In the midst of Obama’s unimaginable ten-state sweep, with everyone talking about unity — black and white, blue and white collar, old and young — black-brown unity regrettably lags behind. Tensions between blacks and Latinos, painfully hyped by the media in the run-up to the California primary, could be fatal to the country’s best present hope for a progressive movement. Progressives must take heed as we approach the critical primary contest in Texas.
The harsh reality is that both Latino and black communities around the country are in peril. Even at a time when real earnings for white workers have declined significantly compared to wealthy Americans, Latina women earn less than half of what white men earn. African American men, despite gains in education over recent decades, earn three-quarters of white men’s earnings.
Only half of young African American men are working; ten percent are in prison. Half of black and Latino children graduate high school on time, compared to 75 percent of white children. Add to these statistics the harsh impacts of rising energy costs, lack of health insurance, high rents and mortgage foreclosures, and the economic future of African American and Latino communities looks dim without major policy interventions.
Immigration, controversial in both Latino and black communities, complicates issues further. In our view, none of the policy prescriptions being discussed in the presidential campaign are comprehensive or satisfactory. Employers purposefully recruit immigrants from Latin America for low-wage, unsafe work in this country.
African Americans should not repeat the mistakes of organized labor in the 1950s, when employers seeking to undermine the labor movement similarly recruited black workers out of the oppressive Jim Crow South. Rather than fight Jim Crow, many white workers conducted “hate strikes” against blacks, creating painful conflicts between poor whites and African Americans.
Instead we must insist on basic rights and decent wages for all workers in the U.S., and we should support movements in Latin America struggling against the key drivers forcing immigrant workers from their home countries: unfair wages and unfair trade agreements.
In California, pundits made much of the 80 percent support for Obama among African Americans and the nearly 70 percent support for Hillary Clinton among Latino voters. They portrayed relations between blacks and Latinos as uneasy and competitive. Many suggested that Latinos would not vote for Obama because of his race. Yet, polls indicate that 93 percent of Latinos say that the country is ready to elect a black president.
The pundits in California ignored areas of intense collaboration between African Americans and Latinos, such as in the labor movement. They also ignored a fact that baseball fans nationwide surely notice all the time: that a growing number of people of African descent in the United States are from Latin America.
The path to power for the Democratic nominee now requires intensively courting the votes of African American, Latino, and Asian-Pacific Islander voters. This trend will become even stronger in future elections as more people of color reach voting age.