Race to Be the ‘Largest’ Puts Minority Groups In Last Place
The U.S. Census Bureau started releasing 2000 data in March. While demographic data is usually lackluster and mind numbing, this time around headlines about population data resembles that which you would see for a horse race. “Census Figures Show Hispanics Pulling Even with Blacks,” said the New York Times. “Latinos May Exceed Blacks in the U.S.,” wrote the Los Angeles Times.
The Washington Post said Hispanics had “drawn even” with Blacks, and the Philadelphia Inquirer described the two groups as
being in a “virtual tie” for the dubious distinction of being the nation’s largest minority group. Other words have been used to
describe the relative size of the African American and Latino populations. African Americans have been, it is said, “outpaced,” “overtaken” and “surpassed.”
Did I miss something? When the last
decennial data were collected, was there someone who said, “Ready, set, go, last one to reproduce at pace is a rotten egg?” Are African Americans and Hispanics in competition? For what? What does the fact that one group is larger than the other signify from a policy perspective? Both groups experience higher unemployment rates, lower incomes and more poverty than Whites. Both groups are underrepresented in the nation’s corridors of power, from the seats of the U.S. Senate, to corporate board participation, to enrollment in our nation’s elite law, business and medical schools. Neither group has its fair share of representation. Will the victor in the horse race be awarded the prize of fair treatment? I think not.
It is in the interest of many “colorblind” White Americans to set African Americans and Latinos at each other’s throats. Chicago Sun-Times columnist George Will virtually salivated with glee on one of the Sunday morning chat shows, when he said the growing Latino population might put an end to the “racial spoils” system. He went on to say that the number of Hispanics and Asians combined, “far outnumber African Americans.” Should outnumbering African Americans become a goal of other populations of color, and if so, why?
If, despite growing populations of color, White folks insist on holding onto their slice of the pie, then African Americans, Latinos, Asians and American Indian people will squabble over “racial spoils.” But if the allocation system is fair and reasonable, as minority population rises, so will their share of the pie. That means less for Whites. Thus, the conversation about racial competition.
Issues of African American entitlement won’t go away, regardless of the growing Hispanic population. Those who feel that African Americans are entitled to reparations for slavery won’t change their mind because the Hispanic population is growing. Those who say African Americans need to be better represented in our nation’s schools and corporations won’t change their position because of the increased size of the Hispanic population.
African Americans and Hispanics may choose to be complementary, not competitive, around issues of affirmative action and fair representation. But whether they
coalesce or compete, each group has reasonable claims against a nation that, despite increasing diversity, retains remnants of racism.
Each population experiences racism differently, but relative size has little to do with the extent of the injury any group can claim. Less than 1 percent of our nation’s population is American Indian, primarily because our country wiped out much of that population in a genocidal, territory-grabbing set of wars. If the Hispanic population were five times the size of the African American population, that would not minimize the barbarity of slavery and the inequality of its aftermath, nor would it change the appropriate remedy for that wrong.
In higher education, many have behaved as if they can focus on only one group of color at a time. Administrators shouldn’t be asked to choose between providing services to African American or Latino students, not when both groups of students are underrepresented in the academy. Instead, both groups ought to be pushing for more services, more scholarships and better representation.
This push ought to extend to the public sector where the social service shuffle is, at best, saddening. I have heard Latino activists argue that African Americans discriminate against them in, say, the distribution of beds in a homeless shelter or spaces in a housing
project. Is that what we now aspire to?
Equality in poverty? Equal access for the homeless of color? I would like to think we could gather to eliminate our nation’s
homeless problem instead of squabbling over spaces in a shelter.
Don’t get me wrong. There have been, and perhaps always will be, tensions between racial/ethnic groups in this country. But African Americans and Latinos have more in common than in contrast, especially around a set of educational and economic issues. Both groups will be losers if they let the arithmetic of White supremacy successfully divide and conquer.
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