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Another equation in Black Brown politics

mgarcias Icon Posted by michelle garcia

January 30th, 2008

Journalists’ political calculus of race used to weigh the voter appeal of Democratic candidates began with the following equations:

Can Obama win White voters?
Is Obama ‘black’ Enough?
Will women vote for Hillary?
Is Obama black enough?

Even so, when Hillary Clinton’s remarks about about the civil rights struggle exploded into a confetti mess, pubs such as Newsweek reported that:

“Race didn’t figure to be a front-burner issue in the 2008 presidential primary campaign. That is, until Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama verbally sparred over remarks Clinton made about Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson.”

And now, now, the burning question rising above the horizon like a shining beacon of the sad state of racial-political analysis: Will Latinos vote for Obama? Can Latinos vote for a Black man? Can Latinos overcome “long simmering tensions” with Blacks to vote for Obama?

Blacks and Latinos have been at odds for decades in neighborhoods like South Central in Los Angeles, where the population has shifted from black to Hispanic. Latino students in Los Angeles have demonstrated against having to observe Black History Month in schools that are now 90% Latino.

You see the reports, the gang violence, the prison violence, the “competitiveness.” Articles on black-brown acrimony pop up every day on line, every hour it seems. And it’s a fantasy to believe that there are NO tensions anywhere between anyone.

But consider this x-factor in those nice and neatly constructed stories about Latinos and Blacks.

El dilemma electoral de las afrolatinas, (The electoral dilemma of Afro-Latinas), written by Claudia Torrens for El Diario/La Prensa in New York.

The paper reports that some Afro-Latinas live with

“a dilemma, identifying with Clinton as a woman or with Obama for having the same skin color and they are divided between the two candidates who fight for the Latino vote and the Black vote with the same determination.”

Central Americans, Caribbeans, including Dominicans and Puerto Ricans who are U.S. citizens, Brazilians and Colombians and Venezuelans all have significant Afro-Latino populations and their voice is growing stronger among Latinos and non-Latinos.

My comadre, Lori Robinson, an African American woman and a former writer for Emerge magazine, is the publisher of vidaafrolatina.com, a website devoted to the issues, culture and news of Afro-Latinos in the U.S. and abroad which is set to debut next month.

And it’s important to highlight some reports by publications that consider Latinos and Blacks their main readers, articles that present a far more nuanced and complex perspective than the “why can’t they get along?” cliche.

Pilar Marrero, a writer for La Opinon, a paper based in Los Angeles, produced a series of articles titled “Blacks and Latinos: Parallel Histories.”

Or this: To Live and Let Live in South L.A. - a six part series on Black, Latinos and Immigration.

Thankfully these elements do surface in some reports by the media that other reporters read and then follow. Mandalit del Barco’s report for NPR went where race reporting fears to go, even in L.A. I was particularly struck by the interview with the young Latino, Elia Beltran who said: “I don’t know really much of his politics, but just ’cause he’s black — just being Hispanic, I’d like to see other people of color.”

I can hear the counterarguments already — Afro-Latinos make up a small percentage of the Latino population or young Latinos might be open-minded but they aren’t voting. To whit, El Diario/La Prensa turned out this editorial recently:

“When David Dinkins became the first African American mayor of New York City, he won with 70 percent of the Hispanic vote. Deval L. Patrick, the first African American governor of Massachusetts, rode in with a reported 87 percent of Latino voters. The Latino backing of African American candidates is nothing new. Yet, English-language media seem to be stuck on the question of whether Hispanics would withhold support from a black candidate for president, in this case Barack Obama, simply because he is black.”

In light of these numbers and reports, one must wonder about the identity politics among the purveyors of stark racial discourse and the racial identity of those who have a hand in framing debates about gender and race. Clearly, as the reports produced by El Diario, del Barco in NPR, Marrero in La Opinion and others demonstrate–reporters who cover these communities as the main event are working with a different set of equations.

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