Sunday, February 17, 2019

Ahead of his time; ready for our time

One hundred and fifty years ago, the abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass addressed the question that underlies the POTUS's immigration panic: what kind of country is this? Who is it for? Douglass did what remains "an amazing job" envisioning what we still find difficult: this is a "composite nation."

Listen up:

We have for along time hesitated to adopt and may yet refuse to adopt, and carry out, the only principle which can solve that difficulty and give peace, strength and security to the Republic, and that is the principle of absolute equality.

We are a country of all extremes—, ends and opposites; the most conspicuous example of composite nationality in the world. Our people defy all the ethnological and logical classifications. In races we range all the way from black to white, with intermediate shades which, as in the apocalyptic vision, no man can name a number.

In regard to creeds and faiths, the condition is no better, and no worse. Differences both as to race and to religion are evidently more likely to increase than to diminish.

Based on his observation of reality, he refused to be panicked by Chinese immigration; by his account, thousands of laborers were already resident, building the railroads.

... I believe that Chinese immigration on a large scale will yet be our irrepressible fact. The spirit of race pride will not always prevail. ... Assuming then that this immigration already has a foothold and will continue for many years to come, we have a new element in our national composition which is likely to exercise a large influence upon the thought and the action of the whole nation. ...

If this prospect alarmed his fellow citizens, they should get over it. He addresses the white portion of the U.S. population, but not them alone.

... There are such things in the world as human rights. They rest upon no conventional foundation, but are external, universal, and indestructible. Among these, is the right of locomotion; the right of migration; the right which belongs to no particular race, but belongs alike to all and to all alike. It is the right you assert by staying here, and your fathers asserted by coming here. It is this great right that I assert for the Chinese and Japanese, and for all other varieties of men equally with yourselves, now and forever. I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity, and when there is a supposed conflict between human and national rights, it is safe to go to the side of humanity. I have great respect for the blue eyed and light haired races of America. They are a mighty people. In any struggle for the good things of this world they need have no fear. They have no need to doubt that they will get their full share.

But I reject the arrogant and scornful theory by which they would limit migratory rights, or any other essential human rights to themselves, and which would make them the owners of this great continent to the exclusion of all other races of men.

I want a home here not only for the negro, the mulatto and the Latin races; but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours. Right wrongs no man. If respect is had to majorities, the fact that only one fifth of the population of the globe is white, the other four fifths are colored, ought to have some weight and influence in disposing of this and similar questions. It would be a sad reflection upon the laws of nature and upon the idea of justice, to say nothing of a common Creator, if four fifths of mankind were deprived of the rights of migration to make room for the one fifth. ...

... The grand right of migration and the great wisdom of incorporating foreign elements into our body politic, are founded not upon any genealogical or archeological theory, however learned, but upon the broad fact of a common human nature.

For Douglass, free migration was a right arising out of humanity itself.

I've just learned that the Episcopal Church Calendar remembers the prophetic witness of Frederick Douglass on Wednesday, February 20.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails