21 Savage Is More Than An Unfunny Meme: Why Black Immigrants Are Disproportionately Targeted By ICE
"There isn’t a day I don’t wake up feeling unclear of what my future holds, unclear of just where I will end up or how my journey may end."
February 13, 2019 at 7:06 pm
I woke up with a heavy heart the day after the Grammys.
The night before I was saddened to see that 21 Savage was unable to perform with Post Malone because he was being held in detention.
Once again I was reminded of just how lonely it can feel to fight for justice for all new Americans. When Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, the recording artist known as 21 Savage, was arrested by ICE this past weekend, it opened a conversation led by jokes aimed at his credibility and uncertain fate. Every single day our undocumented mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins and our neighbors are being targeted, and these conversations are not jokes.
I have lived in America as an undocumented immigrant for the past 18 — soon to be 19 — years. There isn’t a day I don’t wake up feeling unclear of what my future holds, unclear of just where I will end up or how my journey may end.
Despite Black immigrants comprising 7 percent of immigrants in the U.S., we are disproportionately targeted for arrest, comprising 11 percent of those immigrants facing deportation. 76 percent of Black immigrants are deported because of over-policing and racial profiling in our communities. This is a direct result of the racial profiling that all Black Americans experience, regardless of country of origin. Unfortunately, for some of us, this results in deportation to a country we know little about. We are ripped apart from our loved ones and treated like criminals, and thrown into a life we do not know.
People seem to be under the impression that because 21 Savage never spoke about his life prior to coming to America at a young age, he is less American or a liar. In fact, CNN’s original reporting, quoting an ICE representative, claimed that “his whole public persona is false.”
Sorry ICE, but you can’t erase one’s youth growing up in DeKalb County, Georgia with a defaming tweet. He has spent the majority of his life living as an American. His contributions to American pop culture, through his love for body art to celebrations of commercial excess, are wider-reaching than many people realize, and bigger than any of his chart-topping, Grammy-nominated music.
So, no. You don’t get to call him some sort of liar. You do not get to imply that he’s somehow less American because he wasn’t born here. Being from another country and growing up here, I can recall one too many times where I felt torn between two cultures, two countries, two lives. Despite this feeling, I know I am not torn between the two. I am a part of both these cultures. They both live inside of me and will continue to live inside of me because it shapes who I am and where I will go.
It’s also unfair to speak of his parents in such a negative light. None of our parents are perfect. All of our parents have tried their best. Speaking from my experience, there will always be questions on why our parents made the decisions they made, but there will always be reasons why. We can’t demonize his family for doing the best they could.
Money can’t buy citizenship. 21 Savage was in the application process for a U visa, a route to citizenship that many non-citizens do not have. It is a complex, convoluted process. Applicants are constantly asked to prove things, and there are so many obligations, that it can be overwhelming for many people – even millionaire artists.
We need our citizen counterparts in a time like this. We need you to speak up for us, to vote in our favors and to walk with us. We simply need to know that we are not alone in this fight and our communities are behind us. We can’t do this alone.
This is bigger than 21 Savage. This is about the thousands of Black immigrants here in America. The thousands of families separated because they don’t have a piece of paper. So together let’s stand together for not just 21 Savage, but for all Black undocumented immigrants. Let’s be a voice for the silenced.
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