How liberal discourse that distances migrants from “criminals” obscures the crimes of this anti-Black state
By not being Black, or by being an “immigrant,” refugees & settlers think they have more to potentially gain from the project of America
By “DJ Ferguson”
All Star Batman and Robin: The Boy Wonder written by Frank Miller is an unholy mixture of camp and 90s grim-and-gritty/edgy for its own sake, but this interaction between Batman and Green Lantern will stick with me for the rest of my life.
This story takes place not long after Batman: Year One. In that story, the corrupt, militant, racist, classist police force is in bed with the organized criminal organizations and other capitalists. In going up against corrupt policing bodies, Batman had to be criminal, even though that is also what made him a hero. This thread comes to a head in The Dark Knight Strikes Again when Batman and the Justice League have to take down Lex Luthor who runs a global police state while giving the illusion of democracy through a computer-generated President. The superhuman’s anxiety about being feared as criminal by Humanity had to go, once and for all, if he was to do his job.
Liberal discourse around migrants focuses on begging and pleading to be seen as something other than “inherently criminal.” But when you focus on the inherent criminality of Modernity broadly, and the United States project in particular, you begin to find new ways of understanding MLK’s “arc of the moral universe” and appeal to a higher law.
The United States is illegitimate and maintained through ongoing genocide, slavery, and colonialism. What some call immigrants are only displaced Indigenous peoples (Including Black Americans, AKA Akata), Settlers, and Refugees.
It’s the latter that we most often associate with immigration narratives today. Sometimes these people are refugees from the harmful effects of American Colonialism and Imperialism. Other times, they are refugees from particularly harmful effects of White Western Imperialism broadly, such as economic refugees from India. Others are refugees of the harmful effects of White Eastern Imperialism, such as people from Afghanistan or South Vietnam. Others are refugees of particularly malignant strains of Modernity that attempt to systematically purge them of their Indigenous ways of being, such as Chinese people escaping the Cultural Revolution. However, others were relatively unscathed and come here nonetheless primarily out of opportunism. But whether coming here for opportunity, refuge, or both, in distancing themselves from the always criminalized local Indigenous communities, these migrants show that they come here to create and build a refuge maintained by continuous genocide, anti-Blackness (slavery), and colonialism.
Sometimes, when trying to organize with non-Black PoC, it’s easy to believe that we can be just as xenophobic as white people, but we’ve collectively gone through too many different kinds of things over the course of our long history here. I see and hear about the suffering of non-Black PoC and it pains me. But in comment sections, for every one Black person behaving in a way unbefitting of us toward non-Black PoC, there are ten or fifteen volunteering our own collective experience as a point of reference for why the rest of us shouldn’t be doing that. That’s something I’ve become proud of. But we’ve even learned to empathize with the people torturing us non-stop for centuries with the hope that maybe we could reach our white overlords. That’s not something to celebrate.
Some of us aren’t inclined to extend that empathy to people who are literally here to benefit from past and ongoing anti-Blackness and slavery. And what’s been unpleasantly liberating has been learning to empathize with those of us too. I’ve learned to empathize with Black Americans who don’t trust or aren’t inclined to seek camaraderie with any non-Black PoC. Because why should they? How are NBPoC inherently different from the Irish, Italians, Polish, White Jews, and Germans who came before you? Skin color? Sometimes that just incentives you to try even harder to assimilate into or integrate alongside whiteness.
An example of this has been my own relationship with Vietnamese Americans. So much of the public regret surrounding the Vietnam War center the PTSD of U.S. veterans and on America’s global image and reputation. Conversely, Martin and Coretta Scott King urged us to empathize with the people our soldiers were sent to kill, even though King didn’t affirm or extol the merits of Communism, instead advocating for a “higher synthesis.” I read about the horrors of the Vietnam war on the people, at the hands of Communists and Capitalists. I also read about how Vietnamese people have been resisting larger empires for centuries. I read about how they inspired the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars and the United States was the Galactic Empire. I found much to relate to, much to identify with, much to empathize with, much to admire, which was why it was particularly hurtful to read about Vietnamese voting patterns in the previous Presidential election.
Afterwards, I read a story about how Vietnamese Americans were being targeted for deportation. My first instinct was to use my social media space to bring attention to this issue, but then I remembered my pain, and the general increase of acute Black pain and humiliation under this administration. Then I thought: “Less of them to vote for Trump.” I didn’t share the link, and I don’t think I ever will in the near future.
I don’t like this version of myself, but I fear I have to become it nonetheless. This feels like a mutilation of my Soul, but a necessary mutilation. Putting me, putting us, in the position to have to think this way is also violence. Violence against a part of ourselves that I like. A part of ourselves that I love.
By not being Black, or by being an “immigrant,” refugees and settlers think they have more to potentially gain from the whole project of Americanism. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but this is a hope that poisons the Soul.
“Black Xenophobia” can be read as an active hostility to the whole notion of an “immigrant” in an anti-Black structure. We, rightfully, see more waves of settlers, colonizers, and/or those who desperately want to be counted among them even if they never can fully be (and this ambivalence should also include wannabe settlers and colonizers among Black Americans whose threat we need to take more seriously). To see oneself as an “immigrant” to the United States is an affirmation of White American Sovereignty/Supremacy, especially if you see yourself as obligated to the state out of a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to benefit from ethnic cleansing, colonialism, anti-Blackness, etc.
I think we Black people are empathetic enough to accept refugees, but we can’t and shouldn’t do so at our own expense. We have the most to gain and the most to continually lose from this type of solidarity.
In order to build refuge and opportunity, we are all going to have to become Criminals, Savages, The Peril, Illegals, Primitives. We will have to go off the reservation, over the wall, under the barbed wire. Not just relative to the United States, but to Modern Humanity itself. We can’t have virtue in a different world without Criminality toward this one. We can’t have harmony with the rest of the natural world without Savagery. We can’t have hope in different ways of being “Civilized” without being a Peril to one we’re forced into. We can’t have alignment to a “higher moral law” without being Illegal.
We can’t be Heroes without being Criminals.
Because if Black people ever need to escape from the United States, we wouldn’t be “migrants” in a modern, anti-Black, white supremacist world.
We would be fugitives.
We have to be fugitives.
Of course we’d be fugitives.
We’ve always been fugitives.
“DJ Ferguson” is a Black American (Akata), freelance writer who studied Philosophy at Ball State University.