In the May 13 issue of the RoundTable, I wrote an article on today’s practice of slavery (Slavery … Still!) and Charles Wilkinson wrote about immigrants – misperceptions of immigrants and tax contributions made by immigrants (“Immigrants Among Us”).

Several people (African-American as well as Caucasian) raised questions in response to the articles, which I’ll address below under the general question: Were African-Americans included in those articles as immigrants or slaves?

Although by definition African-Americans are “immigrants” (Webster: “persons coming to a country of which one is not a native, usually for permanent residence”), the fact that African-Americans were brought to America as slaves centuries ago calls into question the use of the term “immigrants” for African-Americans.

African-Americans did not originally come to America “seeking freedom and a better life” so the Statue of Liberty is not necessarily a beacon of freedom for them. However, blacks immigrating to America today do come for freedom and a better life, and often continue to identify themselves and be identified) as immigrants from their native country, not as African- Americans.  

My article referred to the continued practice of bringing people to America and enslaving them, but American citizens are similarly enslaved, e.g. by prostitution rings.

Slavery today includes those people (African-Americans and Native Americans, in particular) who for generations were and still are enslaved physically, mentally and financially by economic hardship, inadequate education, unemployment or underpayment, substandard housing, lack of good health care, incarceration, perceived social status/poor self-image, social rejection, etc.

African-Americans, Native Americans and certain immigrant groups continue to be perceived and treated as “second-class citizens” regardless of their citizenship status.  

Ralph Ellison states in his book “Invisible Man,” “… the darker brother was clearly ‘checked and balanced’ – and kept more checked than balanced …within the American conscience with such intensity that most whites feigned moral blindness toward his predicament.”

Regrettably, our country continues to systematically pit groups of Americans (immigrants) against other groups of Americans (immigrants), “vacillating … toward and away from the democratic ideal” (Ellison) and the concept that “all men are created equal.” (U.S. Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”)

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...