21 Savage's deportation demonstrates the passive racism of American authorities


Earlier this month rapper Shéyaa bin Abraham-Joseph, better known by his stage name ’21 Savage’, was arrested by U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for remaining in the country on an expired visa. This came as a surprise to many, as near everyone was under the impression that Abraham-Joseph was a native of Atlanta.

Gradually, Abraham-Joseph’s real background was revealed. Born in London, he lived in England for the first 12 years of his life, before his parents separated and he was taken by his mother to Atlanta on a one year visa in July 2005. The visa naturally ran out after a year, but Abraham-Joseph and his family just stayed where they were. Seemingly, until a full 14 years later, nobody noticed.

This is an embarrassment for the US immigration forces. While they may claim that ‘better late than never’ is an applicable phrase, to let an entire family illegally stay in the country for so long raises serious questions about the effectiveness of their strategy. This is especially notable as Abraham-Joseph was extremely hard to miss. In his 14 years in Atlanta, he was excluded from the seventh-grade in an entire district for gun possession, entered a youth-detention centre, and failed to finish high school. He then joined the Bloods street gang and became a full-time drug dealer who dabbled in robbery and grand theft auto, while featuring in at least two shootouts in which his ‘right hand man’ and his brother were killed, and he was shot six times by rival gang members. At one point he was actually caught by authorities and arrested. And yet apparently at no point did anybody check for genuine American ID.

University of Missouri

The reasons for this lack of due diligence on behalf of the American authorities are concerning, and raise serious questions about the attention paid to those living in the lower echelons of American society. Prior to his music career, Abraham-Joseph was just another poor black man surrounded by crime in a deprived Atlanta district. Clearly, zero attention was paid to him. All it would have taken would be one check to ensure he was actually American when he was in custody, and he would have been deported a half-decade ago. And yet he was ignored and left to rot on the streets. That was, at least, until he made himself into some sort of success. Over the last five years, Abraham-Joseph’s star has slowly risen, to the point that his latest album hit number one on the US Billboard 200 at the end of last year. Then, and only then, did authorities actually rear their head and take notice of the artist.

Much will be made in the coming weeks of what Abraham-Savage says in response to his arrest, and how other celebrities view this scandal. But the real issue remains how US authorities handle what goes on in the poorer areas of their country. Being deported is naturally an unpleasant experience for Abraham-Joseph. But the fact that it is happening now, not ten years earlier, shows that authorities will not do their jobs unless you are rich enough to be notable.