Bull Connor, Robert Bentley and the Pride of Alabama

Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up.

I have no idea who came up with that quote, but whoever it was is indeed a wise one.

60 years ago, a Civil Rights war was waged and won. Both a product of the south and bi-racial, I am proud of my history and ever-conscious of it. I love going back home and touring plantations, walking through the many museums that document in breathtaking detail what seems like every moment of our racially-intolerant past- from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Movement.

Years ago, when my (now) 13 year old was about five, I took her to a plantation just outside of Richmond, VA. After walking through the beautifully landscaped grounds, we came across a real cotton field; one that still produces to this day. I made my child get out there and start picking it. What better way to illustrate the back-breaking work her ancestors were forced to perform? I was grateful for the opportunity to show her, and for just a moment, she lived her history.

The beautiful home and land we had been visiting took on a different look to her that day.

One of the greatest things about the south is its willingness- its openness- to address its bloody history. Nowhere is human progress more apparent to me than when I have the opportunity to go home and see for myself how far we have come in such a short amount of time.

The good guys won that war. I just wish I could say the story is over now, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Unfortunately, however, that’s not the case. There has been a heartbreaking backslide in our country, and yes (or most especially, perhaps) it is happening in the south.

On its surface, the battle may not look like the one our Civil Rights heroes fought all those years ago, but if one takes just a moment to look below the surface, the similarities are chilling.

Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the Movement was fought to end segregation against blacks.

Today, we are (again) called to fight against segregation, racism and hatred. This time, however, the brown people being targeted are not African American; they are instead Latino…

… More specifically, they are Mexican.

Nationwide, debates have been ongoing, with politicians from every corner of the country weighing in on immigration. They speak in general terms, but everyone knows it is not the Canadians we want off our soil.

It’s those dirty Mexicans.

They’re gangbangers, after all.

Drug Lords.

Worthless.

Ignorant.

They’re stealing our jobs.

Besides- don’t they know it’s illegal for them to be here? Send them home!

Cue angry mob with pitchforks and torches

Alabama has recently passed one of the worst pieces of hate-legislation this country has ever seen. Its target is Mexican immigrants. The legislation is called HB56 (I’m told- though I don’t believe it- the HB does not stand for Hate Bill), and if you click here you can read it in its entirety.

Generally speaking, the bill legalizes the terrorization of Latinos. Some of its highpoints include:

  • Allowing local law enforcement to demand papers from and detain those they believe are in the country illegally, even if the reason for stopping the person had nothing to do with immigration status (during a traffic stop, for example).
  • Making it a crime for undocumented immigrants to hold a job in Alabama, and make it a crime for any immigrant in the state to be caught without documentation proving status.
  • Making it illegal to sign a contract with undocumented immigrants, to knowingly rent property to them, to knowingly hire them for jobs.
  • Requiring businesses to use E-Verify, the government database of names, to check employees’ legal status.

The bill doesn’t stop there. It even attacks the children of immigrants, requiring every single school to obtain each student’s immigration status, to be turned over to state administrators. The bill also makes it illegal for any undocumented student to obtain any type of post-high school education in the state.

The obvious objective of this bill is to scare the little brown people, with the hope of forcing Mexicans out of this country- or at the very least, out of the state.

You ain’t gotta go home, but you can’t stay here!

Republicans, typically and true to form, have resorted to scare-tactics to garner public support of the hate-filled drivel contained in HB56.

Alabama state representative (and Republican co-sponsor of the bill) Scott Beason told his constituents that the bill will “put thousands of Alabamians back to work”.

Really? GREAT!!

Except that it’s a lie.

An outright complete and total, ignorant lie.

Since the bill was passed, hundreds (if not thousands) of immigrants have fled the state of Alabama. In addition to being too afraid to send their children to school, they have abandoned their jobs.

Almost none of the many newly created job openings have been filled.

Why?

Because those hardworking pariahs of society are so desperate to survive in this country, so desperate to create better lives for themselves and their families that they are willing to do the kind of work that no one else is willing to do. The work is back breaking, and it is done by undocumented immigrants in abhorrent and dangerous conditions for mere pennies.

It’s the kind of work you couldn’t pay one of “us” to do.

Critics and supporters alike agree that this bill makes even Arizona’s immigration laws look like child’s play, and from the looks of things, Alabama is just getting started.

Those who sponsored this bill justify the hatred found in its contents by reminding the nation that it is against the law to be an undocumented person in this country. They justify their support by making themselves out to be the victims, with undocumented Mexicans the perpetrators of a terrible crime.

Gone is the memory that not too long ago, segregation was legal in the south. It was legal for white people to trample all over the Constitutional rights of black people. It was legal to put a black man in jail for speaking to a white woman. It was legal to keep a black person from voting, or to keep black people from eating with, living near and being educated with white people.

Simply making something legal doesn’t make it right.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the funeral of Civil Rights icon Fred Shuttlesworth. It was wonderful to have a chance to pay my respects to a bona-fide hero, but even more rewarding was the opportunity I had to listen to many great people pay homage to him. Among those who spoke was the current governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley.

Bentley, a Republican, gave a beautiful tribute to both Shuttlesworth and the Movement in general. He spoke eloquently about Alabama’s racial history, and said adamantly- passionately, even- that we can never allow history to repeat itself. His words were moving, and it definitely added a level of legitimacy, hearing these truths spoken by a white conservative.

What Governor Bentley did not address, unfortunately, is his unwavering, undying and thoroughly mortifying support of HB56.

The hypocrisy is astounding.

This man was able to stand up and speak truth to power when it came to the historic plight of one group of people with brown skin. Simultaneously, however, he supports- and is actively causing– the systematic dismantling of the human rights of different group of brown people.

Governor Bentley, with the help of Alabama’s super-majority Republican legislature has legalized the outright abuse and hatred of fellow human beings.

I know one thing- Bull Connor sure would be proud.

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