Capitalizing on the Opportunity for Black/Latino Cooperation
As a Washington, D.C., lobbyist representing both Spelman College,
an historically Black institution (HBCU), and the University of Puerto
Rico, an Hispanic-serving institution (HSI, Anita Estell is learning to
navigate the mercurial currents of coalition politics.
During the recent policy dispute that emerged between Blacks and
Latinos over Title III funding in the reauthorization of the Higher
Education Act (HEA), Estell had the delicate task of simultaneously
supporting the interests of Black and Hispanic-serving institutions.
She credits leaders on both sides of the dispute for staying focused on
a common goal — increasing federal funding for HSIs and HBCUs.
The focus to which Estell refers is exemplified in the actions of
people like Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.). Even though several Black
leaders had strenuously objected to proposals aimed at creating a
separate category for HSIs within the Title III legislation, viewing it
as a potential threat to HBCU funding, Fattah and several other members
of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) co-sponsored a bill that
supported the new category. The bill was authored by Rep. Ruben
Hinojosa (D-Texas), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC).
“I knew there were objections to it, but it put me in a position to
facilitate a settlement,” explains Fattah, a CBC member. “There are
many times when congressmen sign onto bills they help amend.”
The pragmatism of people like Fattah, Hinojosa, and Estell
eventually led to passage of an HEA bill that included increased
funding for both HSIs and HBCUs as well as new categories in Title V
for HSIs, Tribal Colleges, and Hawaiian/Alaskan Native-serving
institutions. (See chart in Washington Update, page 8)
“The HEA worked out to each group’s satisfaction,” Estell says.
In the estimation of some observers, the shaping of higher
education policy represents fertile ground for the emerging Black/
Latino coalition in national politics. The coalition’s struggle during
the Title III funding process illustrates that the relationship between
Black and Latino leaders is still evolving and requires more nurturing.
“As you look at the relationship between any group and another,
you’re going to have circumstances where the two disagree,” Fattah says.
The sentiment of advocates like Estell is that such coalitions can
stave off the negative consequences of unchecked competition between
groups. Because Black/Latino coalitions have largely resulted at local
and state levels, the relationships among congressional legislators and
national organizations, such as the Hispanic Association of Colleges
and Universities (HACU) and the National Association for Equal
Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), are still in their formative
stages. Yet, there is optimism that Blacks and Latinos will gain more
by working together.
“What I see unfolding now is that each community is evolving and
becoming more savvy in the development of a coalition that can come
together over a definitive set of priorities,” Estell says.
Dr. Antonio Flores, president of HACU, says political developments
over affirmative action and other issues in the states are forcing
Blacks and Latinos to band together.
“The need for a national coalition is greater now than it has been in the past,” Flores says.
The Promise of a Coalition
Coalition building among interest groups that share common goals
has long represented the key to shaping public policy in the United
States. That remains so, especially for historically disadvantaged
populations, such as Blacks and Latinos.
In the post-Civil Rights era, African Americans and Hispanic
Americans have found common ground around a variety of issues and
political candidates from the local to the national level. At the
national level, coalitions among Black and Latino congressional
representatives and national leaders have generally revolved around
specific issues such as affirmative action, education,
anti-discrimination efforts, and the census. Yet as the Latino
population continues to grow and Latino leaders begin to test the
weight of their political power and influence, the potential for
conflict between them and the generally more established African
American power structures must be anticipated.
At the campus level, Black and Latino professors and students
sometimes find themselves at odds over financial resources, office
space, department and program chair positions, program titles, and
more. Where coalitions emerge, these differences often can be resolved
to the benefit of both groups.
NAFEO President Henry Ponder characterizes the relationship between
Blacks and Latinos on higher education policy, as a very young
“It’s almost embryonic,” he says.
In the case of the Title III situation, Ponder adds that Black
leaders believed that placing an HSI category in Title III posed a
potential threat to funding for HBCUs.
“We wanted to be sure that they wouldn’t take it from us,” Ponder says.
One impediment to coalition building, is the perception that there
is unfair competition in the struggle for resources, says Dr. Isidro
Ortiz, professor of Chicano/Chicana Studies at San Diego State
University. The perception that Latino immigrants are taking jobs away
from native-born Americans, for example, has led Some African Americans
to adopt anti-immigration sentiments. While competition for resources
is inevitable, Ortiz says, what matters most is how the allocation
process is judged by those competing.
The professor notes that several positive examples of Black and
Latino cooperation exist, particularly in local politics. The political
administrations of former Los Angeles Mayor Thomas Bradley and former
Chicago Mayor Harold Washington stand out as models of Black/ Latino
cooperation, he says. In exchange for Latino votes, the Black mayors in
those cities rewarded the Latino community with jobs, contracts, and
But Dr. Donn Davis, associate professor of political science at
Howard University, believes that examples of effective local
Black-Latino coalitions are the exception rather than the rule. An
African American who has taught at the University of Texas-Austin, he
says a great deal of acrimony exists between Blacks and Latinos in
local politics in Texas and California.
“Blacks and Latinos have been fighting for crumbs for at least two generations,” he says.
According to Davis, a shift in political organizing by both Blacks
and Latinos occurred during and after the Civil Rights era. While
Latinos had not been subjected to the level of legal disenfranchisement
that had been forced on Blacks, Davis says Latinos began modeling their
political organizing and tactics after that of the Black community.
Black-led activism had become an attractive model for Latinos because
Black leaders had been effective in fighting segregation and eventually
winning political power.
That shift in Latino politics, however, stirred resentment among
some Blacks because prior to the Civil Rights movement Latinos,
especially in Texas and California, had enjoyed some access to the
mainstream society and politics that Blacks had never had, he says.
Blacks felt that Latinos, both culturally and politically, embraced the
notion of being an oppressed minority only after Latinos perceived they
could gain something from having that status, Davis explains.
In the wake of the Civil Rights movement, Davis says, the Latino
community developed awareness that even though they had a different
status from that of Blacks, they had suffered disadvantages that
legitimately needed addressing.
Ortiz’s observation is that the HEA conflict emerged less from the
competition for resources than from the push for recognition by the
Latino leadership community.
“If you get recognition for your group, it allows you to be more competitive,” he says.
A Contained Controversy
HACU’s Flores says it came as a surprise to him when he learned in
1997 that HBCU supporters and Black higher education leaders were
opposing Latino efforts to create sections in Title III for HSIs and
tribal colleges. Flores and Latino representatives had been working
with U.S. Department of Education officials as early as the beginning
months of 1997 to build support for a separate section in Title III.
“We were encouraged by the level of interest that was shown to Hispanic initiatives,” Flores says.
Originally, in 1965, Congress had created Title III for HBCUs,
saying that because of their historic mission and the discrimination
they had weathered, HBCUs would be eligible to receive funding. And
although HSIs and community colleges eventually began receiving some
funds as developing institutions under Title III, Latino leaders
decided to seek a special category under Title III specifically for
“We didn’t feel that it was in the best interests of HSIs to be isolated in another title in HEA,” Flores says.
According to Rep. Hinojosa, the rationale for introducing H.R.
2495, the Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century Act, was to
replicate the success Title III had allowed for HBCUs.
“In drafting H.R. 2495, we did not seek to create any huge new
programs or promote untested models for increasing access,” Hinojosa
told members of the House. “Rather, we looked at the existing programs
and determined how they could be modified to reach more students,
especially those who are most disadvantaged or who are totally lacking
Black leaders had opposed the move because it was argued that HSIs
and other minority-serving institutions did not have the same history
as HBCUs and were therefore not eligible to have the HEA grant them the
same status. A number of Black advocates also argued that designating a
class of institutions based on its racial and ethnic composition would
put Title III in potential legal jeopardy given the growing
anti-affirmative action environment. Black institutions were protected
against such challenges because Title III had grouped them together
because of their historic mission and past discrimination.
Davis says it’s legitimate for Latino leaders to press for more
federal assistance for HSIs under the HEA. But putting HSIs in a
category that suggest they have the same history as HBCUs is where he
thinks Black leaders rightfully drew the line.
“Slavery is the basis for HBCUs. That is not the case for HSIs,” he says.
Ponder says the Black leadership was well aware that Latino leaders
were pursuing interests that Blacks had opposed in discussions with
Clinton Administration officials.
“It was not a secret,” he says. “We didn’t agree with [what they
were seeking]. That was the reason we got together because we were so
far apart in our thinking. We just had not talked with each other.”
Through late 1997 and early 1998, the Black and Latino leadership
communities wrestled over Congressman Hinojosa’s and the Clinton
Administration’s proposals to create HSI and tribal college categories
in Title III. Efforts to resolve the issue were eventually worked out
during meetings between the congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses.
Dr. Marshall Grigsby, a senior legislative associate with the House
Education and the Workforce Committee, is credited with playing a key
behind-the-scenes role in facilitating discussions between the two
“There was some tension between the communities. There’s no question about it,” he says.
Davis notes that despite their close proximity of each other in the
past thirty years, Blacks and Latinos have rarely gotten beyond the
perception of politics as a “zero sum game.” In other words, if one
side gets something, it comes at the expense of the other. In order for
meaningful coalitions to arise, both at a local and national level, he
says each side has to get past this notion.
“In California and Texas, Blacks and Latinos are locked in a deadly
quarrel over what amounts to bits of pieces of the action,” he says.
Davis believes successful coalition building between Blacks and
Latinos will require extensive collaboration between the communities.
Part of the shift will occur when Latino leaders shift their posture
from “Me too” to “What about us?” Black leaders, though they have
traditionally been in the forefront of minority activism, have to make
a similar transition in thinking in terms of “us” to include Latinos,
“There’s tremendous opportunity for attaining political power by Blacks and Latinos,” he adds.
Fattah contends mat working through differences ultimately proved
beneficial because he believes it gave the Latino leadership a forum to
educate CBC members and the House Education and Workforce committee
members about Latino concerns.
“You have confrontation, and then you have compromise,” Fattah says.
Ponder says resolving the dispute was the least of the benefits gained by the HEA episode.
“[The talks] set the stage for us to have a working relationship.
There’s a feeling among us that we have a partnership. That is an
“What we have set now is a framework for collaboration, and that is what’s important.”
COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com