As Black-Latino relations simmer on the back burner, potential for overt conflict between the two groups increases by the prolonged silence of leadership on both sides. Blacks have never been a part of the immigration reform debate even though Black immigrants suffer the same inequities as their Latino counterparts. This is a major point of resentment and antagonism among Black immigrants and Black Americans alike.
Black-Latino relations have always been a mixed bag, mostly cooperative, but highly contentious at times. Mainly because of the huge increase of Latino immigrants in Los Angeles, many Blacks feel discriminated against and displaced by Latinos, especially in employment. The following backdrop for current tension between Blacks and Latinos offers a seldom discussed perspective on a critically important issue.
Blacks and Latinos anguish over senseless violence by gang members, in both groups. Such violence is based on codes of behavior palatable only to the combatants themselves. However, occasional broader open hostility reflects already tenuous Black-brown interaction.
Black-Latino relations have always been a governmental non-priority, but the horrific violence of certain incidents exposes the inevitable results of systemic neglect. Arguably, unless prevention is accorded top priority, not only gang violence, but violence of all kinds, it will increase.
Today’s examines some antecedents of violence that shape behavior and conditions that breed conflict between Blacks and Latinos. For example, Los Angeles has always been de-facto segregated and continues to foster racial tensions. It follows that ill-conceived public policy and practice, reinforce conflict between the two groups. Remember, at one time, the U.S. census listed Latinos/Hispanics as white, which reinforced “us versus them” mindsets and many Blacks still believe Latinos consider themselves superior to Blacks.
Los Angeles leaders have never championed or vigorously enforced policies designed to improve race relations or racial conflict. Similarly, segregated schools reflecting segregated communities also remain a large part of the problem. The landmark Crawford vs Los Angeles City Board of Education school desegregation case failed to integrate the schools which are just as segregated as ever.
As mentioned, LAUSD’s policies and practices still perpetuate segregated schools, court orders notwithstanding, and the district is still largely indifferent to the special needs of Black children. But parents and Black communities too must meet their responsibility by holding both themselves and the school district accountable for failing to educate their children. Of course, institutional negligence is the chief reason for failing schools which bears directly, not only on the low achievement of students of color, but the perennial conflict spawned by racial isolation in schools. A related aside: The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) too continues to deny or downplay the significance of race as a major factor in police violence and abuse in Black and Latino communities.
Immigration is a bell weather issue and the massive increase in the Latino immigrant population clearly aggravated problems between Blacks and Latinos. In addition, the absence of sustained, honest discourse by leadership on both sides virtually guarantees an inevitable stalemate. Even in the face of the huge increase in the Latino immigrant population, Los Angeles’ Black leaders have been silent, and their failure to take a public position on such a critically important issue is reprehensible. (Congress’s partisan self-serving waffling on immigration reform has also contributed to racial divisiveness and, undoubtedly, Congress will influence the battle field of Black –Latino relations, civil rights and other key issues in the 21st century.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media and corporate America’s divide-and-conquer messages have, for the most part, succeeded. However, despite having legitimate complaints about the discriminatory implementation of Latino immigrant rights, rather than go after the real culprits, i.e., corporate America and employers who benefit by exploiting immigrant workers, Blacks tend to direct their anger exclusively on Latino immigrants. (“Illegal immigrants” is often code for those opposed to immigration in any form.) Black Immigrants, generally left out of the reform conversation, are also further victimized by the threat of deportation, although research indicates their presence rather than harming, actually contributes to the nation’s economy.
For African Americans, the single most important asset in response to Latino immigration is informed leaders committed to developing effective strategies that, unapologetically, benefit their Black constituents as well. This requires moral and ethical leadership based on group, not America’s pervasive individualistic and materialistic values.
Stereotypes abound on both sides and without mutually beneficial agreements Black-Latino relations will get worse. A word of caution: Traditional attempts to improve relations between the two groups with superficial dialogue sessions do not work. They can make things worse by raising flawed expectations, thus forestalling implementation of leadership models that actually benefit those most in need.
Periodic spikes in racially motivated violence in Los Angeles are a manifestation of long-neglected issues between Blacks and Latinos and the problem will not be solved without prevention being a top priority. Also, sustainable resolution requires honest dialogue and taking into full account underlying causes. Anything less virtually ensures continuation of conditions, attitudes and behavior that benefit neither Blacks nor Latinos. Political will and strong, committed leadership necessary for improving Black-Latino relations have never really existed but are indispensable for improving relations between the two groups.
(The Covenant developed before Los Aneles’ last mayoral election by the Black Community, Clergy and Labor Alliance (BCCLA) is both a philosophical and practical alternative to traditional leadership accountability models. It applies to a range of community-related areas, including Black-Latino relations.)