Black Code, Arizona

In the late 19th century, after President Andrew Johnson ended congressional reconstruction, Southern former-confederates like Bob McDonnell passed laws in the southern United States which limited the rights of newly emancipated and enfranchised black men and women “legally”.  They included literacy tests in order to vote, fees to attend public schools, and poll taxes.  Poor whites were allowed to circumvent these laws which applied to them, too, allowing them to feel like they were part of the wealthy majority culture by “grandfather clauses”:  if the person applying had a grandfather who’d voted, they were exempted from the tax or tests.  These laws were called Black Codes, because they were designed to stop black people from participating in the citizenship of the United States.

Welcome to Arizona.

The Arizona state legislature last week passed a law which makes it illegal to be undocumented.  That means that I as a black mexican american citizen of the United States couldn’t run to the car wash or the grocery store without my birth certificate, because I look “illegal”.  The Brown Code is a celebration of a whiter nation because it also requires government agencies to enforce racial profiling.  Michael J. Fox could walk through Arizona without a second glance, but he was once an illegal immigrant to the United States.  The difference between the two of us?  Melanin.  The law that is sitting on the governor’s desk today is the codification of racism, as were the Black Codes after the civil war.  Like the Confederates of old (then called Democrats) who sought legal redress for their military and ideological and moral losses, the neo-conservatives in Arizona (now called Republicans) are seeking legal security that the United States will continue to be a nation of European-descended and controlled dominance after what they perceive to be a racial loss to President Barack Obama.

The Black Codes danced in time with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which limited the number of immigrants that could come to the United States for employment from China.  They were the precursors of legalized segregation immortalized by the famous “separate but equal” Plessy v. Ferguson SCOTUS decision in 1896.  Legalized segregation gave birth to numerous avenues of discrimination and codified racism, none the least of which was the Bracero program which shipped immigrant labor from Mexico north when it was convenient and south when it was not.  And here we sit today with modern racists trying to sweep up and sweep out all the brown people under the guise of “immigration reform”.  This current legislation requires police to ascertain documents of citizenship from people without any reasonable suspicion except that they are darker skinned.  It is reminiscent of the pass laws which died with South African apartheid sixteen years ago, where black and brown citizens of that nation were required to carry papers but white ones were not.

It will be of some note whether Arizona Governor Jan Brewer decides to once again codify racism by signing the legislation into law, thereby putting her name down with Governor Wallace, or simply refuses to act and lets it “pass into law”, thereby washing her hands like Pontius Pilate.  Either way, much like the Black Codes and legalized segregation, this law will be struck down by those who have read the Constitution of the United States, and who believe that the ideals expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence are the providence of all citizens of this nation.

As President Obama recently stated, “the blessings of this country belong to every single American,” regardless of skin color.

Even in Black Code, Arizona.