None of us are free until all of us are.


Even before the time of our country's founding, its leaders have engaged in the insidious practice of separating children from their parents and parents from each other. 


By now you’ve seen the hundreds of think pieces, opinion pieces, and supportive laments about the horrendous actions at our country’s border: the violent separation of children from their parents with no plans for reunification. No doubt you’ve even read some of them, and enjoyed the thoughtful writing of talented journalists, academicians, and activists. 


This is not that. This, is amalgamation of thoughts from a very sad, very tired, sometimes very angry Black woman about the separation of children from their families. 


These actions of separation are racist, hateful, and despicable -- a heart-wrenching reflection of our country's history. And lest you believe the false notion that “this is not America”, it absolutely is America, and it always has been.


Starting in the 1800’s Native children were stripped from their families, forced to assimilate to the language and culture of the settlers that forcibly took their lands. 

For 400 years enslaved Black families were separated strategically and systematically by slave traders and slave owners; the cries of mothers and children going unheeded.

Between 1929 and 1936 the US government “repatriated” hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and Mexican Americans from across Arizona, California, and Texas, often resulting in the separation of US born children from their non-citizen parents.


Stripped of their livelihood and their property, second and third generation Japanese Americans were warehoused in concentration camp-like internment centers, which some have compared to the detention centers many immigrants are being detained in today.


The punitive policies our government has used to separate families are awful, and have always, been part of a strategic plan to weaken “the other” for the benefit of a few. These policies were and continue to be implemented with the purpose and intent of supporting and upholding a violent white, wealthy hierarchy of power established and maintained by our founding fathers and their descendants. 


These descendants, buoyed by the trappings of white supremacy, have taken over the curation of a multi-generational strategy to strip and/or suppress the power of the “other”: 

  • The dismantling of the Voting Rights Act was a decades long strategy, masterminded by Chief Justice Roberts and William Rehnquist before him.

  • The long-game approach to gerrymandering ensured that the more racially oppressive of the two parties would dominate all levels of government, even though a slight majority of Americans favor the other party and their policies.

  • The many ways scholars and educators have worked to shape how history is taught and what history is taught, omitting significant and egregious behavior by our leaders.

  • The evolution from slavery to mass incarceration.

  • The judicial takeover of the lower courts across the country, with young conservative judges being appointed and confirmed, sometimes against the wishes of their own state senators, flying in the face of long-held political decorum.

And if we are really outraged about children in cages, let’s take a long hard look at the state of our juvenile justice system. When we talk about separating children from their parents, we are talking about an age-old practice that destroys communities of color, and suppresses possibility for generations. 


I think we all understand


the urgency of now, the desperate need to get migrant children back into the arms of their brave migrant parents. We should also understand this in the long and historical context of the pervasive and insidious practice of family separation in this country.


Family separation is a sordid part of America’s history and works to uphold and maintain systemic and structural oppression of communities of color. 


But we can fight back. 


We can stand with our brothers and sisters in their fights for liberation, because our fights are intertwined. In the words uttered by numerous civil rights giants over the years, “None of us are free until all of us are free.”


Caronina has been a Program Officer at the Woods Fund Chicago since 2013. In addition to supporting Woods Fund’s grantmaking, she also leads the foundation’s racial equity work. Before joining Woods Fund Chicago, Caronina served as Acting Associate Director of the Division of Family and Community Services at the Illinois Department of Human Services. She continues to be a long time advocate for underserved, low-income, and minority communities.




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None of us are free until all of us are.

August 2, 2018

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