Did You Talk About Race on Thanksgiving? [Reader Forum]

Colorlines.com readers discuss Alabama's HB 56, and Elon James Whites' on-the-ground report on its effects, in the context of Thanksgiving and family history.

By Channing Kennedy Nov 28, 2011

Thanksgiving is one heck on a conversation starter. It’s one part troublesome noble-pilgrim immigration narrative and one part semi-mandatory family reunion. (And as our publisher Rinku Sen notes in the Maddow Show clip above, the issues of immigration and family are intersecting like never before.) So it’s no surprise that, even over our four-day weekend, the Colorlines.com community was debating away. And while our Thanksgiving-specific pieces saw plenty of traffic, the big conversation was happening elsewhere, on the highly apropos topic of immigration.

Elon James White, one of our favorite comedian-writer-radio hosts, traveled to Alabama with a black activist delegation to witness the effects of the state’s new immigration law, HB 56. And while Elon is no stranger to the horrors of modern immigration enforcement, what he saw took his breath away:

Over two days we met with activists, business owners, and those that were affected the most by the law–undocumented people themselves–and my understanding was completely changed. I was against the law when I arrived in Birmingham. But 48 hours later I didn’t simply oppose it; I was horrified and angry for the people who have to live under it and confused as to how this could have ever been allowed in the first place.

To call Alabama’s HB-56 harsh is an understatement. From not being able to receive a birth or death certificate to being at risk for deportation if you seek child support–HB-56 not only creates an unwelcoming environment for any brown immigrants, it harks back to a terrible time in Alabama history that many thought was in the past.

We were all sadly mistaken.

It’s a raw, smart assessment of the situation; do give it a read. So as we celebrate our own families’ stories of hope and struggle, how do we come to terms with the present day’s unjust laws? Here’s what you had to say.

Anne-Marie McIntyre:

I would not be considered either black nor brown, but I grew up hearing about the prejudice my mom faced as the daughter of a dad who immigrated from Spain and a first generation Italian mom. "White" boys were not allowed to date my mom and both her parents had to fight to make sure she and her siblings received fair treatment at school and were not held back just because of who her parents seemed to be. This is disgusting treatment of other human beings and I can’t believe that black, white or brown we can’t imagine being in the shoes of these immigrants and their children and act with more empathy! Thanks for the report from the ground.


I am a native (and proud) liberal Californian who has lived the last 6 years in Alabama. I am also a first generation American (my parents are native central and south americans), so I do have a personal interest in the immigration issue, though because I am white, I suppose I’m not personally affected as much because just from looking at me you might think my people have been in this country for 100 years.

[…] Frankly, I think this is really just a dodge from the GOP to distract people from the fact that the wealth disparity in this country has gotten way out of hand. I just don’t believe that Republicans, as a whole, really care about illegal immigration as it doesn’t affect them. Does anyone here remember the congresswoman from Texas who floated out a bill that would exempt illegals from deportation if they worked as housekeepers? I honestly feel that this is simply new "wedge" issue to get their base fired up, much as gay marriage was in 2004. I mean can there be anything more politically cynical than having Ken Melman, a gay man, head up the Bush re-election campaign in which the chief platform was anti-gay marriage? Of course, 5 years later, Melman comes out as pro-gay marriage because it was a dead issue after Bush was re-elected. I believe that illegal immigration gets a lot of play now for the same reason – it simply is a scare tactic, a way of dividing us from "them" (insert group name here).

StopThat!Girl Jou on the idea that citizens will step into the jobs left behind:

…Only, they aren’t doing the jobs. Which is why Georgia had to resort to getting prisoners (who soon refused to do it) to pick the vegetables when farmers couldn’t get Americans to do the job, and why the farmers in Alabama are losing money as their crops wither.

cottonpickenupset on the notion that white Americans are inherently lazy:

My dad picked cotton as a child… 52 years ago there were still cotton fields in NC… And guess what: after school, we had to pick cotton to help out. So retract your statement about whites being lazy… I have picked cotton also… there are lazy people in all races, but not in my family!


People will cross borders if their kids are hungry and they can’t find work. We can thank our laws and imposing NAFTA on Mexico for destroying their financial system. My grandmother (who was German-American) also told me in the 40s, "We can’t get jobs because those Germans will work for nothing and take away all the American jobs." Same garbage being spewed.


[…] For the majority of the world, there is NO way to immigrate here legally. Basically, unless you’re from Europe or another first world country, it’s EXTREMELY hard, if not impossible, to get any sort of visa to come into this country, whether as a tourist or an immigrant. When my father immigrated here, he had to wait less than one year for a visa. Now, if he could even get one at all, he’d probably have to wait 15 years. Our immigration laws are so biased against people not from first world countries and it infuriates me when people say "oh, they should just wait in line and do it legally" because there IS NO LINE for the vast majority of people who don’t live in Europe.

Michael Powers:

Over the last 30 years, the definition of what constitutes a felony has changed. In many states, judges have the discretion to make pretty much anything a felony (there actually is such a thing as felony jaywalking). We have become a society that’s attached a zero-tolerance policy to just about every human endeavor. The private prison industry has spent years, and billions lobbying for tougher sentencing laws. Once a profit motive became associated with the loss of liberty, no one was safe. Though, as always, the most common victims of these policies are those without the resources to protect themselves. Make no mistake. No matter how well you live your life, you are considered inherently expendable.

Mack Lyons:

Few of the "Deport them all" people realize how this law allows law enforcement, most of whom are of the "harass/arrest first, ask questions later" type, to hone in on illegal immigrants based on whether they look sufficiently Mexican or not. Ethnic profiling in the name of "securing our borders," folks.

The only reason the German exec from Mercedes-Benz was caught up in the first place was the lack of a license plate on his rental. Other than that, he never would had been detained.


The overwhelming majority of undocumented people work at jobs with regular paychecks, just like you and me. That means they are paying taxes out of their paychecks, just like you and me, including all the local payroll taxes, both state and federal income taxes, and, of course, social security. That’s just an undeniable fact.

As to the under-the-table-workers; US citizens who work under the table don’t pay taxes on that income either, and there are a lot more of them than under-the-table undocumented workers. When was the last time your kids paid taxes on their babysitting or lawnmowing money, as required by law?


Mexico’s poor, and those of its neighbors further south, are your problem. It’s your government that pushes NAFTA, and similar policies, which have destroyed the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Mexican peasants. It’s also your government that has done its best to keep all of its southern neighbors impoverished, and often not free, so corporations like Dole and Chiquita can make huge profits off of the brutal exploitation of the native population. Why don’t you read Marine General Butler’s history of our exploits in Latin America? Or, more recently, the history of our backing of the brutal dictatorships of Central America right up through the recent coup in Honduras.

As long as the people of those countries are kept in poverty, largely by our policies, then they will continue to come north looking for work. Change the policies of our government so that we do for them what we did for Western Europe and Japan after WWII instead of our current exploitation, then the problem of undocumented people will largely clear itself up.

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