Cross-racial/ethnic collaboration in recent decades has been spotty, at best, and more often than not, illusory. For Blacks, such collaboration is increasingly necessary but arguably, more difficult than ever. It requires unity among both Black leadership and the Black community. Since this has been lacking for many years, effective external collaboration is virtually impossible. The 21st century finds Blacks generally unable, or unwilling, to agree on agendas that serve their own best interest, let alone being able to effectively work with others. Doing so is the challenge.
There have been many racial/ethnic collaborations in Los Angeles, notably, LA Metro (2004). At its foundation meeting, some 1,200 community activists pledged to create “a single, powerful community organizing body” to influence major issues like public education, healthcare and immigrant rights. The convention reflected the aspirations and complexities inherent in racial/ethnic collaboration. LA Metro was modeled after the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and local affiliates, the United Neighborhoods Organization (UNO) and the South Central Organizing Committee (SCOC).
Those groups joining LA Metro were to abide by its “power before program” slogan, meaning they first had to have a large membership before focusing on specific issues. (Neither SCOC nor UNO involved African Americans in decision-making.) Their memberships were overwhelmingly Latino and, at first, Catholic. Little effort was made to work with Black community groups who obviously were not a priority for them. LA Metro eventually disbanded but subsequently, the huge influx of Latino immigrants built sustainable influence by their sheer numbers.
Cross-racial/ethnic collaboration has been, at best, a mixed bag for Blacks. Attempts began in the 19th century, increased in the early part of the 20th century and accelerated during the 1960s when whites joined Blacks in the civil rights movement. Eventually, many whites left the movement, presumably because they were no longer accorded a decision-making role.
Los Angeles has seen numerous attempts at cross-racial collaboration, mostly around school integration, housing, job discrimination and police brutality. Government’s chief response to these and related efforts, has been to create advisory groups with little or no power such as human relations commissions and civic engagement bodies. These groups are ultimately accountable to elected officials, many of whom resist anything resembling progressive change; they exist by crafting politically safe programs that rarely address the factors underlying human rights/ human relations inequities.
Several racial/ethnic coalitions were formed in Los Angeles during the 1980s and early 1990s, several around Black/Latino and Black/Korean conflict in South Central Los Angeles- preceding and following the Rodney King verdict that ignited the massive 1992 uprising. The Latino Black Roundtable (LBR), Black Korean Alliance (BKA) and later, the Multicultural Collaborative all unsuccessfully attempted cross-racial/ethnic collaboration. Local government (city and county) exacerbated the situation by failing to address the underlying factors for racial and ethnic conflict, and therefore, not providing resources necessary to effectively deal with the problem.
The benefits of cross-racial collaboration for African Americans in recent years have been little and none. One reason for this has been Black leadership’s turning a blind eye to the issue, thereby rendering Blacks ability to effectively collaborate with other groups virtually impossible. (And, unless Blacks are equal players at decision-making tables, others will continue to set and control the agenda.) Unless and until all participants have equal weight collaboration will remain more illusion than reality. A prime example is claiming Blacks’ interests are being met when the opposite is true. This not only wrong, but counterproductive. Until Blacks again unapologetically develop their own self-interest agendas, they will remain pawns in decisions made by others.
A case in point: Walmart’s initiative to build a super store in Inglewood (in 2004) did involve racial/ethnic collaboration and defeating Walmart was a tremendous victory: Voters rejected the giant corporation’s attempt to circumvent environmental and other regulatory safeguards. The Coalition for a Better Inglewood included Inglewood residents, local community groups, labor unions the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and Metro LA. In effect, LAANE headed the anti-Walmart campaign and principal leadership was outside not within the community. Residents played a relatively minor role in the campaign operation. Of course, Inglewood voters were ultimately the deciding factor by defeating the Walmart initiative at the polls. But had there been greater leadership and consensus among resident Blacks, their benefits would have been far sweeter than a victory they did not plan. Since the Walmart campaign, Blacks in the greater south Los Angeles county area have had few, if any, sustainable collaborations with other groups where Blacks were the chief beneficiaries. This was, and is, due, in part, because Blacks, in recent times, are not unified and lack effective leadership. Successful collaboration involves shared objectives, effective communication, commitment and equal power for all participants- backed by strong, committed leaders.
For Blacks, racial/ethnic collaboration although increasingly necessary, will only benefit them if they are equal partners throughout the collaboration. This means they must always operate from a position of strength, not just to increase political and economic clout, but to again, as a people, determine their own destiny.