4 de Octubre, 2007
The Latino Challenge to Black America: Q &A With Earl Ofari Hutchinson
LAST WEEK I mentioned that today I would be posting the questions I posed Earl Ofari Hutchinson in reaction to reading his book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation Between African-Americans and Hispanics, and that if readers were around at 4:00 - 4:30 or so, and had any further questions or followups, our esteemed guest would be available in the comments.
Here are the questions I sent him. I came up with many, and narrowing them down was not easy:
[Remember, readers: Those orange symbols at the bottom of the page (Aztec glyphs) will give you a choice in stylesheets, i.e., change the page's font size]
Mr. Hutchinson, First, I'd like to thank you for this opportunity, I appreciate it. Secondly, I'd like to both applaud and thank you for your work, for the courage and heart shown in writing this book and approaching such a timely and touchy and important issue. Finally, I'd like to communicate that I understand I have included more than five questions, please answer as you see fit. I thought that if nothing else, you might want to see what at least one Latino (Mexican American) person thought to himself as he read your book, even if you do not choose to address all of these.
Thanks again; "see" you soon
Q: Mr. Hutchinson, throughout your book you reference the reasons that Mexicans migrate to the USA: "fleeing civil strife, massive land dislocations, the chronic lack of industry [...] and an
exploding population crisis." These are all valid and true. Yet, Mexicans have been not only naturally migrating back and forth across the political invention we know as "the Border" for hundreds of years, they have been actively encouraged and recruited (such as in the Bracero program, which you do acknowledge.) How does this fit into your views—the fact that migration across this area is more natural (and older) to humans indigenous to this land than a Border?
EOH: That's an excellent point and one that certainly I should and could have delved into in greater detail to show that migration from the South is hardly new. In fact, for much of the 19th and into the 20the century the US-Mexico border was very fluid with workers and their families steadily migrating to the US to seek better job opportunities and for many a better life. The border has been tacitly an open border. So the scream to close the borders ignores to much history, as well as the economic and politics of immigration.
The agendas of African-Americans and Latinos have at times drastically diverged and clashed on immigration, political empowerment, bilingual education, and, of course, jobs. The diverging agendas are at times driven by the fear of many blacks that Latinos are getting an unfair boost up at their expense, and by many Latinos that blacks are getting an unfair boost up at their expense."
Q: Mr. Hutchinson, how can we find an overlap on migration? Especially when the consistent media consistently and continuallygives us is the "irreparable divide" narrative you mention? In your experience, is there any awareness in the greater black community about historical similarities, or shared persecution, or colonization? Especially considering that blacks are one of the peoples who have populated Mexico (though in smaller numbers) and have mixed with the Indians and the Spaniards through time to give us the blend that is the modern day "mestizo" in some cases?
Even though blacks have a unique history and experience, do we have any history in common that could unite us on this, if
highlighted properly? Or is that an overly optimistic thought?
EOH: No, it's optimistic, but not overly. There have been points in the recent history of the civil rights and social justice movement where progressive, politically sensitive blacks and Latinos have worked together on justice, race and poverty issues. I gave specific examples in my book MLK-Vesar Chavez, the Panthers and LA Raza Unida, Karenga and Reis Tijerina (and the Poor Peoples March) And even now the Congressional Black Caucus and Hispanic Caucus have frequently joined forces.
In most neighborhoods (urban) where blacks and Latinos now live side by side. There is more harmony than friction and many do pull together on education, neighorhood services, crime and gang concerns. The key to building alliances is the willingness of progressive, forward looking community leaders and activists to join hands on common race and poverty struggles.
Q: Mr. Hutchinson, you note that the media pump up fear between blacks and Latinos by constantly touting Hispanics/Latinos as being the New, Biggest Minority group. Each time in your book you discuss the numbers, you list "illegal immigration" first, and then the growing birthrate. Are you aware that according to The Population Resource Center,
( http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/05/10/hispanics/index.html ) of the 1.3
million increase in population numbers attributable to Hispanics, 800,000 are due to natural causes--births minus deaths--rather than immigration? Do you think that by using the framing of the Right's ”"illegal immigration"” as well as stressing immigration rather than natural causes in your book, you are part of that media now that are pumping up the fear?
EOH: No, for two reasons. One, the count of illegal immigrants is official, by all estimates this is a gross undercount of the actual numbers in the country illegally, and it's a fact that birthrates among immigrants are higher than native born Americans. Second, even if the numbers were accurate, the impact of increased numbers of illegal immigrants in certain job areas has bumped lower wage blacks out of some positions. So it's those numbers that count more in shaping black ill attitudes toward illegal immigrants.
Yet the dread many blacks have of being bypassed in the eternal battle against poverty and discrimination is not totally groundless. Corporations have leaped over each other to grab a bigger share of Latino consumer dollars and are slowly retreating from affirmative action programs for upwardly-mobile, college-trained black businesspersons and professionals, and are decreasing funding for job and skills training programs for the black poor.
The day the Census report was released, the AC Nielson firm, one of the countryâ€™s top marketing information companies, predicted that retail stores and supermarkets would launch a massive campaign to market their products to Latino buyers."
Q. Mr. Hutchinson, it is true that the label "Latino" covers a lot of different peoples from different places. However, marketing aimed toward Latinos can focus on language, if nothing else. Is it more difficult for business to market to blacks? Are there equivalents (i.e., easily recognizable and targeted cultural signifiers) that businesses could appeal to with blacks?
EOH: Yes, and the Burrell Survey on marketing trends to and among blacks has spotlighted them. More black faces, appeal to black consumer tastes in buying, targeted promotional campaigns, and spend spend spend more dollars with black PR and marketing firms.
Most Asian-Americans would not be here in America today, but for the civil rights movement led by African-Americans that resulted in the change to racist immigration quotas. Though Stewart Kwoh, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, referred specifically to Asian immigrants, the Cubans and the other post-civil-rights-era immigrants from Latin American countries owe the same outsized debt to the civil rights movement. Not only did it help ease their entrance and increase the degree of acceptance they found in America, it also helped ease their march up the social and economic steps in America.
Q: Mr. Hutchinson, would it ease tensions between blacks and Latinos if the great contributions by blacks were recognized in some way by the Latino community? What would a way of doing this be that was both sincere and non-patronizing? You mention how the model of "Freedom Rides" in the 1960s was used by blacks to attack legal segregation, and how in 2003 civil rights activists used the same model to drum up support for immigrant rights. You go on to explain how when that model was ignored in 2006 by immigration rights organizations, it was perceived as an insult to the black community at large. Given that these types of dynamics are not always seen, perhaps, by immigration rights advocates and may be unintended slights, what ways can you offer to combat this type of reaction?
What other things might be done to fight for immigrant rights while at the same time paying tribute to blacks, who paved the way in so many of these important battles? (a mention of this issue by blacks, on another blog here:
EOH: The great mistake of the immigrant rights groups was not to aggressively seek to unite with civil rights groups and black community activists on the issue of demanding more jobs for all and including blacks in the call to end job discrimination. That would have given those who say that immigrants rights groups were selfish, narrow, ethnocentric, and racist in focusing on illegal immigrant rights while not at least giving a nod toward the tormenting high unemployment among blacks nowhere to go with that argument.
Q: Mr. Hutchinson, your book often points out how Latinos and Blacks piggyback on racist memes or legislation or literature that has been forwarded or initiated by whites against each other, thus hurting each other, and their own people, in reality, and strengthening a wedge driven between our peoples. When you consider the history of the USAâ€”be it the legacy of slavery or the "Indian-killing' mentality that began this nation's quest for resources and might (and the memes that are constantly reinforced by so much media about "criminal," "diseased," or "thieving" Mexicans) it can seem impossible that we might ever escape the racist currents against both our peoples.
Realistically, can we ever escape this trap? And if so, what kind of USA will we have to become to bring blacks and Latinos, on the whole, into enough power that both escape the insecurity and fear and resentment that so easily jump between our people? Can you suggest a few ways we might work toward that? In our own personal lives?
• Wage Common fights on problems that sledgehammer both blacks and Latinos
• Failing inner city public school
• Effective political representation
• Crime and gang violence
• hate crimes
• more and better jobs
• improved neighborhood services
This is not rocket science stuff. These are problems that affect both groups and therefore the seeds of working, formal and informal, alliances are there. it's happened and happening in some places in the country
Q: Mr. Hutchinson, your book does a good job of illustrating the complexities of the tensions and challenges that stand between many Latinos and blacks, and especially between Latino immigrants and blacks. However, one valid view of resistance on the part of the blacks against immigrants is that even if validly fearing for their own jobs and resources and positions in society, by ignoring the lessons of their own victories in the civil rights era of the '60s and taking an anti-immigrant stance, blacks are acting much like whites did in resistance to cultural change and perceived loss of power and prevalence in American culture. Is this irony lost on many in the black community?
EOH: No, that's why I had two chapters talking about warped racial perceptions on the part of blacks and Latinos toward each other. Tragically, many recent immigrants do bring their racial baggage about blacks with them from Latin American countries, and blacks sense it and recoil at it. That's a tough one to get around but fortunately it's a point of grumbling, not ethnic internal conflict.
Q: Mr. Hutchinson, I am personally sometimes a bit ashamed that Latinos heartily embrace war and service in the military, understandably equating it with USA patriotism and being a real citizen. As you point out, blacks in large part shun these wars. But then again, blacks had their lessons in the time of the Vietnam War.
I think of Robert Franklin Williams, who (though quite radical) said:
The idea is that the black man, if he is going to fight, if he's going to be soldier, he should fight for the liberation of his own people; he's got no business in Vietnam. And the idea is that he is fighting for his own enemy, for the rights of his own enemy to oppress others, to destroy others, but he is not fighting for his right to live as a human being... [...]
Man's first duty is to his brother; Man's first duty is to humanity. Not to governments, not to brutal savage governments and oppressors.
How can blacks communicate the important parts of this wisdom to Latinos as it applies to modern day enlisting and aiding in wars that ultimately oppress other non-white peoples in other lands? Is it possible? Is it desirable? (If I assume too much about your politics, please answer the parts of this question you find salient and relevant.)
EOH: Actually, polls show that Latinos by big margins oppose the war, and though many more do sign up for service than blacks, it's less due to rah rah patriotism than to get education and job opportunities. Until, those opportunities exist more widespread in society Latino enlistment will remain steady. The answer is till stop the war!
Okay, Some questions were better than others. That last one was a bit of a speech! Thanks to Mr. Hutchinson for the conversation, and good luck to him on his book. It was an easy read, and engaging. And I do think it is a very important issue to bring forward.
Okay, I kick it out to you, dear readers. If you have questions of your own on the topic, would like clarification on anything, or have something to add, please feel free to engage Mr. Hutchinson, who will be around from 4 - 4:30 today. Or comment any old time, Nez is around.