"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Friday, April 21, 2006
Why I Support the Latino Demonstrators
By Amin Sharif

Ever since Rudolph Lewis (editor of Chickenbones) and I sat down and formulated the idea of the Fourth World, we wondered how it would play itself out in the real world. After all, conceptualizations are nothing if they do not reflect reality on some level. It had been my contention that Fourth World activism would be sustained in Europe where racism and religious intolerance would set millions of Africans, Asians, and Arabs against Western governments.

Last years riots in France seemed to be a confirmation of my estimate. Even today, we can certainly find Fourth World people—Africans, Asians, and Arabs—in some numbers among the student demonstrators on the streets of Paris protesting the new labor laws aimed at emasculation the rights of all French youth. And certainly as the Chirac government has now announced the scrapping of this law, members of the Fourth World in Europe can celebrate a well-won victory.

But, as we looked west toward Europe, we had no idea that in the space of a few months there would be hundreds of thousands of Mexicans (and other Latinos) taking to the streets of America protesting against a racist immigration policy that would attempt to criminalize an entire community. For Rudy and me, the emergence of this Latino militancy—especially among the youth—is both a welcome and unexpected surprise. It is our hope that this Latino militancy might re-ignite the activism and militancy that has been flagging within Afro-America since the end of the 1970s.

Already in Baltimore where Rudy and I live, we see students involved in protests against school closings and the lowering of academic standards that would put them at a disadvantage in pursuing their goals of a higher education. To see ten of thousands of their Latino brothers and sisters out in the streets can only serve to inspire these Black students in their struggle. In the end, this is how we-Blacks and Latinos-must see each other-as brothers and sisters. For, in the fundamental struggle to transform America into a more equitable society, we are undoubtedly on the same side.

There is, of course, some grumbling in the Black Community about how Latinos have come to this country to take “our jobs”—as though any job in America is designated for Blacks, Browns, or anyone else. This is nothing more than a knee-jerk response of reactionary forces within the Black Community—especially among elected officials. It echoes the same sentiment that white Americans exhibited before the Civil War that the freeing of millions of black slaves would threaten the livelihood of white workers.

It seems that some black elected officials and other reactionaries within the black community are more interested in guarding their own parochial interests than in extending a helping hand to poor and working class Latinos.

More than that, these leaders are bent on dividing Blacks and Latinos by spreading the venom of racial chauvinism that is aimed at setting each community at each others throats. This is sad since we have just buried the widow of Dr. King who would have undoubtedly championed the cause of the Latino community. Instead of providing real leadership for the black community on economic issues as both Dr. King and his courageous wife attempted, these politicians and reactionaries have chosen to castigate a community whose efforts they should be supporting.

Ask these politicians exactly how does a Latino who has come to pick lettuce in a field in California take away jobs from Blacks. Ask how does a Latina hospital or a Latino construction worker drive down any Black persons wages. They would probably mouth the same rhetoric as a thousand other racists in America. But the last time I looked I did not see poor Blacks or whites line up to pick lettuce in California.

The only reason a Latino hospital or a construction worker might drive down wages is because she or he is not unionized. Rather than lead the drive to bring millions of Latinos into the main economy, some Black leaders would wish to have them remain in the shadow economy where they will always be a sword pressed against the throat of every poor and working class person in America.

The fundamental question for Blacks in regard to Latinos is simply empathy. Can we, the most oppressed people in America, look beyond our own suffering and see the suffering of others? Or has our suffering made us numb to any pain but our own? Let us hope that this is not the case.

We should remember how we felt when we took to the streets and stormed the citadels of power. And, we should remember how we looked in every quarter for empathy for our cause. Remember how we stood shoulder to shoulder as Dr. King’s voice rang out extolling us to find justice not simply for ourselves but for the whole of humanity?

Are we to discard that greater call for one made by minor demagogues and political eunuchs who reside in the citadels of power that we once sought to bring down? It is my belief that we gain more than we lose when we help others who like ourselves suffer from oppression. My heart races and swells again when I see so many Latino youth waving their Mexican flags and standing up for what they believe.

There are real ways that Blacks and Latinos can work together to ensure that each community can make economic advancements. The first thing we must do is to bring our Latino brothers and sisters out from under the shadow economy and to unionize them. Unionization of millions of Latino workers would mean greater strength for all workers in America and would put upward pressure on wages.

Together, Blacks and Browns can work for a universal living wage that would ensure economic parity for every American worker—Black, Brown, Asian, white or otherwise. This is particularly important since it is clear that one of the main tactics of the reactionary forces in America is to pit one sector of the poor against another. We can also work together to bring about the realization of universal health care. Universal healthcare would disarm the argument that Latinos put a strain on critical services in the community where they live. Latinos are not the only ones this claim is made against. The same argument is used against the Black and urban poor.

But none of this cooperation can occur if Blacks do not support full and immediate citizenship for the millions of Mexicans and their children in America who have lived and worked in this country for years—and a more humane path to citizenship for all future Latinos entering the country. If Latinos are forced to live a marginal existence in the barrios of this country, the entire working class and poor will be robbed of their strength and militancy.

Black workers, students, and trade unionists should seek to form alliances with their Latino counterparts and expand the movement to block any effort to criminalize the Mexican community. We should work to ease the tensions between Black and Latino gangs that have turned many of our prisons into racial tinderboxes. We must come to understand that if millions of Blacks stand together with millions of Latinos that we can and will bring about beneficial change for both communities.

This is why I fully and unequivocally support the Latino demonstrators and their goals. This is why I shout with them when they take to the streets, “A people united can never be defeated!”
posted by R J Noriega at 10:06 AM | Permalink |


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