The Usual Suspects: Arizona and the Black/Latino Divide

Arizona Black Latino DivideThe Black Brown Divide on Immigration Reform

As soon as Arizona’s fascist anti-immigrant SB1070 legislation passed, black civil rights leaders from Jesse Jackson to California Assembly member Karen Bass roundly condemned it. The toxic national climate couldn’t be more primed for this law. In recent months, the high octane atmosphere of jingoistic racism, xenophobia and Manifest Destiny posturing amongst white zealots and the legislators who shill for them has become standard order. Now that the nation is in an uproar over SB1070, civil rights coalitions have begun trying to mobilize African American opposition to the Bill by linking black social justice activism with the immigrant rights movement.

However, when it comes to immigration rights and reform, there is a pronounced disconnect between black leadership and average black folk. In the L.A. African American Conservative Examiner respondents expressed support for SB1070. One believed that if similar laws were enacted in California it would be a deterrent to attacks on African Americans by Mexican immigrants. On the liberal to moderate The Grio website some black posters sounded off about bearing the brunt of racial discrimination, yet saw little connection between their experiences and an authoritarian crackdown on Arizonans of color under the legislation.

Living elbow to elbow with Latinos in the same socioeconomically depressed communities, black anxiety over interracial violence and social/demographic usurpation by Latinos in the low wage job sector has intensified. In cities where black and Latino day laborers compete for construction and home improvement jobs, white hiring preferences for Latinos have ignited controversy over racist stereotypes about lazy blacks versus hardworking Mexicans. In Los Angeles communities where predominantly black neighborhood schools have become majority Latino, social and classroom segregation between the two groups is a hard reality. The prevalence of Latino anti-black prejudice, ranging from “pigmentocracy” bias to caricaturing blacks as backward and “ghetto,” is a recurring complaint among some African American youth. Further, the perception that Latino organizations don’t support African American activism around such issues as racial profiling and police brutality has long fueled mainstream black wariness of black/Latino coalition building.

Living elbow to elbow with Latinos in the same socioeconomically depressed communities, black anxiety over interracial violence and social/demographic usurpation by Latinos in the low wage job sector has intensified

It is little wonder then that during last month’s Washington D.C. immigration reform protests there was a notable dearth of black participation. According to the online magazine The Root, immigrants of African descent purportedly don’t participate in immigrant rights activism because of class differences with Latin American immigrants. African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants who come to the U.S. legally on H1-B or student visas may perceive immigration reform as a “Latino phenomenon.” Seeking professional careers, many don’t identify with the socioeconomic desperation that motivates undocumented Latin American workers and families to come to the U.S.

Homegrown black support for or ambivalence about the Arizona law is symptomatic of a deep vein of frustration, anger, cultural resentment and xenophobia. Study after study indicates that African Americans are the most residentially segregated, suffer the greatest discrimination in job application and employment, and are amongst the biggest recipients of predatory mortgage loans. Fifty-six years after Brown v. Board there is greater social isolation between African Americans and whites in comparison to other racial groups. And white backlash to Obama’s election continues to illustrate the intractability of post-Jim Crow racism.

Because of the legacies of slavery and racial apartheid, the word “nigger” is still the universal signifier for dehumanization and otherness. For this reason, black liberation resistance has always been based on the struggle for recognition of both African American humanity and the basic right to citizenship. So there has always been a visceral yearning amongst black folk to wake up one morning and not be the ultimate other. A yearning to truly be considered a “native” son or daughter in a global empire based on forced African American immigration.

For many working class African Americans who see the gains of the Civil Rights era smoldering in the ashes of staggering unemployment, incarceration and high school drop-out rates, the plight of recently arrived undocumented immigrants does not register as a cause for solidarity. Ignorant of the bloody history of European imperial conquest of the Southwest, African Americans selectively lap up the white nationalist “taking back our country” swill at their peril. Creating a pure police state to “protect” (white) citizens from government-coddled illegals and welfare leeches is part of the same old divide and conquer dynamic that allows the way white elites profit from illegal immigrant labor and low wage black labor to go unexamined.

Recently, a white Alabama Republican gubernatorial candidate called for the state’s driver license exam to be given in English because, “If you want to live here, (you need to) learn it.” This nativist attempt to secure the borders of the new Confederacy is a harbinger of public policy that hearkens back to the literacy tests, poll taxes and other disfranchising regimes of Jim Crow.

Word to ambivalent black folk—the narrative of nationhood, when spun by white supremacists, will never include you, no matter how Anglo your sur (read, slave) name or how “un-inflected” your English is. In the lynch mob mentality of some law enforcement, SB1070’s mandate for investigation with “reasonable suspicion” will always mean you.

Sikivu Hutchinson

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of and the author of the forthcoming Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics and Secular America.


  1. says

    While I understand pointing out historical divides between the African American community and Latino/as I think AZ SB1070 presents a completely different paradigm. African-Americans are even more hostile than Latino/as to the racist Arizona law because it touches a common thread both groups are intimate with: racial profiling.

    I don’t think past analyses really apply to the same degree. for example, the mostly unreported immigration reform rally which took place the day health care reform was signed and which featured 250,000 immigrants from ALL sides, featured representatives from major national African American organizations. In addition, the Latino/a vote, which should NEVER be under-estimated, was a large part of Obama’s taking of formerly traditional republican states.

    Yes, some of what you discuss in this article is STILL relevant, but things ARE changing, as the Last Poets famously said.

  2. ia G Bracamonte-Sanchez says

    I have for a very long time worked within the Latino Community not only as an advocate as an advocate of workers and their rights but also as an advocate for immigrants’ rights. As a Union activist it is often my job to dispel myths and misconceptions that will create divides between groups of workers, not merely between African-American (blacks) and Latinos/Mexicanos/Chicanos/South and Central Americans but from groups of all races nationalities and colors.

    I have had the good fortune to have been taken under the wing of many African American Civil Rights activists who helped to form my understanding of the African-American struggle, the inter-connected-relation between the struggles of workers of all colors; especially those between the Black Community and the Latino Community. Those who fail to understand that we are brothers and sisters of the same struggle have not learned the real intimate relationship between our peoples. That history must be told and retold until we stop falling for the racial divide card that arbitrarily divides our common interest for a better life for all of us.

    Africans- were brought to the “new world” after the Colonizers began to feel deep resistance from the indigenous communities in the “new lands”. Africans were brought by force, stripped of their lands, separated from their ties to family, land, language, and culture by an ocean. And under the whip, they were forced to serve a master they neither knew nothing of nor held any debt to.

    The Latino communities and the Native American people (the first peoples of this continent) greeted these new comers first with friendship, only to see that it was a false hand being extended. We too were under a whip and there were attempts to force natives into enslavement. We resisted and many of our ancestors died or went in hiding only to come back to fight again and again in defense of our land, culture, language and families. In the end, we were striped of our lands, and called outsiders in our own homeland.

    So it is for this reason that I am constantly confounded to find articles of this nature being published under the guise of “progressive analysis”. As progressives, it is our duty to read all forms of articles and then to provide clarity to a world that is inherently designed to create confusion and class divisions among working people of all colors. We live in a “culture” where individualism greed, avarice has been extolled and has gone rampantly array. We are as a nation in moral crisis. However, the election of Barack Obama was the first step in trying to turn this country around.

    Arizona has few African Americans when you compare the demographics of this state. The few that are there are closely linked to communities of Mexican decent. For the degree of difference in the color of a black man or woman is about the same as that within the Mexicano/Chicano, for “My people range from snow to crow.”

    The Indigenous fought to keep their culture and way of life, language intact. African slaves found freedom by escaping to the south and were openly accepted by indigenous of North, Central and South America . The willing mixing of our races can be seen in many of our children. In my own family, you can see the mix merely by looking at my father who cold be mistaken for a black man because of his curly hair broad nose and full lips. And while we are familiar with the paper bag test, we are not antagonistic to the rich full range of color.

    The African experience that Ms Hutchinson describes in her article is the same for all people of color. She says “black liberation resistance has always been based on the struggle for recognition of both African and American humanity and the basic right to citizenship.” What she describes is the experience of the disenfranchised of any color of people residing in America today. It is experience of the disenfranchised within the Chinese, Japanese, the Irish, the Jewish community, or any other hyphenated American. We too suffer under a society that demands we negate our roots of origin and claim only that we are “American.” As if to be American is our new race as a people. But what does that mean?

    Many men and women of the 40-50, attempted to homogenize themselves by claiming they were Americans, but it did not mean that they were any more accepted then before. Many Latinos of the 40-50’s fought as do in the military as a way of showing their loyalty to the United States . It was to no avail, as we saw by the attacks on Latinos by WWII soldiers, ( Zoot Suite Riots.) We are reliving those same horrors today, as new immigrants enlist, to prove their loyalty, and to expedite their path towards citizenship and acceptance, only to find at the end of this journey they are still “unwanted.” or “undesirable.” Many denied their language and culture in hopes of being allowed in and up the proverbial economic ladder to only to realize it was all for not..

    America is a continent not merely a nation, So in point of fact we are all Americans whether hyphenated or not. Even those who came forcibly must acknowledge some tie by generations who suffered and fought to transform the new world into a nation that practices the art of inclusion in a participatory democracy. This is the legacy of the suffrage movement which is tied to the fight to end slavery, which pushed to propel us forward through to the 60’s with the fight for equality and inclusion of all people. Not just those that established the Constitution in 1776.

    Those words that preface the constitution were given new expanded meaning of inclusion for all the disenfranchised of our nation through the struggles of our past.

    “We the people, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity take on a more profound meaning

    When the Multinational/ Monosony bloated Corporate powers are capable creating and maintaining divisions within the diversity of our nation can they grow and prosper. Under the Bush administrations, we lived through such a period of neglect for the rights and freedoms we collectively claim as rights today.

    Now elements that are interested in pitting one group against the other are hoping to push back the progress made when we gathered our forces and elected the first black man into the White House: A man that we could look at in the face and see a reflection of ourselves.

    The issue of immigration has and will be a touchy issue. There are those that would like for the workers on the lower rungs of the economic ladder to believe that the immigrant community is steeling their jobs and/or the cause of crime; or that it is the H1B worker taking away the good corporate jobs from middle-management America and inventers’ jobs from the more educated and upper-middle rungs of the ladders.

    It is neither. Again, the corporate head of the monster we are fighting to get back into the regulatory box is to blame. Take for example, Wal-Mart, (the corporation that boast of being so concerned about the price we pay for goods), is one of the main exporter of US jobs. It’s product supplier are told to lower their purchaser’s prices. If they can not meet Wal-Mart’s price demand, then the Wal-Mart Corporation provides them with the means and info to move elsewhere to meet their demand on prices.

    Their model has been duplicated time and time again. But the idea of going outside of the US for cheaper labor, and materials is not a new one. US Steel did it when it concertedly moved to crush the Unions in the 1980. . They made no bones about it. In response to many efforts to keep the steel factories from closing or moving, US STEEL reminded the US public who and what they were in the following statement “US Steel is in the business of making money, not steel. But Steel has been one of the many sources in which we have made money.” Our steel factories were not unprofitable, it was that they want to make even more.”

    Under Reagan administration they found a way to do just that. For several Administrations more, we as Americans saw their “elected leaders” help Business export our jobs. Government incentives were given to many corporations, including favorable trade tax reductions.

    We need to see some articles that put a perspective on this recent phenomenon in Arizona .. Issues like Immigration or the passage of SB 1070 can not be presented in a simple article of 500 or 1,000 words. Immigration, racism, and the internal fight for reclaiming our government from the hands of corporate interests must be addressed in a series of well prepared articles with the help of experts in the field.

    And to do that we must review the history of the state we are in and evaluate the understanding of “democracy” and the process that goes beyond the ballot box, which make the word such a force to contend with. We can not look at the issue of immigration merely from the limited view of how people enter or via the idea of travel. It is a complex issue intertwined with our US Foreign Policy, Domestic Policies and our Trade Policies that has for far too long only represented corporate interest and has failed for far too long to consider the affects on the people that reside within the boundaries of the countries we call our neighbors or our own borders.

    Sincerely submitted
    By Lydia G Sanchez Bracamonte
    Monday, May 03, 2010

    • Genette says

      “Issues like Immigration or the passage of SB 1070 can not be presented in a simple article of 500 or 1,000 words. Immigration, racism, and the internal fight for reclaiming our government from the hands of corporate interests must be addressed in a series of well prepared articles with the help of experts in the field.” Ok good, submit your own piece then. However, none of what you’ve written addresses the issue of how mainstream AA’s view this issue from a cultural/community standpoint. The viewpoints that many AAs express on the immigration issue come from a very real place of interracial misunderstanding, conflict and, yes, Latino internalization of white racism specifically targeting people of African descent, which, I’m sorry, is distinct from that which Latinos experience. If you go to any urban school there continues to be friction between Latino and AA students based upon low expectations teachers have of AA students versus Latino students. Latino students are consistently favored as more docile, educable and less hostile than AA students, and this has a lot to do with mainstream images of violent anti-social AAs. So rather than dismiss these anxieties as a “plot” you need to validate and address them head on.

  3. jk says

    I live in a mixed community of African Americans and Latinos, with a smattering of South Asians and East Asians (me, :-). I guess it’s an “upper working class” area of northern South Central LA. I see AfAms and Latinos getting along, especially the kids. Conflict is rare. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but, I mostly see people getting along. Further down in South Central, I see more race mixing.

    I’m not saying there’s no conflict. People tell me stories of periods when conflicts turned to violence. I’m just saying right now, it’s a mixture.

    Today, there were a fair number of AfAms at the May 1 immigrant rights march. Many came through the unions, but I also saw a lot of Black people coming down to check out the march. Same for White and Asian people. It’s was overwhelmingly Mexican and Central American, but not entirely.

    One strategy for integration that the progressives use is to position AfAms to become leaders of heavily Latino organizations, be they NGOs or unions. I think it’s smart.

    Then, when it’s time to fight for AfAm issues, you make a coalition with Latinos.

    Part of leadership is representing the constituency, but a greater par of it is “leading” us to something more closely resembling the future we want.

    Besides, it’s inevitable that coalitions need to be formed. Minorities categorically cannot pass any law on their own. We need to form coalitions and support each other.

  4. Peaches says

    I agree with most of the authors viewpoints with the exception of African-Americans not wanting to be the “visceral other” I believe the immigrant population does not want to be the ‘ visceral other” Irritation regarding illegal immigrants is the sense of entitlement that many illegal immigrants have and their lack of respect and regard for the laws of this country regarding immigration. I have heard many immigrant viewpoints regarding the bill – but no one has ever commented on this one If millions of Americans emigrated especially African-Americans to other countries, how would we be treated? Would amnesty be provided for us? Would they walk side by side with us and help us in our plight? By the way I believe that Arizonas immigration bill amounts to racial profiling and I am completely against it.

  5. Dr. Jbh says

    As a professional African American male !
    I have worked closely with the Latinos and just like every other nationally there are those that disrespect the issues the the American blacks have endured. But hadn’t it been for the hardship of the American Blacks they would not be so free to enter this country.
    My Issue isn’t whether they are here or not because Many of them are very hard working individuals that aren’t out robbing,murdering,raping girls and etc.
    Why don’t we just toss the Constitution out and let everyone do as they please ! Let see just how long we will last…

    The Americans that are protesting haven’t been watching the History Channel ( Gangland ).. Maybe if they watched real television they wouldn’t be quite so quick to defend some of the groups coming in to America.
    Arizona and many other cities the law enforcement know the truth.
    I believe every human being should be free,own a home,car, be able to walk the street without fear of danger..

    This is not just a problem with Latinos !
    I feel that anybody that breaks this LAW should be thrown out of the country with no questions ask.
    You may not be able to speak English !
    But you knew someone here that did and you also knew about this law before coming here so i am not on you side.
    Everybody else that has a problem with this law !
    Maybe you need to get the Hell out of this country too.

    • Steve Lamb says

      Hollis- Yes, Goldman Sachs and the Corporate elites took the jobs of citizen Americans and lowered the wages and benefits on those they didnt take. They did this with two mechanisms:
      Outsourcing of manufacturing to China, Vietnam, India, and Latin America, and the encouragement of allowing illegal aliens to come and work and depress wages. Yes, an open border is only a tactic of the Oligarchy conspiracy against all working people, but it is one of the two most effective and useful tactics, and this is why one as a progressive must oppose it.

      Dr. JBH- Right ON!

      And finally the reason that African-Americans oppose illegal immigration, and perhaps all immigration is that not only are they the people in American Society most direclty harmed, but also perhaps because historically the way a minority group knows it has arrived at American Societal acceptance is when that groups members can denigrate African-Americans in front of others and face no racial comments on their own race. So each new immigrant group on it’s way up the socio economic ladder takes its turn being the nearby oppressor of African-Americans, and each has as its rite of passage into the “Mainstream” the oppression of African-American people. Gee I can’t IMAGINE why African-Americans have not been just deeeelighted by each and every new waive of immigrants to our shores. Can’t imagine.

  6. says

    I saw a great sign downtown today in the Immigration Reform March, “Jose didn’t take your job — Goldman-Sachs did.” It is time that those who are having a hard time began to show the courage to blame the ones who have really trampled on them: Goldman-Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Bank of America, CHASE, EXON, BP and the filthy rich who didn’t get that way by doing the work. They took the value created by the work of the mass of people, including about 350 years of slavery, as their own and became fabulously wealthy — and they are still doing it with taxpayer bailouts, guarantees by the government to protect their wealth, etc. Immigrants working for minimum wage or less are not the ones who are robbing our nation, it is the banksters, corporate managers, oil corporations and the military-industrial-financial complex and wealthy parasites that are doing it to us. When we get the courage to go after them then we can have a better life and a really civil civil society without petty fights over the scraps falling from the edge of the table.

  7. R Zwarich says

    Ms. Hutchinson makes many excellent points that any socially conscious person must consider, but although she makes passing reference to the natural economic competition between undocumented Latinos and African Americans, (to which she refers as “social/demographic usurpation by Latinos in the low wage job sector”), she seems to all too glibly dismiss this as a possibly legitimate reason that some people might object to the massive wave of illegal immigration of low wage labor that we have seen in the last decade.

    It is far from just African Americans who have been economically affected, and it is obviously far from just African Americans who are objecting to immigration. Millions of American citizens have objections, for many legitimate reasons, to other nations’ exporting their poverty to the US, and these objections have absolutely nothing to do with either ‘fascism’ or ‘racism’. These people’s objections would be every bit as vociferous if these millions of dirt poor immigrants were Caucasians pouring across the border from Canada.

    Witness that in Europe similarly vociferous objections are often being voiced by Caucasians in Western Europe to the immigration of poor Caucasian laborers from Eastern Europe who take jobs and drive down wages.

    In the construction trades, to mention only one example, it was estimated, before the current economic downturn, that as many as 40% of all jobs that were held by American citizens in the late 1990s were taken over, in less than a decade, by undocumented Latino immigrants willing to work for less, and not only were those millions of jobs no longer available to American citizens, wages for construction jobs in general, even those still held by American citizens, had plummeted.

    As a result, even before the current downturn, millions of people who once earned a dignified living for their families could either no longer find work in their trades, or else were forced to work for wages slashed by as much as 50%. Not able to earn the living they once did has taken the inevitable toll on many of these people and their families.

    It’s unfortunate that the best Ms. Hutchinson can do is to tell a person who once had a loving family, which has now been decimated by domestic violence, divorce, drug and alcohol addiction, and the other scourges that bedevil people who have lost their self-respect, and now harbors anger and resentment toward those he can clearly see took her or his job, that she or he is a “racist” and/or “fascist”.

    We must certainly have empathy and sympathy for these hard working Latino people who are simply struggling to survive, and to provide a decent life for their families. We must certainly have great concern for the human rights of every individual, irregardless of their immigration status. But we do not serve the nation well in working toward a solution when we completely ignore the deleterious effects that this sudden and massive wave of immigration has had on the lives of millions of American citizens. We certainly do not serve the cause of finding a ‘fair’ solution when we dismiss people’s legitimate concerns, which are rooted in the damage immigration has wrought on their own self-interests, by lumping these legitimate concerns under the handy-dandy, (and thoughtless), universal labels of ‘fascism’ and ‘racism’.


  8. says

    When it comes to our next-door neighbors in Mexico, it shouldn’t matter to any American of any color that they want to share the New World with us in peace and prosperity, and that it’s only politics that creates the line on the map called the U.S.-Mexico border, a line that can be erased with politics via my Megamerge Dissolution Solution of dissolving the Mexican govt. with the consent of the Mexican people in exchange for joining the U.S. as 10+ new states, allowing free movement without passports for all 414 million Americans among all 60 states, and attracting millions southward into the 10+ new vibrant economic zones that will generate millions of new jobs for us all. Study the MMDS and tell your friends and politicians so that more time isn’t wasted on the non-solutions now on the table by both major parties:

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