Confused, Sad and Proud: White Solidarity in the Fight Against SB1070
I am a white, United States citizen who was involved in a massive demonstration against Arizona’s new law SB1070. I spent $400, three vacation days from work and 13 hours of travel time to link arms with thirty strangers, block one downtown intersection, ignore three police warnings, and be taken to jail in a paddy wagon. I spent a soul-crushing 26 hours in a Phoenix jail, before being released — confused and sad. Then, I called my mom. I told her what happened asked her if she was proud of me. I know that must sound absolutely stupid. My mom is a Jewish, upper middle-class white woman. A kid with a criminal record is an absolute sign of bad parenting.
But to me, even stupider than telling my mom I got arrested and expecting her pride is that I was only one of a 100 people arrested in protest of SB1070 that day in Phoenix. It’s stupid that there weren’t a million of us.
SB1070 is “the broadest and strictest anti-illegal immigration measure in decades” (Wikipedia) and has been criticized widely for institutionalizing racism into Arizona law. Although it will spend a long time in the court system, most of its core is already being practiced in Maricopa County, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio bills himself in a self-created media circus as “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”
After being in Phoenix, I can tell you what having “America’s Toughest Sheriff” does for white people and people of color. It has everyone living in fear. White people are living in constant fear of the “other” and people of color are living in constant fear of being targeted and picked up by the police and ICE, whether they’re citizens or not.
One of Arpaio’s favorite tactics is to stop anyone who looks “suspicious” while driving. I met an Arizona State University international student who is in the US legally on a student visa, paying $20,000 in out-of-state tuition yearly. To avoid any run-ins with the police, he has mostly stopped driving, unless he’s with white friends. He is planning to transfer to a California school in the fall.
I met a Native American man on the light-rail who has twice been pulled over and released after police demanded his proof of citizenship. Can it get more wrong than a white police officer demanding to know where a Native American came from?
One woman who was arrested with me was stopped one week ago driving near her home. For two hours, police tried to find proof that she wasn’t a citizen and that she didn’t own her pick-up truck. Although her breasts were full of milk, with a nursing child at home, she spent a night in jail. She said she was tired of being quiet and had to fight back.
I also heard white people, outside of the context of the protest tell people of color to “go back to your country” and I saw a couple of white power tattoos. The news features sensational stories of “illegals” raping women, drug trafficking, and job loss. Phoenix is bursting with fear and tension.
But, there are white people who are joining with people of color to create communities that are committed to love and acceptance. I came to Arizona because of a call out from U.S. For All of US, who are encouraging white people to get involved when we see blatant racism at “tea parties,” in immigration laws and policing practices.
The Unitarian Universalists (UUs), who are majority white, have started a campaign called “Standing on the Side of Love” to support immigrant rights in the U.S. Thirty UUs were in jail with me, too. A lot of them were reverends and middle-aged moms who were holding hands singing calming songs in the face of oncoming riot cops. The only African American woman arrested with us was a UU woman, middle-aged and with a painful disability. She chose to be arrested, because she wanted the world to know this is a black issue, too.
While in Arizona, I met so many people of color that thanked me for getting involved. A lot of them had way more to lose than $400 and a misdemeanor. The joy of being in beloved community with them is overwhelming.
In Arizona, the lines are being drawn by white people and for white people. It’s hard to not take a stand as a white person one way or the other. In other states, it is easier to go about our daily lives and not think about it. But, with the coming of copy-cat legislation across the country, pretty soon, we’re all going to have to decide between living in beloved community and living in fear. Now, I’m just waiting for the day my mom calls me and tells me she’s confused and sad, asks me if I’m proud of her.