Which came first: the derailer or the eraser? This question was inspired by pop star Camila Cabello’s pro-immigration speech to millions of viewers at the 60th annual Grammys last night.

“Today, in this room full of music’s dreamers, we remember that this country was built by dreamers, for dreamers, chasing the American dream,” Cabello said [emphasis mine]. Before Cabello’s speech, she, Andra Day, Cyndi Lauper and several other women assisted Kesha during an awe-inspiring performance of the anti-sexual violence anthem “Praying.”

“I’m here on this stage tonight because, just like the DREAMers, my parents brought me to this country with nothing in their pockets but hope. They showed me what it means to work twice as hard and never give up. And honestly no part of my journey is any different from theirs,” Cabello said.

I get why Cabello chose this framing. As a person of color who engages in pragmatism, I understand how effective narratives of hard work, family and belief in a better day are for solidifying one’s acceptance in certain societal spaces. Yet, as a multi-generational African American person (my family and I call ourselves “cotton Black”), I am also accustomed to seeing non-Black people of color deploy Black Americans’ freedom blueprints and pretend our architecture fell from the ether when they want white people and institutions to accept them.

By homogenizing everyone’s journey to America vis a vis immigration, Cabello verbally erased millions of enslaved Black people who built America. European colonizers kidnapped, trafficked and abused our ancestors. My not-so-distant relatives were legally forced to labor for free and amass settler wealth. They were sexually and psychologically violated. Latin America, including Cabello’s Cuba, has similar histories relative to African-descended people.

It stands to reason that my ancestors would support alliances with other vulnerable people, including immigrants of color. However, lies of omission will not do. It’s these same lies that influence non-Black people of color, including Cabello herself, to traffic in anti-Blackness. Both pop culture creatives and official policymakers should reckon with America’s original sins of slavery and the institution’s long-standing effects on identifiable Black Americans and work to advance other groups’ interests. This sort of reckoning would make America woman up to her ideals and become a place that genuinely welcomes Cabellos without forgetting Jacksons.  

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