The essay below is written by Yves Gomes of Silver Spring, MD.
[En Español aquí]
I am writing this for my undocumented friends who have been turned off from the protests in Baltimore because of the “violence” and “riot-like nature.” I encourage them to challenge themselves and question the mainstream news coverage of the protests.
First, my support and solidarity goes out to the people in the streets of Baltimore tonight and in the nights to come. My prayers go out to Freddie Gray, his family and the countless other Black families who have been torn apart by law enforcement officers. For those who do not know, Freddie Gray was a young man who lapsed into a coma after police beat him and severely injured his spinal cord. He died after 5 days of hospitalization in the comatose state.
Expectantly, some media outlets sought to diminish Freddie Gray’s humanity and justify his murder by zeroing in on his criminal record and referencing the knife he carried in his pocket during his interaction with the police. Now, in the wake of his death, mainstream media and law enforcement are trying to delegitimize the uprising by painting the protestors as “thugs” and “gangbangers,” providing an excuse to further militarize the city while ignoring decisions by the State that created the harsh living conditions that exist for so many city residents today.
It is hypocritical if we do not view Black acts of resistance in Baltimore, Ferguson, New York City and other parts of the US with the same critical analysis we ask for ourselves.
We as undocumented people should be able to understand how extreme hardships and systemic failures lead to desperate action. We constantly urge others to look at us as human and view our migration through a critical lens by highlighting the reasons that compel our families to abandon everything and travel thousands of miles to come to the US. Now it is our responsibility to ask ourselves what compels Black youth to take the streets in the first place.
It is hypocritical if we do not view Black acts of resistance in Baltimore, Ferguson, New York City and other parts of the US with the same critical analysis we ask for ourselves. If we cannot see past the isolated images of property damage fed to us by the media, then we really act no better than the people who ask us why we didn’t just come legally.
By qualifying our support to only the peaceful protestors and choosing to focus our attention in condemnation of the few rioters, we are simply reinforcing the cycle of oppression on Black lives that occurs on the larger scale. Our quick condemnation of these actions provides police with justification to continue using force against protesters. After all, such rhetoric should ring a bell in light of the President’s felons’ vs families rhetoric that serves to justify hyper enforcement and mass deportations in the immigrant community.
As a South Asian immigrant whose community has used Anti-Blackness as a tool to move up in this country, I’ve heard lines like, “That’s exactly why they shouldn’t be rioting in the first place! I see why they are mad but it takes away from all the positive work being done.” But such thought, again, places the fault and criminalization on the Black community instead of on white supremacy which created the conditions for such protest.
If they had the courage to engage their community to destroy stereotypes about us, and support us unconditionally, we need to return the favor and do the same for them.
Our conversations should begin at the very least by mourning the death of Freddie Gray, acknowledging his humanity, and admitting the privileges that we hold. There is a lot of literature by Black thinkers, current and past, on how we can address anti-Black racism, the roots of Black struggle in the US, and how it’s progressed over the course of 400+ years. My job is to actually listen to them when they speak, and read what they write instead of just memorizing a handful of MLK quotes to use for my convenience when advocating for immigrant rights.
For my immigrant youth in Maryland, it’s important to remember that a lot of the protesters out in the streets were the same ones that campaigned for and voted in favor of the Maryland Dream Act in our 2012 referendum campaign. In fact, there were Black youth in Baltimore who put in more work in passing the Dream Act than many undocumented youth in our state. If they had the courage to engage their community to destroy stereotypes about us, and support us unconditionally, we need to return the favor and do the same for them. Lastly, I want to assert that we also have Black undocumented family and friends, who are disproportionately at the receiving end of both domestic and immigration law enforcement.
If there are three things we direly need to grow as a movement, we need to:
1. Acknowledge that anti-Blackness is at the foundation of our immigrant experience,
2. Create the spaces for our Black undocumented community to lead any talks of solidarity between Black and immigrant communities
3. Dismantle and re-create a narrative that doesn’t throw our community members with criminal records under the bus.
If we are to say Black Lives Matter, it cannot be a Black Lives Matter* (with a qualifying disclaimer).
My name is Yves Gomes. I hail from Silver Spring, MD. As an undocumented Bengali, growing up in a middle class, diverse, suburban neighborhood, I was “colorblind” for the longest time and bought into the false Model Minority stereotype. It was not until my parents’ deportation in 2009 and facing my own deportation in 2010, that I began to understand how my undocumented experience as a Middle-class Asian American was starkly different than my Latino and Black peers. The only way we are going to get past the issue of race is to address it.
Statement on the Baltimore Uprising