Mexican gangs in Los Angeles, like Florencia 13, are waging a bloody campaign to drive blacks from neighborhoods.
Terry Anderson is angry. From his KRLA-AM radio perch in Los Angeles, the black talk-show host thunders, “I have gone on the streets and talked to people at random here in the black community, and they all ask me the same question: ‘Why are our politicians and leaders letting this happen?’ ” What’s got Anderson—motto: “If You Ain’t Mad, You Ain’t Payin’ Attention”—so worked up isn’t the Jena Six or nooses on Columbia University doorknobs; it’s the illegal immigrants who allegedly murdered three Newark college students last August. And when he excoriates politicians for “letting this happen,” he’s directing his fire at Congressional Black Caucus members who support open borders and amnesty for illegal aliens. “Massive illegal immigration has been devastating to my community,” Anderson, a former auto mechanic and longtime South Central Los Angeles resident, tells listeners. “Black Americans are hit the hardest.”
Though blacks have long worried that the country’s growing foreign-born population, especially its swelling rolls of illegal immigrants, harmed their economic prospects, they have also followed their political leadership in backing liberal immigration policies. Now, however, as new waves of immigration inundate historically African-American neighborhoods, black opinion is hardening against the influx. “We will not lay down and take this any longer,” says Anderson. If he’s right, it could upend the political calculus on immigration.
Black unease about immigration goes back a long way. In the 1870s, former slave Frederick Douglass warned that immigrants were displacing free blacks in the labor market. Twenty-five years later, Booker T. Washington exhorted America’s industrialists to “cast down your bucket” not among new immigrants but “among the eight million Negros . . . who have without strikes and labor wars tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities.” Blacks supported federal legislation in 1882 that restricted Chinese immigration to the United States. They favored the immigration reform acts of the 1920s, which limited European immigration, and also urged restrictions on Mexican workers: “If the million Mexicans who have entered the country have not displaced Negro workers, whom have they displaced?” asked black journalist George Schuyler in 1928.
But as immigration reignited as a national issue in 2006, ambivalence has increasingly given way to opposition to current policies—and even to anger. When Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a columnist for BlackNews.com, wrote a series of pieces sympathizing with illegal aliens, the volume of hostile mail that poured in from other blacks shocked him. Illegal immigration has sizzled as a topic on African-American stations like satellite radio XM’s “The Power,” with most callers demanding more immigration restrictions. African-American bloggers have excoriated black politicians who favor liberal immigration policies. “In the realm of pandering black elites, there is no more notorious public figure than [Texas] Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee,” wrote Elizabeth Wright in the online newsletter Issues & Views. “According to Jackson-Lee, those blacks who forcefully oppose mass immigration are simply naive and are being ‘baited’ [by white opponents of immigration] into taking such negative positions.”
Recent polling data reveal the shift. Though a 2006 Pew Center national survey showed some of the same ambivalence among blacks toward immigrants, it also found that in several urban areas where blacks and Latinos were living together, blacks were more likely to say that immigrants were taking jobs from Americans, and also more likely to favor cutting America’s current immigration levels.
What’s behind the anger, as the Pew data hint, is the rapid change that legal and illegal Hispanic immigration is bringing to longtime black locales. Places like South Los Angeles and Compton, California, have transformed, virtually overnight, into majority-Latino communities. Huge numbers of new immigrants have also surged beyond newcomer magnets California and New York to reach fast-growing southern states like North Carolina and Georgia, bringing change to communities where blacks had gained economic and political power after years of struggle against Jim Crow laws. Since 1990, North Carolina’s Hispanic population has exploded from 76,726 people to nearly 600,000, the majority of them ethnically Mexican. In Georgia, the Hispanic population grew nearly sevenfold, to almost 700,000, from 1990 to 2006.
[…]The Latino influx into formerly black-majority urban neighborhoods has sparked deadlier kinds of conflict. While most violent crime in these areas is still black-on-black or Latino-on-Latino, interethnic violence is mounting, and in some locales, much of it—perhaps surprisingly, given high overall black crime rates—is Hispanic-on-black. In the heavily mixed-race community of Harbor Gateway in Los Angeles, for example, Latinos now commit five times more violent crimes against blacks than vice versa. Countywide numbers are just as startling. Though blacks make up just 9 percent of L.A. County’s population, they were the victims of 59 percent of all racially motivated attacks in 2006, while Latinos committed 52 percent of all racially motivated attacks.
Blacks may also be starting to realize that many Latinos hold intensely negative stereotypes about them. In a 2006 study that ten academic researchers conducted of various racial groups’ attitudes in Durham, North Carolina, 59 percent of Latino immigrants said that few or no blacks were hardworking, and 57 percent said that few or no blacks could be trusted. By contrast, only 9 percent of whites said that blacks weren’t hardworking, and only 10 percent said that they couldn’t be trusted. Interestingly, the survey found that blacks were broadly well-disposed toward Hispanics, though how long that will be true remains to be seen.
Nicolás Vaca, the writer, dismisses the notion that African-Americans and Latinos are natural allies. “A divide exists between Blacks and Latinos that no amount of camouflage can hide,” he writes in his book The Presumed Alliance. Vaca says that the split has been evident for years, though largely ignored by the media and political leaders. He contends, for instance, that the 1992 Los Angeles riots, sparked by the LAPD’s beating of Rodney King, became on the ground a black-brown confrontation in which the majority of businesses destroyed were Latino. At the same time, Vaca argues, Latinos believe that, since they had nothing to do with black oppression in America, they owe blacks nothing and “come to the table with a clear conscience.”