Thursday, December 20, 2007

“They Hate Each Other Too!”
or Blacks and Latinos Can be Bigots Too
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The shock jock on a popular Los Angeles talk radio station screamed through the microphone with apoplectic delight, “You see, they hate each other too. The “they” and the “each other” are African-Americans and Latinos. His shout was loud, crude, and aimed to do what shock jocks get paid to do, namely shock. But this was not standard shock jock bluster. He based his rant on a troubling eye catching response to a question in a recent survey by the New America Media. NAM is a consortium of ethnic media groups in the San Francisco Bay Area. In a wide-ranging poll, it sampled opinion among blacks, Latinos and Asians about each other.

The response that raised the eyebrows was that a near majority of Latinos said that blacks were crime prone and that they feared for their safety around them. A slight majority of blacks returned the negative typecast compliment and said that Latinos take jobs from blacks and they are out to undercut their political power.

Those are the type of utterances that white bigots supposedly spew. However, now they just as easily rolled off of black and Latino lips. That revelation for the shock jock and for many other whites merely confirmed that blacks and Latinos can be bigots too. The ugly truth is they’re right. And that also tells much about the often muddled, confused, and conflicted picture of race and ethnic relations in America.

For decades bigotry was always defined as racial discrimination and violence against blacks by whites. The black power movement and the strident black militancy of the 1960s dramatically changed that. Now blacks were hammered for their anti-white racial taunts. That eventually morphed into and codified as blacks playing the race card whenever things went especially bad. That always meant making whites feel guilty to get an advantage. The point is that blacks and whites were still the only ones that hurled vicious and vile negative stereotypes about each other and at each other, and that’s where it ended. The NAM poll convincingly exploded the notion that blacks and whites were the only groups that saw each other through jaundiced racial lens.

Blacks, Latinos and Asians can hold the same hostile racial attitudes toward each other, and aren’t afraid to voice them. The first real tip that things weren’t as idyllic as they appeared on the ethnic relations front came in 2005 with the furor over the quip by then Mexican President Vicente Fox. In a speech, Fox said that Mexicans are hard workers and will work jobs that blacks won’t work. That ignited a storm of protest from civil rights leaders and many African-Americans.

The top rung Latino civil rights groups and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus instantly understood the severe harm that the remark could do to the fragile relations between blacks and Latinos, and rushed to denounce Fox. But denunciations and demands for apologies couldn’t erase Fox’s words, or the sentiment behind them. Many Latinos openly and many more privately probably agreed with Fox. They insisted that immigrants would work the hardest, dirtiest, lowest paying jobs that blacks won’t work. And some even less charitably claimed that blacks wouldn’t work these jobs because they are lazy and slothful.
That belief, of course, is crude, false and racist. But it reflected the big problem that relations between blacks and Latinos are rife with falsehoods.

Yet ethnic insensitivity, however, is not a one-way street. In a blast at Fox for his remark on immigration and jobs, Al Sharpton also reflected the skewed view held by many blacks that Latinos are an economic threat: “We need to deal with the fact that there has been an inordinate amount of tension where people have come across the border for almost slave wages, competing with Latinos and blacks.” Sharpton rammed the point home by describing illegal immigration as a 21st century slave trade. That dredged up the negative images of hordes of uneducated, poor Mexicans invading the U.S.
Latino activists have waged a furious battle for decades against that image as well as against the depiction of Latinos as lazy, immoral, crime-prone, drug dealers, illegal aliens, service workers, and mothers with packs of ragged children. Those images constitute stereotypes that TV and Hollywood have done much to propagate.

The common litany of stereotypes, myths and misconceptions that many blacks and Latinos now routinely toss out about each other sooner or later will rudely force their way into and badly taint the way blacks and Latinos see each other. In a worse case scenario, the gulf in attitudes, perceptions and ultimately relations could widen rather than narrow between the two groups. The New America Media survey zeroed in on the negative beliefs and sentiments that blacks and Latinos hold about each. It other offered more proof that race relations and worse racial bigotry can no longer be colored in black and white.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press)