In a tragedy similar to the Michael Brown shooting, an unarmed 35-year-old Mexican migrant, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, was dispatched by the Kennewick, Washington Police Department. His capital crime was hurling rocks at cars and the police. Apparently the victim had a history of mental illness and erratic behavior. He may also have struck two officers during the melee. In response, the police directed 17 bullets at Mr. Zambrano-Montes, who appeared to have his arms raised when he was slain. Via smart phone, the incident was captured and broadcasts to the world, sparking protest from the Latino community.
During a recent appearance on the Washington Journal, and with more than a hint of frustration and disbelief, a Hispanic attorney and activist questioned why the shooting of an unarmed Hispanic male has not been taken as seriously as the police shooting of Michael Brown and the murder of African-American Eric Garner.
Mimicking the mantra “black lives matter” the activist concluded by arguing that “brown lives (also) matter. Other Hispanic activists have voiced like concerns. See for example the Rouge Planas article, “Why the Media Pays Less Attention to Police Killings of Latinos”, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/24/police-killings-latinos_n_6739448.html.
And in a bad case of foot in mouth disease, Hispanic Emmy Award winning host and presenter Rodner Figueroa was fired from Univision, the top rated Spanish language broadcaster for saying that the First Lady Michele Obama “looks like she was in the movie cast of Planet of the Apes.”
Mr. Figueroa has subsequently apologized for his comment, a mea culpa we readily accept. Nevertheless, these matters reveal a serious yet seldom discussed social problem, i.e., the growing ethnic enmity between the African-American and Latino communities.
“Traditionally, black and brown activists have seen themselves in a natural alliance in a country historically dominated by whites — an alliance of mostly poorer, darker-skinned minorities whose struggles are not dissimilar. But like the civil-rights-era alliance between blacks and Jews, the black/brown coalition has grown more and more strained.” http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2005/summer/the-rift. The reasons for this division are multiple and both sides are at fault.
Research reveals that there is a well-known “anti-blackness” within the Hispanic community, a prejudice which has existed since the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. “Many Latinos, in their assimilation to white American culture, carry the belief that being black means you are dangerous, that having a darker complexion means you are less.
Still others say they are being targeted for robbery by blacks who pick on undocumented workers, a group far less likely to report crimes to police. Those who identify as Afro-Latino who are both black and Latino are therefore treated as outsiders by the Hispanic community.” See for example http://www.salon.com/2014/05/20/a_matter_of_death_and_death_confronting_anti_black_racism_among_latinos/.
On the other side of the equation, many African-Americans are envious of Hispanic success. No longer the majority-minority or even the go to minority, blacks worry about being left behind, begrudge the fact that Hispanics are pouring into neighborhoods that were previously dominated by blacks and oppose immigration for fear that Hispanics are taking “our jobs.”
Yet, our similarities are far greater than our differences and the ground upon which we stand is all but identical. We both share a history of heartless colonialism, malevolent imperialism and the inhuman yoke of bondage. And our blood is mixed; our cultures intertwined. Many Hispanics are the direct descendants of West African slaves.
We are similarly burdened by institutional racism, negative perceptions and demeaning stereotypes. The legal and political systems could care less what language we speak or our country of origin. To them we are all the N-word. Blacks and browns therefore share a common adversary; a mutual foe that has done more than perfect the tactic of divide and conquer. Said foe authored it.
Pitting one side against the other and creating conflict between the two dominate ethnicities serves only to preserve the current power structure. As such, there is nothing the opposition desires more than for African and Latin Americans to fear each other.
This tactic is even more effective if the animus is based on racial or ethnic differences, especially if the hatred exists not only between but within our respective communities. Inter racism i.e., ethnic conflict between African Americans and Hispanic Americans is bad enough. But intra racism, i.e., blacks who war against other blacks for “acting white” and/or Hispanic who shun Afro Latinos for their “blacknicity”, takes self hatred to a whole new level.
But there is a solution. We need not maintain this false dichotomy. As the British philosopher John Stuart Mill once said, “[I]t is hardly possible to overrate the value … of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar.”
So let us not fall prey to the emotional “crack” that is racism. The more you hate, the more you want to hate; the more you need to hate. Instead let us reach for and embrace one another.
In conclusion, there is not a particles worth of difference between African-Americans, Latino Americans and Native American. And all too often minorities misuse their power and waste their resources by fighting each other.
Together African-Americans and Latinos comprise 31.0% of the U.S population. By 2060 we will represent 45.3% of the American citizenry. The browning of America therefore presents a unique opportunity for Americans of all stripes and colors to join hands and make a significant contribution to the world and our respective communities.
Leo Barron Hicks, CEO and Founder
Blackacre Policy Forum