ALST Welcomes Terry-Ann Jones for Shirley Graham and W.E.B. Du Bois Lecture


Lehigh University

DISCUSSING DU BOIS: Students and community members gathered to hear from Terry-Ann Jones as part of an annual Africana and Latin American Studies Program lecture series.

As part of the department’s 24th annual Shirley Graham and W.E.B. Du Bois lecture, the Africana and Latin American Studies (ALST) Program hosted Terry-Ann Jones on Tuesday, Oct. 19 to discuss the intersection of migration and racial discrimination across geographic contexts, particularly in the U.S., Caribbean, Canada, Brazil and South Africa. Jones is a professor of political science and director of Africana studies at Lehigh University.

To begin her lecture, Jones shared lines from the poem, “Home,” written by the Kenyan poet Warsan Shire, to convey the dire circumstances under which many people migrate.

Jones read:

“No one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

No one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck

feeding on newspaper unless the miles traveled

means something more than the journey.”

Jones outlined the plight of migrants who make it to the safety of another country and set up roots, only to be driven out by political unrest or a shift in power in that country. Undocumented migrants went from being relatively safe one day to being considered “illegal” after the 2016 election, Jones explained.

“Unless firm policies are in place, migrants and asylum-seekers are at the mercy of whatever regime is in power at the time. This is true even in the U.S. with our presidential election,” Jones said.

Jones also delved into the 1951 Refugee Convention, which was established to protect those escaping persecution. According to Jones, the convention frequently labels those fleeing their home countries as migrants rather than refugees, thus denying them asylum. Through her discussion of Haitian asylum seekers in particular, Jones argued that U.S. policies toward Haitians demonstrate the limitations of the Refugee Convention, which allow discriminatory preferences and foreign policy to govern refugee policy.

First-year Emily Falk attended the lecture as part of her Caribbean Studies class and was disturbed to learn of the tactics frequently employed by U.S. officials to keep immigrants out of the country. 

“I was shocked to hear about how the United States border patrol will specifically stop Haitian refugee boats before they can reach land just so that they will not have to be considered for asylum. It disgusts me that our government puts so much energy into keeping Haitians out of our country and out of our system,” Falk said.

In addition to exploring the racial discrimination inherent in U.S. immigration, Jones also spoke in-depth about internal migration in other countries around the world, dedicating a large portion of her talk to the discrimination experienced by domestic migrants in South Africa and Brazil.

“Despite their supposed shared racial and ethnic identity, domestic migrants in Brazil are often viewed as culturally and racially different by other Brazilians and therefore discriminated against,” Jones said. “It’s not xenophobia as we would recognize it here in the U.S., but rather a form of regional and class discrimination.”

First-year Molly Hughes attended the lecture for her Culture, Inequality and Diversity class and came away with a greater understanding of the intersection of race and migration in countries outside of the U.S.

“This lecture broadened my perspective with regards to the role of race in migration. In particular, I was struck by the racism and colorism that exists in South Africa. It disturbed me to learn that white migrants to South Africa are accepted with open arms whereas migrants from other African nations like Sudan are regarded as criminals and turned away whenever possible,” Hughes said. 

Professor of History, Africana and Latin American Studies Tsega Etefa attended the lecture and thought it would be a valuable experience for students of his Ethiopia studies class to attend as well.

“Professor Jones’ lecture on immigration and race across geographic regions … was a great opportunity to learn from [a] world-class researcher [about] why and how people migrate in Africa and in the Americas,” Etefa said.

Jones concluded her lecture by asking the audience to consider why, despite the pressing dangers they face in their home countries, asylum seekers are repeatedly denied refuge in the U.S. and South America and only accepted when their labor is desired. With this question in mind, the lecture transitioned into a question-and-answer session in which students and professors alike were invited to ask Jones questions about her research.

Following the lecture, Etefa was moved by the knowledge Jones imparted.

“Learning the incredible situation the migrants faced across borders in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States has been an eye-opening experience,” Etefa said.