One of the greatest Black women poets of our time, Lucille Clifton, is not frequently taught in schools — or at least not taught enough. Her poem, song at midnight, contains a line you may have seen on the internet, in part. We like to circulate it among ourselves as a clarion call, a prayer, a balm & mantra, especially the last lines, but here is the second part of it, from The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010, edited by Kevin Young and Michael S. Glaser:
born into babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
The epigraph to this poem is from a Sonia Sanchez poem: “…do not send me out among strangers.”
Black women’s lives, for so long, were shaped around survival, and it had always been so, it’s true. In The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales told by Virginia Hamilton, in the introduction, though, I was reminded of something else.
“It is amazing,” she writes, “that the former Africans could ever smile and laugh, let alone make up riddles and songs and jokes and tell tales. As slaves, they were forced to live without citizenship, without rights, as property – like horses and cows – belonging to someone else. But no amount of hard labor and suffering could suppress their powers of imagination.”
It’s not easy reading, but it needed to be said. On Medium:
What will become of the white women who say they want the world to be better for all of us, but will not gather their white sisters or relatives at the dinner table when they say deeply racist things because they are all bound up in the comforts of the patriarchy that oppresses us all? How will we reconcile the addictive nature of comfort and how comfortable narratives keep us stuck in the lie of solidarity?
Are we willing to be angry with one another in the service of understanding that discomfort might be the thing that saves us?
Audre Lorde also said this back in 1981: “But the strength of women lies in recognizing differences between us as creative, and in standing to those distortions which we inherited without blame, but which are now ours to alter. The angers of women can transform difference through insight into power. For anger between peers births change, not destruction, and the discomfort and sense of loss it often causes is not fatal, but a sign of growth.”
Some of us, white and black, know how great a price has already been paid to bring into existence a new consciousness, a new people, an unprecedented nation. If we know, and do nothing, we are worse than the murderers hired in our name.
If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night. — An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis, November 19, 1970
There are a couple of great lies about history that we tell ourselves as Americans these days.
One of them is that when something horrific happens — like the imprisonment of infants at our borders, the separation of children from their families, the cruel and barbaric implementation of white supremacist policy without proper process — that it’s the horrific manifestation of the work of a singular evil person’s vision.
But what we know is that history repeats itself. On American shores.
Black and brown children have been caged in this country for many years, have been separated from their families and sold. Native American children, too. These things are often called something different, the process and systems sometimes less extreme and more subtle. These things happen over time — through mass incarceration systems and through broken foster care systems. But they happen here. Disproportionately to black, brown and poor children. Every day.
They have happened, before. After Pearl Harbor.
Last night, I was thinking about this — I’ve been so busy and also trying to protect myself from the trauma that I didn’t read Laura Bush’s take that included the mention of Japanese internment camps — but even before that, I thought about writing in Seattle, after Sept. 11th, and talking to people there about the possibilities of internment camps returning to the U.S. again — this time for Muslim Americans.
In Foreign Policy, (where the image and caption first appeared) George Takei writes an astounding passage about his family’s experience in internment camps:
At least during the internment, when I was just 5 years old, I was not taken from my parents. My family was sent to a racetrack for several weeks to live in a horse stall, but at least we had each other. At least during the internment, my parents were able to place themselves between the horror of what we were facing and my own childish understanding of our circumstances. They told us we were “going on a vacation to live with the horsies.” And when we got to Rohwer camp, they again put themselves between us and the horror, so that we would never fully appreciate the grim reality of the mosquito-infested swamp into which we had been thrown.
What is different now is that we can hear the cries of anguished children, and as our country becomes more authoritarian, see only a few images. So most of us can only imagine what journalists are describing, really. I feel a similar despair and rage that I witnessed Rachel Maddow displaying on my timeline last night. It’s hard to know what to do when there’s already so much that it feels like needs to be corrected and done.
Thankfully, there are a lot of committed people who are sharing resources for how to help if you are able to donate, spread the word via social media or more. Today also happens to be World Refugee Day, and there are a record number of people around the world who are displaced. I hope we remember that what happens to others happens to us, and if they take others in the morning, they’ll be coming for us later on.
The truest thing about American history is that it repeats itself.
Below is a list of suggested actions from one of the list-servs I’m on from when I served in the Obama Administration. Help if you can.
CALL YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS:
Urge Members of Congress to use Congress’ oversight authority to stop separating families and to VOTE DOWN the two anti-immigrant bills moving through the House this week.
The House is expected to vote on two anti-immigrant bills on Thursday, June 21st: one proposed by Rep. Goodlatte and another proposed by Speaker Ryan. Neither bill addresses the administration’s policy of separating families, and neither bill fixes the administration’s decision to end DACA.
On the two anti-immigrant bills:
Please speak out publicly against the Ryan bill and Goodlatte bill in advance of the vote. Statements are particularly needed on Tuesday, June 19th.
United We Dream’s call tool opposing both the Goodlatte bill and Ryan bill: 844-505-3769 directs calls to target House moderates; when folks call the line, they will hear a recording directing them on asks.
Oppose Speaker Ryan’s bill, the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018. The bill hurts immigrant families and communities more than it helps them and damages the moral credibility of the United States by worsening the family separation crisis occurring on the border
This Bill Will Worsen the Family Separation Crisis at the Border. Nothing in the bill prevents the Trump administration from taking children away from their parents, despite claims to the contrary. The current mass separations are a matter of policy – not law – and this bill does not compel the administration to change its policy. Not only does it not solve this abhorrent, manufactured crisis, it actually puts children in more danger by stripping away decades of bipartisan protections. The current crisis began with the Trump administration and can only end with action from the Trump administration itself.
Sample Vote Recommendation on the Ryan Bill
Additional resources from the Immigration Hub:
Analysis/Summary of the Ryan Bill
Fact Sheet: Ryan’s “Compromise” Bill Does NOT End Family Separation
On family separation:
Ask Members to urge the administration to end the policy of forcibly separating families, particularly by weighing in on social media.
Ask Members to also push for President Trump, DHS Secretary Nielsen, and Attorney General Sessions to end the practice of separating and jailing families via letters, appropriations requirements, and Congressional hearings.
The ACLU has a call tool specifically for Senators; the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has a call tool that directs calls, tweets, facebook posts, and emails to all Members of Congress.
In addition, this is a summary of draft bills in the Senate to protect immigrant families that need Republican support:
(S. 2468) The Fair Day In Court for Kids Act.
A bill to provide access to counsel for unaccompanied alien children. You can find the full text here. This is important because every day the U.S. government brings children into immigration court where they are forced to defend themselves without counsel. As a result, thousands of children, some as young as 3-and 4-years-old, are ordered deported without legal representation. Here is the fact sheet from the ACLU.
Please make sure your senators are supporting it here.
(S.2937) The HELP Separated Children Act (Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections for Separated Children Act)
This is sponsored by Senator Smith in the Senate and Representative Roybal-Allard in the House. Full text here and list of supporters here.
Make sure your Senators AND house members support it.
We can create more accountability if immigrant-supporting civil rights impact litigators have the resources they need to try to intervene in this process in as many ways as possible. One TX based organization doing amazing work is TXCivilRights. They need help to cover more proceedings in more courthouses so that litigators trying to stop this have a better sense as to what is happening as this process lacks transparency across the board. You can donate here: https://texascivilrightsproject.org/donate/
Once parents are separated and prosecuted some move back over into DHS custody and get moved around to other detention centers. This is where having more lawyers who work inside detention centers to help figure out how to get these parents back w/ their kids is important. RAICES has a bond fund to help reunited families and fight their cases from the outside. You can support that bond fund here: https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/bondfund…&
You can clean your closet & supply cabinets and clothing donations to Catholic Charities RGV’s shelter for refugees. People arrive with nothing and this place helps clean, feed and clothe them.
Here is a list of items needed:
• Toiletries for men and women (deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, etc.)
• Shoes (sandals, tennis shoes, loafers, etc.) for men, women, children and infants of all sizes
• Clothes (pants, t-shirts, blouses, underclothing, etc.) for children and adults of all sizes
• Baby supplies for toddlers (Pampers, baby wipes, baby bottles, etc.)
• Sealed snack food (granola bars, chips, peanut butter & cheese crackers, etc.)
• Gift cards to purchase food items
• Phone cards
• Plastic bags for families to pack sandwiches, snacks, and water for their trip
And a link to their Amazon wish list: https://www.amazon.com/…/ref=cm_sw_r_sms_awwl_xs_RAajBbYZT9…
The Florence Project legal and social services for immigrant families
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) provides legal assistance to minors
National Immigrant Justice Center, the NIJC is asking for donations to provide legal representation to parents in IL.
Everything said about Texas is needed everywhere else right now, so check out http://InformedImmigrant.com plug in your zip code find out what organizations are near you and help by volunteering there!
For those interested in helping the children and families separated by the recent raid in Sandusky Ohio, advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) has multiple opportunities to help: https://americasvoice.org/…/advocates-for-basic-legal-equa…/
If you are a lawyer, you can sign up to provide pro-bono services here:
You can also volunteer at Sacred Heart Church, NETA, ProBAR, and the Texas Civil Rights Project listed above if you are in TX or willing to travel there.
You can also refer to the Families Belong Together Guide on How to Help for details about different actions around the country, including the June 30 demonstration outside the White House.
SPEAK OUT Continue speaking out on social media to raise awareness about the administration’s cruel policy.