Monday, June 27, 2005

The Black-Latino divide in Los Angeles

Earl Ofari Hutchinson:

The issue is painful and explosive, and city and county officials tap dance around it for fear that they'll offend blacks and Latinos or that they'll stir up racial antagonisms. But Los Angeles' black and Latino clash is real and deep-seated, and it goes way beyond the recent spike in hate crimes at L.A. schools.

So far, L.A.'s politicians have taken the cowardly way out and buried the simmering conflict under sociologists' jargon. They toss out terms like "ethnic tensions," "L.A.'s population growing pains" and "changing urban dynamics" to mask the conflict. They kid themselves that by staging feel-good, media-hyped "days of dialogue" with handpicked academics and community leaders, they'll get to the bottom of the conflict.

This politically correct, fantasy-land approach to L.A.'s black and Latino divide virtually ensures that the profound problems that underlie the clash will remain just as deep -- and just as misunderstood. But, then, that's not new. Politicians have long papered over black-Latino racial conflict by putting on the happy image of everyone marching shoulder to shoulder to do battle against the twin afflictions of racial discrimination and poverty.

That's no longer possible.

The big surge in Latino numbers in Los Angeles and nationally has radically changed the political power equation. Latinos have now replaced blacks as the dominant minority in America. Latino activists and political leaders have had to make a hard decision: Do they discard old multiracial coalitions with blacks -- and instead rely on their growing numbers and political clout to win elections? Or do they reach out to blacks and opt for power-sharing?

Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa has opted for the multiracial approach. During his campaign, he tried mightily to convince black voters that his election would not diminish their dwindling political power in the city and that they would have a place in his administration.

The strategy paid off, in part. Villaraigosa got the endorsement of the city's top black politicians and community leaders, and he markedly bumped up the black votes he received from the number he got during his 2001 mayoral race. But Mayor James Hahn still held a slight overall edge among black voters. Blacks clung tightly to Hahn mostly from fear, even paranoia, that a Latino mayor -- and an escalating number of Latino voters in the city -- would spell doom for them at City Hall.

That will happen anyway. South Los Angeles is no longer predominantly black. It is predominantly Latino. In future years, Latinos will grab one, possibly two, and maybe even all three of the L.A. City Council seats currently held by blacks. That almost certainly will spark even fiercer political and racial turf warfare. Blacks will lose that battle, and their political power in the city will dwindle down to a fizzle.

But politics and school troubles, worrisome as they are, are not the biggest flash point of conflict between blacks and Latinos. Jobs and immigration are, and L.A.'s elected officials are loath to talk about either for fear they'll be called racially divisive.

The irony is it took a stray, impolitic remark by Mexican President Vicente Fox back in May to ram the issue back on the racial table. Fox meant no harm with his quip that blacks won't work certain jobs. He was trying to make the point that congressional immigration reforms are bad for Mexicans and Americans. That's a disputable point, but it brought instant howls of protest from Jesse Jackson and other black leaders.

Though Fox slightly backed away from his quip, what he said needed to be said. Still, its implication was wrong. The black unemployment rate is double that of whites and higher than that of Latinos in L.A. County. Among young black males, unemployment has reached near Great Depression levels in the city and the county. Jobs, or rather the scarcity of them, are a major crisis for blacks. Blacks have been bumped from lower-end jobs in the service and retail industries in L.A. County.

Young blacks, especially students, might well take these jobs if they were offered them, but many employers flatly refuse to hire them, instead hiring illegal immigrants. Employers rationalize their discrimination with the claim that young blacks are lazy or more crime-prone, and illegal immigrants are more diligent and industrious.

This pricks a sore racial nerve among blacks, and rightly so. High joblessness exacerbates the crime and drug crisis in South L.A., and it fuels school violence. It further marginalizes the black poor and young.

Many blacks unabashedly blame their jobless plight on illegal immigration. This is not totally fair. The lack of job skills, training and education programs -- and the high incarceration rate of black males -- all help to render them virtually unemployable. Yet, it's still true that immigration has displaced blacks from unskilled and low-skilled jobs, and that's just enough truth to fuel passions and anger.

That anger seeped through in a recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California. It found that blacks, far more than whites, regard illegal immigrants as a big drain on public services and a liability to the local economy. The perception -- no matter how baseless -- that illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from blacks will continue to inflame resentment.

It still amazes me that the Democratic party - which claims to be pro-black - has no problems with illegal immigration.


At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The true test of the cooperation between the black and latino communities will be not what the black and latino leaders (the "elite") say but the effects on the lives of the average LA black and latino. Keep in mind that, once "normalized," latinos qualify for affirmative action in hiring and college admission just the same as blacks do now. I find it offensive that a program that was initially promoted as a means to help a finite (descendants of slaves from over a century back) group of people is now being used to cover the vast majority of current immigrants, who have suffered nothing at the hands of the US. I suspect that as latinos move into place the fortunes of blacks will continue downward.

Another interesting aspect is the role that H-1B's and L-1's in science and technology - overwhelmingly male, for the record - will play in decreasing the role that US women have in these fields. Not only will Indian technicians work cheaper but also they will not be likely to have the family interuptions that US women covered by "family friendly" laws have. These interuptions are a cost to business that business would just as soon not pay. Prediction: Unless the US reverses its immigration policies dramatically, there will be fewer women in science & technology (as a per cent of the workforce) in 10 years than there are now.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Adam Lawson said...

This new study seems to agree with you:

ITAA Diversity Study: Numbers of Women, Minorities in Tech Too Low

At 3:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That covers it, Adam. Face it, businesses are using immigration, including H-1B's and L-1's, to avoid hiring women and traditional minorities. Seems a shame that the Democratic Party can't seem to figure this out, huh? It's easier to come down hard on the president of Harvard than it is to face the fact that immigration is needlessly destroying opportunity for US women.

At 2:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bottom line is that latinos take advantage of the opportunities which this country offers where as blacks scapegoat whites for their failures. If blacks would do more hard work & less whining then maybe they could be as successful as the latino & asian communities.


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