What Will Be African-Americans' Political Destiny?
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin. This is NEWS & NOTES.
Earlier in the program we discussed the ongoing conflict between Latino-Americans and African-Americans. Commentator Erin Aubry Kaplan is a Los Angeles native who has watched the division between the two communities for years. It's taken some time to put words to her feelings, but now she is ready to talk.
Ms. ERIN AUBRY KAPLAN: For the last year I've had many thoughts about the whole black-brown crisis. I've kept them more or less in check, thinking they might affront people of color in this whole public desire to do some cultural exchanges - lay bridges across raging waters, and all that.
I'm not against bridges, but I'm more and more convinced that we've got to look at the raging waters before we can build anything. So let's dive in. Black people are angry. OK, I'm angry, not at Latinos or at immigration. I'm angry that nobody talks about how immigration and the rise of Latinos effects black folks, except as a kind of inconvenience that has to be adapted to new circumstances.
We're like old furniture that has to be rearranged in a new house, put into this corner or that second bedroom down the hallway. People aren't advocating getting rid of us, but they're busy making room for the new. The burden of moving, in other words, is on us. Yes, I know the call for black-brown brotherhood sounds entirely unthreatening. Quite the opposite. It sounds like just the kind of group empowerment we all need.
I hear this a lot from black intellectuals versed in Marx in the 1960s. They say that black and brown people share a common oppression, that their divisions only embolden the white capitalistic powers. They point out that the original pueblo of Los Angeles was founded by blacks, Latinos and mixed-race people, for God's sake.
I'm sorry, but history and theory alone don't compensate for the fact that black people today, as a group, are scarily unemployed, isolated, unhealthy, undereducated and over-incarcerated. Then they're asked to minimize these conditions and join a coalition that might not benefit them.
Last year, during the height of the pro-immigration movement in L.A., I found myself in a room of black and Latino community activist-types. They were discussing how we all might better advance the story of black-brown unity as opposed to black-brown conflict.
A noble idea, but it occurred to me that we were kind of jumping the gun. A story of unity requires unity. I don't mean unity like two neighbors getting along or two kids dating in high school across the color line. Interpersonal successes that are common, thank God. I mean something bigger.
So I raised my hand and asked one Latino editor, what do you need us for? He thought about it and said we need you because of the civil rights movement. It was a good try - the right answer. But there really isn't one. The fact is that the pro-immigration movement, with its half million people in the streets of downtown L.A. and a network of support that's not just national but global, didn't need black people at all. Trust me, I was there.
So I'm angry because everybody is pretending that we all have equal standing here, that we have equal say and our agendas are getting equal consideration. They're not. They never have. This doesn't mean that Latinos are the enemy. They're simply doing what they should be doing - supporting their own, fulfilling a political destiny. The big question that's been shoved to the bottom of everybody's list is what is our political destiny. Do black people have one? I'm still waiting to exhale.
MARTIN: Erin Aubry Kaplan is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
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