Thursday, May 04, 2006
Black vs. Brown, 2.0
[D]espite some sympathy for the nation's illegal immigrants, many black professionals, academics and blue-collar workers feel increasingly uneasy as they watch Hispanics flex their political muscle while assuming the mantle of a seminal black struggle for justice.
Some blacks bristle at the comparison between the civil rights movement and the immigrant demonstrations, pointing out that black protesters in the 1960's were American citizens and had endured centuries of enslavement, rapes, lynchings and discrimination before they started marching.
Others worry about the plight of low-skilled black workers, who sometimes compete with immigrants for entry-level jobs.
And some fear the unfinished business of the civil rights movement will fall to the wayside as America turns its attention to a newly energized Hispanic minority with growing political and economic clout.
"All of this has made me start thinking, 'What's going to happen to African-Americans?' said Brendon L. Laster, 32, a black fund-raiser at Howard University here, who has been watching the marches. 'What's going to happen to our unfinished agenda?'"
Yes, one can argue whether there is -- or should be -- a black "unfinished agenda." Some might say that, at this point, there shouldn't be an agenda any different than that of the rest of the country. But, let's say for the sake of argument that there is, indeed, a black agenda that remains unfinished. Are the current crop of black leaders pursuing that agenda if they are also working on behalf of immigrant rights simultaneously?
Former British Prime Minister once said that in politics, there should be no permanent friends, no permanent enemies -- only permanent interests. Civil rights leaders and groups -- including the Congressional Black Caucus -- have adopted that motto as their own.
Yet, they don't live by it.
The near-permanent alliance the civil rights movement has made, not just with the Democratic Party, but with the broader modern liberal agenda has trapped itself.
Over the last four decades, various groups -- feminist women, gays, immigrants (including illegals) -- have adopted the rhetorical tropes of the civil rights movement for their own causes.
Now, there is nothing wrong with this, per se. The philosophy that Martin Luther King put forward was universal. After all, King adopted the non-violence part from Gandi. However, African American leaders should have recognized that the liberation agendas of other groups not only aren't the same as the "black agenda" (whatever it may be), but they may actually be in direct conflict with it.
Indeed, the combination of feminism and the expansion of the welfare state in the '60s arguably contributed to the complete unraveling of the black family. At the same time Daniel Patrick Moynihan was warning about an increase in black illegitimacy, the Great Society was expanding benefits to unwed mothers. Simultaneously, feminists sent the signal that women could certainly get along without men.
This is an admittedly superficial snapshot of numerous social developments. However, the fact remains that the civil rights movement happily bonded with the women's movement and the expansion of the federal government -- despite what, in retrospect has been catastrophic impact on the black family (three-quarters of black children are now born out of wedlock).
And now, today, civil rights leaders are bonding with immigration advocates -- even as many of the illegal immigrants are helping to create a "false floor" of unskilled labor, which competes with many undereducated African Americans.
Remarkably, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson essentially let Mexican President Vicente Fox off the hook with his comment last year that "Mexicans, filled with dignity, willingness and ability to work, are doing jobs that not even blacks want to do there in the United States."
So, who then among the "traditional" civil rights leadership is willing to speak for an unskilled black labor force -- and the threat posed by illegal immigration?
UPDATE: Tariq Nelson has an interesting take on the Black vs. Latino debate -- from a Muslim perspective. Hat tip: Umar Lee from the comments section.
Technorati Tags: immigration, African American, Latino, civil rights