Black and Brown: Allies or Foes? #AERA15 #AERAPres

Let me start by telling you a story about Black and Brown collaboration in Texas. When I first moved to Texas in 1999, I was heavily involved in grassroots politics with the Tejano Democrats. I also volunteered in the local district office of Congressman Sheila Jackson Lee and had worked on redistricting maps. When the Democratic convention came around it, was suggested that I apply to be a delegate for the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

As you may be aware, the Democratic Party has quotas for the national convention to ensure a diverse delegation based on a variety of categories including youth, race/ethnicity, elected officials, etc. It was a day long process that had begun with a questionnaire and concluded by giving a speech in front of the selection committee after waiting many hours to do so. By the end of the day, all of the delegate slots had been filled except for one. The slot was reserved for a Black male. The committee conferred and then asked how I could be eligible for the Black delegate slot since I had checked Latino on the information sheet. I told them that Latino was an ethnicity and it was because there was no box for Blaxican. The Blacks and Latinos on the committee conferred— I was elected the final Texas delegate for the Los Angeles convention. So, first my parents were involved in a Black Latino collaboration, and now the selection committee had done so.

Is there a Black and Brown divide? Are they allies or foes? I, as an academic, could pontificate on whether I perceive a divide…. But I thought it would be more interesting for you to hear directly from Latino and Black policymakers and representatives from Civil Rights organizations. Over the years I have developed working and personal relationships with Latino and African American policymakers in several states. So I reached out this week to 15 Latino and Black state-level elected officials and representatives of Civil Rights organizations in four states. Two of the states have the largest populations of Latinos and the other two are western states have that experienced large growth in the population of Latinos. I contacted the policymakers (legislators and their advisors) and civil rights organization representatives via text and Facebook messenger and asked them to comment anonymously. Resoundingly, all of the policymakers and Civil Rights organizations representatives said that Blacks and Latinos are allies. However, as you will see, there are some challenges.

A representative of a prominent Civil Rights organization commented,

I definitely think we could be (are?) allies. I think we share a lot of common objectives.

An attorney for a prominent National Latino Civil Rights Organization relayed,

[African American Civil Rights organization] and [Latino Civil rights organization] have testified together in [our state] many times in support of equalized school finance, more rigorous and college ready standards and prep, against high stakes testing and vouchers. Same can be said of some of the national positions.

A state level official from a prominent Black Civil Rights organization commented,

We are allies. I work with Latino groups all the time on education policy. We work together and see eye to eye on those issues. The issues that effect Latinos have the same impact on Black kids cause we tend to be in similar neighborhoods if not living in the same communities. There’s always those who will try to stop the collaboration by reaching out to those who may not understand the issues but are willing to attempt to be the face of black/brown people. We try stopping that from happening by staying active with our working relationships and building strong partnerships. Also by continuing to have a unified presence on these issues especially when testifying in committees. We [Latinos and Black Civil Rights organizations] agree in our state on choice, funding, testing & standards. They may focus more on ELLs, understandably so. We agree that what is being defined as choice is wrong and isn’t choice

National Board member of Black Civil Rights organization:

I think allies on education. I have greater concern for division in other areas. We have the split with [Latino Civil Rights organization] on redistricting but have a great ally there in [Another Latino Civil Rights organization]. [Latino Civil Rights organization] bought into [our state] those changes that were harmful to African-Americans, but on school finance, testing and choice we have been quite united with them. [A Latino Civil Rights organization] supported the parent trigger bill recently, but their lobbyist is a good guy and simply made a mistake. [Another Latino organization] and [our organization] both opposed it.

A Latino legislator said,

I think we can be allies depends on how the policy is written and strategy.

This was perhaps borne out in the most stinging critique of the Black Brown alliance from a state level education policy advisor.

We always strive to be allies. They do until Whites say choose. African Americans come to the table and bring Latinos who then contact the Whites we had at the table for a side conversation [for an alliance to make a deal].

The policy advisor went through several examples of how interests in the communities, had diverged. They discussed how Black legislators had supported a Dual Language approach in the state. It was the perspective of the policy advisor that Latino legislators did a turnabout on the issue and pressed instead for a return to Bilingual because Black children had begun to benefit from the Dual Language approach. The policy advisor also mentioned that the Catholic lobby had been supportive of vouchers for their schools and was requesting that Latinos support the voucher push.

The policy advisor also posited that African Americans still sometimes have to lead the fight.

We [as Latinos] don’t need to do anything. Let the African Americans lead the fight, and then we will enjoy the spoils because the Republican leadership wont be mad at us because we did not fight them.

Perhaps not every state is a contentious. A Latino legislator commented,

Based on general positive experiences I have had to education advocates of color. At least in [our state] we try to steer clear of the “fighting for the crumbs” and conquer and divide mentality. There is only one person in [in our state] that I know of that tries to stir the Latino versus black pot and say Latinos are getting more resources than black kids, but most people know she is divisive and generally awful to work with.

In conclusion, our Civil Rights leaders laid the foundation for Black Brown alliances. Arturo S. Rodriguez, President, United Farm Workers of America recently wrote

If there is one lesson we learned from Dr. King, it is that our struggle for Civil Rights is indivisible.

Martin Luther King famously weighed in on Black and Brown and the fight for equality in his telegram to Cesar Chavez in September, 1966:

As brothers in the fight for equality, I extend the hand of fellowship and good will and wish continuing success to you and your members…You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized.

This post served as the basis of my panel presentation comments for the AERA Presidential session (See below) entitled “Linking Struggles on April 19, 2015 in Chicago, IL.

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