ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



 But this idea of making Spanish official puts someone else at a disadvantage. Leveling the

playing field for Hispanics in this instance means raising the bar for blacks. Blacks have

to learn Spanish in order to earn their potential within the new order



Disadvantaged by race set back by language Essay to Senator Harry Reid

By E. Ablorh-Odjidja


The recent immigration debate is not only about the controversy surrounding the American National Anthem (the Spanish version) and the relevance of Spanish language as a touchstone to US immigration policy. But if you blink for a minute, as some have, you might think it is the whole issue. Singing the anthem in Spanish, they say, is only meant to honor America and her heritage. And that putting a stop to Spanish as a co-official language can only be viewed as a racist act. But take a good look at this controversy and you will see something else: An attempt to change the economic landscape to favor Hispanics. Blacks, who for centuries have been disadvantaged by race, are about to be set back by language. I am black. Naturally, the suppression of Spanish as an official language in America, a historically English speaking country, is nothing for me to worry about. I didn’t speak Spanish when I first got here. And it is highly unlikely that I would speak Spanish before I depart this earth. As an immigrant who speaks English with an accent, I can understand the anxiety of the newly arrived Hispanic. But I have to admit that that unhappy situation evaporated long ago, the moment I heard Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State under Nixon, speak. Kissinger and I had something in common. We acquired the English language. He thrived using that language. And to a much lesser degree, so have I. Certainly, many Hispanics have already proven this point. But this idea of making Spanish official puts someone else at a disadvantage. Leveling the playing field for Hispanics in this instance means raising the bar for blacks. Blacks have to learn Spanish in order to earn their potential within the new order. Nothing against the Hispanic; just raising the unfairness of this point. The irony in this language dispute is that the above point is neglected. There is no doubt that speaking a particular language well gives economic and social advantages to those who speak it. But to single out Spanish among the many spoken in “melting pot America”, for this official favor is to overstate the plight of the Hispanic in this society. And to brand as racist those who are for making English the only official language in America seems to me a virulent form of hypocrisy. For what is it that prevents new Hispanics immigrants from learning English just like the rest of the immigrants who got here before them? Short of their massive presence in our midst the Hispanic plight is the same like everyone else’s. The only difference is their use as a political force. It is behind this force that you can discern the reason for the drive for this dual language status. It is projected that by 2050, Hispanics will form 24% of the American population. The political engineers already see this as a raw political power source.  To pretend not to is to commit fraud, or worse abet one. However, the real fraud started with the formulation of the term Hispanic and the granting of a minority status, a civil rights category that is  equivalent to that of the black race in America. In two Hispanic countries in South America, Argentina and Uruguay, 85% of the population is predominantly European. However, any of these Europeans can cross over to America under the Hispanic banner and become instantly disadvantaged; just like blacks!

Hispanic, though, is not a race. It derives from a Spanish cultural base and encompasses a mixture of many races. Predominant among these races are Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans. Because of the odd mixture of race in the Hispanic camp, Hispanics now trump blacks as the largest minority group in America. Thus they have claims to a larger share of the political spoils. Now they want the Spanish language to cement the concomitant economic benefits. The black man who speaks English, and nothing else, and whose mother tongue has been snatched by slavery, will once again be made victim. The irony is the black man has all along been here. But to be at par with the Hispanic in this new economic or political order, he would have to learn Spanish. Yet no one seems to be concerned. At least not the politicians who are busy grabbing the Hispanic vote. Sadly, these are the same fellows who in the past have milked black angst for political gains. They are the same who will ask the black man to learn a new language or fall behind the pack. That settlers to a new society do acquire the predominant language faster than natives do the newcomer’s language is overlooked in this matter. Ignored also is the “melting pot” experience that for decades has produced English as the language of America. Unless you are sincere, you will miss the irony in all this. You will only see votes guaranteed to rig you to power. You will charge racism when English is mentioned as a single official language. But in reality you will not give a hoot about discrimination. Soon, the choice of the workforce in America, as it is already in some places, will be bi-lingual. Blacks who don’t speak Spanish and have the least opportunity or inclination to do so, will have the slightest chance for employment within this dual language economy. Unfortunately, black Hispanics will not fare any better. They will still carry the same burden of race because racism is a construct of skin color. Cry discrimination then, if you can. Source:

E.  Ablorh-Odjidja: Graduate, Howard University, BA Communications 1973, and Columbia University, School of Fine Arts, MFA Film Arts 1976  Professional experience: Writer, producer/director GBC-TV and Freidrich Ebert Foundation in Ghana.  Has five documentaries films to his credit.  Has to date published numerous political commentaries on Africa and Africans in the Diaspora in periodicals in Europe and Africa.  He is the current publisher of    

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Ablorh, you make very good points. The basic assumption is that there will be natural political antagonisms between Hispanics and Blacks. Maybe on the practical plane that is the truth of things. That the pie is not getting any bigger and that an Hispanic gain is a black loss. Many blacks already feel that Hispanics are more privileged by whites than blacks are now. But that sentiment is expressed with regard to all new immigrants to America, whether they are from Africa or the Caribbean island-nations, or in the past, Irish and Italian.

I am more inclined that Spanish should be taught in the public schools, more often than it is presently. We should encourage also our children to make the closest friends as possible with our Hispanic neighbors, with all our neighbors. I only hope that our neighbors return our good will. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. In some sense, at least commercially, Spanish is already an official language. Almost all commercial goods now are written in Spanish and English. I do not have the same fears as you, I suppose, of a dual official language. But, it is quite possible, I am politically naive. — Rudy

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

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Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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Sex at the Margins

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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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Ancient African Nations

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posted 14 July 2006





Related files: The Joseph Principle Enacted  A Critique of the book Out of America