First of two parts
California recently passed the Dream Act. It creates new hope for undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children who have completed some college or served in the military. However, for Black undocumented immigrants, no such hope exists; they are excluded from policy discussions and the public conversation on immigration. (Haitians, Continental Africans, Latin American Blacks, etc., are not part of the national immigration debate or public conversation about this major issue.)
Generally, when it comes to immigration, for Blacks and Latinos, the glass is either half empty or half full. Latinos fervently embrace the value of immigration, i.e., full citizenship for legal immigrants and legal status for the undocumented in the United States. On the other hand, Blacks feel that immigration (i.e., Latino immigration) often encroaches on their turf by taking their jobs, receiving differential treatment in areas such as employment and public education, and are accorded rights and privileges to which Blacks are not entitled. (There is merit to this. For example, why should speaking Spanish be a requirement for a job sweeping floors?) Clearly, if both groups’ entrenched views on immigration continue unattended, misunderstanding and conflict will persist, unabated.
In 2007, Dr. J. Owens Smith, California State University Fullerton, delivered a paper to a national conference of Black political scientists entitled, The Impact of Immigration on the Socioeconomic Status of Blacks: A Case Study of Black-Hispanic Conflict. In it, he argues immigration is detrimental to Blacks, a position to which many, if not most Blacks would agree. (Note: Black American leadership is part of the problem by having opted out of the immigration discourse. In 2006, despite massive pro-immigration marches and rallies throughout the nation, there was a deafening silence from Black leaders that continues today, although the issue significantly affects the Black community.)
Dr. Smith’s paper is both provocative and contentious: he goads Blacks and Latinos to deal with their differences honestly. Its controversial nature notwithstanding, or perhaps because of it, the paper stimulates needed discussion on this crucial issue.
Smith rightly contends Blacks have always been the victims of racism and racial conflict. He asserts the undocumented Latino-Black issue differs because both groups are classified as minority, lower income and needing special attention. He also says Black-Latino conflict in California is more intense than historic Black-white conflict that was based on whites maintaining economic control and keeping Blacks in a subservient status.
Smith considered Alain Locke’s theory of racial contact the best for explaining Black-Latino conflict. Locke’s theory is Smith’s framework for identifying and isolating those variables that promote the conflict and for analyzing the political repercussions for society in general and Blacks’ economic status in particular. He asserts Blacks socioeconomic condition tended to deteriorate as new waves of immigrants arrived in America displaced Blacks, especially in employment. Locke’s theory focuses on the specific characteristics of immigrant groups as related to Black displacement. He argued that immigrants that have the strongest conception of kinship , “will be more warlike and will determine the practices of race contact” and that these groups eventually become politically powerful.
Smith also maintains immigrant groups that have migrated to this country have stronger kinship ties than native born Americans. And, that such ties came to dictate immigration policies that require immigrants to have kinship ties in America before immigrating. Further, their desire to stay in this country makes their kinship ties all the more pronounced. These ties also induce their kin to assist them in adjusting to the American polity, particularly in finding jobs. Within the framework of Locke’s theory of racial contact, Black-Latino conflict, Latinos can be viewed as attempting to dominate Blacks socially, economically and politically because their kinship ties enable them to do so. Like other Americans, Blacks have internalized cultural values of individualism and materialism and their kinship ties-beginning with slavery-are not as closely knitted as those of immigrants, giving the latter an advantage over Blacks in acquiring material resources necessary for success and preservation.
Smith contends Latinos have been given various advantages over Blacks by public policies and that the government falsely accords them the same protective status as Blacks. He points out that in international law, protective status is reserved for groups that have suffered harm at the hands of their native government. Of course, Blacks have always suffered from government policies in a system of not so thinly veiled racial apartheid.
Smith emphasizes the federal government has never adopted policies of racial apartheid that burdened Latinos, who are identified chiefly by language, not race. The federal government has long recognized Latinos as white; in the mid-19th century, it granted Latinos full citizenship, entitling them to all rights and privileges of white citizens. Conversely, America conveyed to Blacks in the clearest and crudest terms in the Dred-Scott Decision (1857), that they had absolutely no rights that whites were bound to respect.