The Economist takes on Black/Brown conflicts

By Malena Amusa Aug 03, 2007

When I see big-name publications take on race relations, especially those between two or more groups of color, I am usually overjoyed. But I don’t know how I feel about the Economist taking on tensions between Blacks and Latinos in its recent issue. Here, the magazine looks at both Durham and Los Angeles where Latinos are only gaining in numbers, but where political power is still for the most part in the hands of Blacks, which is causing tension. The Economist then presents a contentious argument–and that is, while Latinos are becoming a majority, they are politically "powerless." Read this:

One reason blacks and Latinos have failed to form an alliance is philosophical. The black civil-rights struggle, in the South at least, was mostly about asserting legal rights and demolishing barriers to voting by those who were, in theory, already enfranchised. The Latino struggle is quite different. Its goal is often the selective or non-enforcement of the law, particularly on immigration. A common demand, for example, is for local police not to co-operate with federal immigration agents. And, whereas blacks in the 1960s demanded power in proportion to their numbers as adult citizens, Hispanics want rather more. Thanks partly to their youth and partly to the fact that many are not citizens, Latinos are not nearly as powerful as their numbers might suggest. In Durham, where they are more than 13% of the population, the Latino vote is negligible. Even in historically Hispanic California they comprise more than a third of the population but cast only about a fifth of the votes. The imbalance between numbers and power irks many Latinos. And since they increasingly live in areas where political power is held by blacks, it often sharpens racial resentments.

The idea that Latinos are a "powerless majority" like the article claims seems badly worded and inaccurate. But something tells me this theory is just another product of us grappling with the problem no one can thumb down. However, instead summarizing statistics, perhaps journalists should start talking to as many people who perpetrate discrimination in both groups. How else are we gonna get to the heart of the fear that I think is driving violence between Blacks and Latinos in these cities? Until this starts happening, the only theory I can jive with is one the Economist only alluded to that indicated white power structures as a cause of voting suppression and joblessness.

If blacks and Hispanics are not brothers in the fight for equality, nor are they locked in a titanic struggle like the one between blacks and whites in the mid-20th-century South. Thankfully, there is far less violence. And the fact that leaders on both sides talk of a common cause probably helps. Yet one thing is the same: the group on top wants to stay there. Indeed, power hard-won from whites may be even more difficult to give up. As parts of Durham begin to resemble south-central Los Angeles, tensions between blacks and Latinos can only increase.