Miami's Continuing Color Problem
Cubans vs. Haitians, Haitians vs. Cubans, African Americans vs. everybody else. Race relations in Miami have always been a tense affair. But are they getting better? The final chapter in The Root's series exploring black life in the 3-0-5.
in August 2010. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A lot has changed in the 18 years since I left. The 13-member Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners now has four black commissioners, including the chairman and a Haitian-American commissioner. (There's just one black member on the six-member Miami City Commission, however.) Haitian immigrants have been elected to local offices and mayoral seats in neighboring cities, as well as to the state legislature. Black political and civic activists say that Cuban-American politicians no longer ignore black communities because they can't afford to ignore motivated black voters.
"I think overall things are better," says Joe Oglesby, the former editorial page editor of the Miami Herald. "Things had been so bad for so long that now that we've reached a relative stasis, it seems far better. There are blacks in very important positions that they weren't in 10, 15 years ago. A lot of this is invisible to most people, but they're here."
Meanwhile, the widely publicized relocations of NBA stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami created a lot of excitement and buzz about the city's new, high-profile black millionaires and their entourages of famous black friends and beautiful black actresses. However, James and Bosh's status as the Miami Heat's new "Dream Team," along with Dwyane Wade, has little in common with that of ordinary black Miamians.
While Miami is "much more intelligent, sophisticated and cosmopolitan" than it used to be, black residents as a whole are not much more powerful, Oglesby says. Hispanics are now an even larger majority -- they make up 60 percent of the population. (The majority are Cubans, but there are also significant numbers of Nicaraguans, Colombians, Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans, Argentineans, Ecuadoreans, Brazilians and Dominicans.) Hispanics control most of the major government agencies, including the school board, the police department and other institutions. While this may be good for the Latino community, it doesn't necessarily empower the non-Latino black community.
Vanessa Woodard Byers, creator of bloggingblackmiami.com, could not agree more. She says that even as she has watched Haitian Americans gain more political ground, she has also seen "blacks as a whole in Miami lose a lot of power."
"The black communities that we once had are not really the same," she says. "Many of the black professionals have moved out of the area, so that's been a bit devastating to the community. A good bit of the history of the community is being lost as the black areas are gentrifying and historic neighborhoods and buildings are being lost. There's not really a black Miami now."
As for race relations, she says, "There's too much ethnic polarization for me. Sometimes it's about race, but a lot of times it's about economics -- who has money and who doesn't."
Woodard Byers says that Miami's growing reputation as an international hub of wealthy Latin American immigrants and rich American movie stars and basketball players has not helped bring people together. "It has added so much focus on bling and not enough on the development of community itself," she says, adding that this is partly why she started her blog.
Meanwhile, serious social problems remain. Black men are still being killed by police in disproportionate numbers, and black-community members are still demanding to know why.