Was life actually better after migration for African American migrants?
“It occurred to me that no matter where I lived, migration couldn’t save me.” Each of the main characters in The Warmth of Other Suns faced different iterations of the conditions they fled the South to avoid. In the South, there was the constant threat of violence if a Black person violated Jim Crow etiquette or made any slight infraction towards a white person. In the North or in the West, there was violence from gangs in the slums Black people were relegated to live in. Regardless of where Black people moved, they were subjugated and ultimately placed in the lowest caste.
The characters in the book went from macro aggressions in the south to microaggressions in the North. After a long day on the railroad, George goes to a bar with his friend to enjoy a beer. Even something this small could not be enjoyed without facing some sort of aggression. The bartender swiftly grabbed the glasses and smashed them onto the table, signaling that George was never to return to this establishment that was clearly all white.
The Clarks, after living for years in a small cramped apartment were finally able to move into a space big enough for all of them, but not without extreme resistance. When they attempted to move into the all white Cicero, they were met with backlash that eventually turned into a riot. Although the Ciceros had legally won their right to remain in that apartment, they would not return out of fear. Was this better than what they endured in the South?
What are the differences and similarities between African American migrants versus migrants from the wider African diaspora?
By African American we mean descendants of enslaved Africans in the U.S.
There are many similarities between African Americans’ experiences migrating from south to North and the experience of Black immigrants coming to the US. The racialized caste system in the US serves to keep African American migrants and Black immigrants “in their place.” While there are some similarities, there are also striking differences. In addition to the stigma that comes from being part of the African diaspora in the US, Black immigrants are further stigmatized and other-ized because of their accents, and country of national origin. On the flip side, sometimes, members of the African diaspora do not want to be seen as African American to not be seen as part of what has historically been and continues to be the bottom caste in the US. Additionally, depending on what Black country you are from, your disparate treatment might be even worse in comparison to other Black immigrants. For example, the treatment of Haitians versus Black immigrants from other Caribbean countries.
Is life actually better for Black immigrants and African American migrants after migration?
Wilkerson included several people’s opinions on whether it was better that they moved North, and all answered yes. Some said yes with a caveat, but all gave a yes.
Do you feel greater freedom and independence in Chicago?
“Yes. Feel free to do anything I please. Not dictated to by White people.”
“Sure. Feel more freedom. Was not counted in the South; colored people allowed no freedom at all in the South.”
What do you like about the North?
“Freedom of speech and action. Can live without fear, no Jim Crow.”
“Freedom and opportunity to acquire something.”
What difficulties do you think a person from the South meets in coming to Chicago?
“I know of no difficulties.”
Would Black immigrants feel the same way if they were asked today? If we asked this question to Haitian migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. now, many would likely say no. Haitians at the Texas-Mexico border have been subjected to inhumane treatment, as they were chased and whipped by Border Patrol agents. Due to Trump era policy, many Haitian Migrants seeking asylum were deported back to Haiti even though they did not have Haitian passports.