific debt they were supposed to pay back to their “boss”, however every time they would go to pay off what they owed somehow they would still be short an be forced to stay and work the land.
This was particularly familiar to be because I have an aunt who recently passed away that used to tell me about the work her father did as a farm hand, what she called it, and how he had to go to this white mans farm everyday and work his field and in return the owner might give him some of what was grown or a very small wage. It was simply a crazy thought to think that something like that could still be occurring that late into the 20th century. All goes to show that just because something is written in the books as a law does not mean that it will really change what is going on.\
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Lacey Schwartz is the filmmaker and star of the documentary Little White Lie which details her experience of growing up believing she was completely white and later discovering that she was biracial (black and white). I had the opportunity to see the documentary and talk with Lacey and upon later reflection there were some things that stayed with me.
One thing that stuck with me was something Lacey’s mom said “this conversation wouldn’t be so dramatic had I had an affair with a white man and not a black one.” I recounted the Ida B. Wells piece, Southern Horrors, the reason this piece stuck with me was Lacey’s mom started the affair with her biological father in the 60s. While lynching might not have been as frequent they still occurred. Within Wells’ piece she discusses how most black men were lynched under the guise of raping of white woman, but really for having relationships “their” white women. I couldn’t help but wonder afterwards how things could have played out had her mother owned up to the affair especially since she was married to a white man at the time. While they lived in the North, which was a little more progressive, I still can’t imagine that it would have been easy to admit that she had an affair with a black man.
“Stepping off that plane was the first time I felt like an immigrant” (WET). This quote refers to the point in the play where Alex steps off the plane in Guatemala for the first time. Alex has lived in the United States his entire life, in his own words, “this is not home”. This play taught me how so many people only have one piece of the story they take to be the truth and don’t realize there is more than one side to the story. It also taught me about all the little intricacies and complications within the immigration process.
During the play, I recalled the Hartman piece where she states, [they] had returned to Africa but they possessed no kin, clan or village home” (Middle Passage). While Alex did have family there and fortunate enough to meet them so many others don’t. Thinking over the amount of times I heard and still hear people saying, “go back to where you came from” or “you don’t belong here”. America is their home, however we are deporting people left and right to places they have never lived a day in their life. When society is calling for immigrants to be removed from their communities, they don’t realize what this truly means. Imagine being put on a plane and left in a country you don’t know, you have never lived there a day in your life; you may not even speak the language, but you are expected to make a home there. Being from or being born somewhere does necessarily make it your home.
Another part in the play to me was simply everything Alex was forced to go through. Here is somebody that has worked to become a “legal” citizen for years and still has not received a piece of paper that would change his life. When the public is telling people become a “legal” citizen then your life will be so much easier, but most of them have no idea what that process looks like. Alex, filled out paperwork, wrote letters and went back to Guatemala and to this day has still not received that little piece of paper that holds so much weight. Before jumping to conclusions, the public needs to get the full story and educate themselves on the truth.