Friday, August 13, 2010

OPINION: Can We Talk More About The Arizona Immigration Law?

Can We Talk?
By Jack Fairweather

Checking out comments on various blog sites reminds one that time, no matter what the calendar says, no matter what we see in the mirror each morning or evening, often does not defeat or change deeply felt beliefs and attitudes….especially those built on fear, resentment, and irrational hatred.
Such beliefs and attitudes are at the core of actions, individual and collective, like the recent law (SB 1070) established in Arizona which targets anyone who is, or appears to be, “other”; not a “legal” citizen, too shabbily dressed, too dark skinned. The law is a racist tool. Currently there is a court injunction against the enforcement of some of its more egregious aspects. But many, many comments, publicly and on the web give whole hearted endorsement to SB 1070’s discriminatory intent.
Aug. 7 was the 80th anniversary of what would become the basis of a song “Time” magazine, in 1999, called the song of the century, and in 2010 the “The New Statesman” listed “Strange Fruit” as one of the “20 Top Political Songs”.
On August 7, 1930 a white mob, using sledge hammers, broke into a jail in Marion, Indiana, beat two young black men, took them from the jail and lynched them. The men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, had been arrested the night before and charged with assaulting a white factory worker and his girl friend. Witnesses said the two had not assaulted anyone. But, it didn’t matter.
Shipp and Smith were black, the alleged victims were white and it was 1930 in mid America. A photographer was on the scene that day, along with hundreds of other men, women and children. Lawrence Beitler’s photograph of the lynching, the two bloodied, hanging bodies surrounded by their executioners was cited as the inspiration for a poem, “Strange Fruit” by Abel Meeropol, a Bronx schoolteacher. He published the poem in 1936 under the pen name, Lewis Allen. It reflects his horror at what was, at the time, a common and wide spread occurrence.
It is not entirely clear just how the poem became a song. However, in 1939 Columbia records finally allowed Billie Holiday, the quintessential female blues singer, one session in which to record the song. It became her biggest selling song and a regular part of her live performances although, according to her accompanist, Bobby Tucker, she broke down every time she sang it. It goes like this:

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Well, that was then. This is now. Now, in Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in the deserts along the US/Mexican border where desperate people are kept before being dumped back across the Mexican border, holding cells are packed full and kept at freezing temperatures, every now and then an “illegal” human being gets beat up a little, lights are often kept on 24/7 and songs called “migracorridos”…celebrating gruesome deaths in the desert, are played continuously at maximum volume.
So far, the only testimony we have to these things are reports from people who have experienced them. So far, the immigration “issue” just gets worse. So far, state and federal governments, comprised of politicians, don’t have a clue as to how to come up with a humane and workable immigration policy.
So far, that hard core of racism, fear and hatred of “the other”, defies time and change.

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