It isn’t illegal to be brown

anyaPublished in the Loudoun Times-Mirror, July 7, 2010

This season, with its fireworks and freedom songs, bursts in my heart with a reading of Langston Hughes poem “I, too sing America.” The early-20th-century African-American poet reminds his audience that freedom is not the prize of the privileged but the moral responsibility of any and all who dare drink its advantages. He closes, “I, too, am America,” reminding me that we are called to see one another as brothers and sisters, held by the beautiful possibility of freedom and united by the God of love, known in many ways by many names.

I felt called to sing Hughes’ song of freedom this Fourth of July as the states of our nation (at present Arizona, but soon many others) struggle to enact appropriate legislation around illegal immigration. I sing this song when I witness children separated from their mothers, and families split in two, when I hear the vehement rhetoric of the immigration debate spill over into racism, and an unbridled fear of “the other,” and especially when I see how laws enacted to protect the freedom of some, utterly impede the freedom of others.

I am a white middle-class woman. I have never been pulled over in my car simply because I looked illegal, nor have I had my body searched and my identity scrutinized simply because my skin was brown. Nor have I moved into a home on a quiet street and discovered that few of my white neighbors would speak with me, while most would speak of me behind my back. I am saved from these ills simply by the color of my skin, but the God I believe in does not damn or save anyone indiscriminately – only humans, operating with an imperfect love, do that.

Our ability to love is imperfect; we are not gods walking on Earth. This is exactly why we craft laws – to lead us to the more perfect union, one we could not establish alone. My faith and my conscience (partners in my Unitarian Universalist religion) call me to support only those laws that recognize and uphold the freedom of any and all Americans. We need comprehensive immigration reform, we don’t need laws that infringe upon the freedoms of any of our brothers and sisters simply because their skin is brown. Who is singing, this season of freedom: “I, too, am America”? Who are we willing to hear?

The Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael is a minister with the Unitarian Universalists of Sterling.

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