Blacks Against Immigrants? Don’t Believe the Conservative Hype

By Jonathan Adams Mar 27, 2008

Found on DMI By Mark Winston Griffith & Andrea Batista Schlesinger There’s a corrosive idea currently being spread by the conservative right. Designed to enlist African Americans in a race battle against immigrants by intentionally exploiting current economic anxieties, The Manhattan Institute’s recent publication of “The Rainbow Coalition Evaporates,” by Steven Malanga, argues that black people are fed up with illegal immigrants taking their jobs, committing crime in their neighborhoods, and messing up their schools. Before this toxic narrative seeps further down into the public debate, it’s important to set the record straight on the Manhattan Institute and their opposition to a policy agenda that promotes the best interests of Black, Latino and White communities alike. Like a petty gossip trying to instigate a school yard cat fight, the Manhattan Institute uses the Malanga article to pose as a friend and ally to black folk by whispering warnings about Latino people out to get them. But what’s the skin in the game for them? It certainly isn’t a deep commitment to improving the prospects of the African-American community. The Manhattan Institute is the well oiled think tank based here in New York City that published “The Bell Curve” by Charles Murray, arguing that African-Americans have lower IQ’s. It’s the hatchery of “welfare reform,”, “’compassionate’ conservatism,” the end of open admissions at CUNY, and the “broken windows theory” that formed the basis of Rudy Giuliani’s crime-fighting strategy of aggressive policing of poor communities of color. The Manhattan Institute, like much of the conservative movement, has identified the problem of cities to be the moral deficiency of the dark and poor people who inhabit them. To paraphrase the words of Manhattan Institute “scholar” Heather MacDonald, if the poor had “bourgeoisie values”, they wouldn’t be poor. Malanga’s intentions are consistent with this view. In his article he argues that Latinos have brought violence, in the same way conservatives have depicted African-Africans as criminal animals wreaking havoc in New York City. He interviews one Black parent frustrated with the overwhelming Latino presence in his child’s school, with no ironic or historic sense of the cultural arguments against integration. Malanga concludes that Black people are fed up with their own leadership for opposing “immigrant restrictions” and makes a call to action, suggesting that “Blacks could play a far more decisive role, though, if their political leaders felt threatened enough to pursue tougher immigration policies actively.” And there we have it. Malanga’s article isn’t about improving African-American neighborhoods, schools or prospects – or even immigration policies that could strengthen African-American communities. It’s about enlisting African-Americans in the politics of a racist, draconian position on immigration. Nothing more, nothing less. Malanga tips his hand when he quotes a political scientist as saying that “some Republicans have positions on immigration that would resonate in the black community, but only a few have tried to take advantage of black anger of immigration.” Take advantage is right. The Manhattan Institute and their conservative movement must believe it is in their best interests to devise a political strategy based on black and Latino division, lest they face an America in which all of those on the fringes of our new economy – from African Americans to laid off white workers – demand something better than a sorry agenda of tax cutting for the wealthy and trade policy for the few. Why else would this article hint with glee at the misguided idea that there is no Black-Latino political coalition? Fear mongering is the last gasp of the ideologically bankrupt. Rather than try to hawk an unrealistic policy of mass deportation, or actually devise a way to bring millions of immigrants out of the shadows by providing a road to legal status and employment protection, it’s easier to try to convince socially and economically vulnerable voters that immigrants are looking to take their jobs, victimize them, and overtake their schools. One thing is for sure. The immigration policy status quo isn’t working for anyone, no matter what community you live in. Race-baiting and racial scapegoating won’t change that. The only immigration policy that will allow this nation to move forward is one that squarely addresses the legal status and the working conditions of the 12 million undocumented immigrants who are here, a policy that recognizes that no matter what color you may be, our fates are all inextricably bound. Mark Winston Griffith is a community economic justice activist, journalist and Senior Fellow in Economic Justice at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy. From 2005 to 2007, Mr. Griffith served as the co-director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, a policy and community resource organization that promotes economic justice in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Prior to that Mr. Griffith served for twelve years as the founding Executive Director of the Central Brooklyn Partnership, a neighborhood-based organization that builds the capacity of local people to exert political and economic power. While directing the Partnership he also served as the founding Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Central Brooklyn Federal Credit Union, which at the time was the country’s largest Black-owned, community-based financial cooperative. Since 2002, Andrea Batista Schlesinger has applied her background in public policy, politics and communications to lead the effort to turn the Drum Major Institute into a progressive policy institute with national impact. She has doubled DMI’s staff, capacity and budget, making it a leading source for progressive ideas. She has been profiled in publications including the New York Times, New Yorker magazine, and Latina Magazine. She has appeared on television shows including CNN’s ‘Lou Dobbs Tonight’ and has been published in publications including The Nation, New York Newsday, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Mississippi Sun Herald, New York Daily News, Alternet, Tom, New York Sun, Colorlines Magazine, The Chief-Leader, and City Limits magazine. She serves on the Editorial Board of The Nation, the New York City Traffic Mitigation Congestion Commission, and the boards of the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, WireTap and the Applied Research Center.