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)
"Blacks here as a whole still do not have very much political clout or political capital," Oglesby says. "Hispanics are the dominant group in Miami, and they tend not to reach out to blacks, so that diminishes black political power in some respect. You won't find strong black networks here like in Washington, D.C. It's not a great place culturally to raise black kids."
Bill Diggs, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, which represents 550 black-owned businesses, believes that the city's growing black middle class will change that reality. In addition, he says, the Cuban-American power structure is changing.
"I think the level of influence of the Cuban old guard is beginning to dissipate," he says. "The second and third generations of Cubans are much more Americanized and much more apt to embrace diversity. They are more open to what we can do to help one another. Our chamber has a strong and growing relationship with the Latin chambers out there. There's an embracing of cultures, if you will. We attend their events and they attend ours."
The economic gap is still wide, however. "Our constant fight is getting access to government contracts," Diggs says. "There is still a tremendous disparity with black businesses' ability to do business here."
He cites Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation's fourth-largest school system, as an example. Less than 2 percent of the school system's business goes to black vendors, even though black residents are 22 percent of the city's population. That percentage has not changed in 23 years, Diggs says.
Still, there's no denying that there has been progress.
Eduardo J. Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, said that it took a lot of work and commitment for the city to get where it is. He was part of a committee of community leaders who worked to build bridges after the 1980 riots.
"There was recognition by leading members of all of Miami's ethnic groups that something had to change," he said in an e-mail, adding that the city's relatively new and disparate populations made for a "fragile community."
"One of the keys to the progress over these many years has been the awareness by all concerned that as Hispanics gained greater opportunity and leadership roles, a concerted effort needed to be made to ensure that African Americans also had access to those same economic, educational and civic opportunities," Padrón wrote. "This was and remains a critical aspect of the community's progress."
I now live in Washington, D.C., home of the nation's first black president and other black political and economic powerbrokers. The region has some of the wealthiest, most educated blacks in the country. Needless to say, I haven't started packing my bags for a move back to Miami.
After years of traveling back to south Florida to visit family, however, I've developed a soft spot for the place where I cut my teeth as a reporter chronicling a city in transition and observing the slow, hard work of racial reconciliation. Like other cities across the country, Miami remains a work in progress. I may just yet consider retiring there -- when I'm 90.
Marjorie Valbrun is a regular contributor to The Root.