Too seldom are cultural and ethnic barriers bridged between Chicago’s black and brown minority and immigrant communities, according to Alie Kabba, an immigrant from Sierra Leone and executive director of the Chicago-based United African Organization (UAO).
Dubbed the Racial Justice Roundtable, UAO hosted its third and final workshop on the effect of racism and racial inequality on immigrant and minority communities over the weekend. The workshop highlighted different forms of racial inequality, including institutional and structural racism, and discussed the need for all communities of color to come together on a unified mission for social justice.
“Too often we work within different silos and we are never really connected,” said Kabba regarding Illinois’ numerous immigrant rights and advocacy organizations. “We want to make sure those of us engaged in the work of social justice are building black-brown alliances and starting to use a racial justice lens in our discourse about public policy issues and their impact on our communities.”
Kabba said UAO extended invitations to the Racial Justice Roundtable to various community organizations such as the Latino Policy Forum; the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC); the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC); the Arab American Action Network (AAAN); and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago.
“When I say the word ‘immigrant,’ what’s the first face that pops to your mind? Latino,” said Bryan Echols, principal at BE-The Change Consulting and facilitator of Saturday’s workshop. “[We need to] expand the commentary of who immigrants are and what the struggle looks like.”
Echols said all minority and immigrant communities are united under the umbrella of oppression and racism. He said the "race for wealth and privilege" in America started in 1492, well before the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when minorities could "get a good footing and join" the competition.
Here’s more from Echols:
“Racism is primarily characterized by white domination, also called white supremacy — the preferential treatment, privilege and power for white people at the expense of Black, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, Native American, Arab and other racially-oppressed people,” reads a booklet Echols passed to the rountable's attendees. “Racism condemns millions to poverty, inadequate health care, substandard jobs, violence and other conditions of oppression.”
Kabba said one issue a black-brown alliance could address with a unified front is how minority communities are treated within America’s criminal justice system.
“Too often it’s easy to railroad black kids into the criminal justice system, that has become the way to address urban problems,” he said. “At the same time, we see in immigrant communities, the rate of deportations devastates families.”
One out of every 15 African American males aged 18 years or older was incarcerated in 2008, according to a study by the Pew Center on the States.
Meanwhile, a record number of people — more than 400,000 — were deported last year, amounting to more than 1,100 deportations each day.
“Black and brown communities need to frame a common dialogue around the quest for much more inclusive democracy that works for all of us,” Kabba said. “The criminal justice system is disproportionately affecting black and brown communities and we need to address that.”
Kabba added that community organizations representing different minority groups in Chicago could also join forces to fight for better schools in urban neighborhoods and combat the staggeringly high unemployment rates in the city’s Latino and African American populations.
Also, African immigrants’ voices are not often heard during discussion of fixing America’s “broken immigration system,” Kabba added.
There were 1.6 million African immigrants in the U.S. in 2010, according to the Immigration Policy Center. Nearly half of that population, the research and policy center reports, had citizenship.
With 42,300 residents, Chicago has the fifth-largest population of African immigrants in the U.S., according to a recent report by the Chicago Tribune. Kabba said 49 of the 54 African countries are represented in the Windy City.
Kim Hunt, executive director for Affinity Community Services, said cultural transformation and building bridges between different community groups can often be a difficult task. Hunt attended Saturday’s workshop in an attempt to become more “culturally competent.”
“We need to bring black, and also LGBT, voices further into the immigration conversation,” she said. “We need to build bridges to different communities in the hopes of eventually creating deeper relationships that can be harnessed for additional human rights work.”
Kabba said he views the Racial Justice Roundtable series as the beginning of a long-term engagement with various community organizations that are addressing issues of concern to the broader immigrant community.
“For us to move forward it is important for all communities, especially communities of color, to understand [that] in order to make systemic changes, we have to join forces and look at the problems through a racial justice lens,” he said. “It’s time to level the playing field so we all can compete evenly.”