What lessons from the Civil Rights Movement can and should be applied to the recent Arizona immigration law, as well as any larger American debate over immigration?
The most common item mentioned since this law was passed is “racial profiling” — making judgments about people based upon their appearance. For Hispanics, the questions usually revolve arWhat lessons from the Civil Rights Movement can and should be applied to the recent Arizona immigration law, as well as any larger American debate over immigration?ound their status: Are they legal citizens, or have they entered the country illegally? Are other laws being broken, especially human trafficking or drug trafficking? The Arizona law gives local law enforcement the right to make inquiries based on the racial identification of the suspects. The profiles lump together certain violations with certain racial or ethnic identities. Those arrested then can be examined for any other violated law. The intended result is to remove people who have violated immigration laws.
Racial profiling associated with the Civil Rights Movement was focused on keeping African-Americans as a sub-class in America. It was far more than just being in a place or community where one was “not supposed to be,” or driving a car that was assumed to be stolen, or breaking some local law or custom preserved for one group of people. African-Americans already are citizens whose ancestors were forced to be here, who, when freed from chattel slavery, became a despised commodity.
The current immigration concerns do not apply to African-Americans, but lessons are to be learned about racial profiling:
• The inability of individuals or groups to know a people-group so well they can make generalizations and judgments about them. As illustration, notions about the Africans sold as slaves originally were based upon the babble of sailors and merchants, not people who personally knew them or were responsible sociologists, scientists, or medical or mental health practitioners. The babble was repeated so often it became “gospel” — some of which continues even to this day. The caricatures were assumed to be accurate and were applied to anyone belonging to that people-group. This not only is unfair and unjust, but it is a sin against humanity.
• People who are profiled resent those who develop and perpetuate the profiles. If resentment is not dealt with quickly, suspicion, anger and retaliation may enter the picture. Fortunately, Martin Luther King’s emphasis on nonviolence became a leavening agent. The movement’s emphases on forgiveness, love and reconciliation were drawn from Scripture, particularly the words and life of Jesus Christ. The power of the gospel turned historic resentment into many positive contributions, especially including the ability to turn hardships into creative opportunities, anger into praise, suffering into healing, hatred into love and moans into spirituals, and spreading the gospel of good news.
Emmanuel McCall is adjunct professor at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Ga. Right or Wrong? is sponsored by the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology. Contributors include Baptists in Virginia, Texas, Missouri and other states. Send your questions about how to apply your faith to [email protected].