Politrix: Black Versus Brown? The Manufactured War

Next Sunday, June 1st, will bring the Puerto Rican Democratic primary , and many pundits will tout it as a milestone battle in the manufactured war. No, not that manufactured war . The skirmish I’m referring to deals with the supposed conflict between African Americans and Latinos, Black and Brown. Oh, haven’t you heard? The two groups have conflicting interests and don’t identify with or support each other-that’s why Hispanics have tended to support Senator Clinton over Senator Obama. But just who has decided that we’re at war?

Divide and conquer is a military strategy that encourages combatants to break a powerful opponent into smaller groups to make it less powerful and easier to destroy. That’s exactly what’s at play here. Minorities, especially young ones, have voted in record numbers this primary cycle, and Latinos have fast become the largest group of non-whites in the U.S. Imagine the power we could have if only we banded together over the issues of poverty, health care and education? It’s a thought that already has the Republican party running scared—and smart.

The major claim here is that Latinos don’t support Black candidates and that they will never back Senator Obama in the general election. But the Republican party and press didn’t cook this up on their own; this idea actually originates with one of Clinton’s pollsters, a Latino named Sergio Bendixen, who told The New Yorker that “the Hispanic voter-and I want to say this very carefully-has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support Black candidates.” Why would a Hispanic man say this? Because if taken seriously, it could undermine Obama’s argument that he is a “Great Uniter.” And, if taken seriously, it could become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

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But it is time that we call bullshit on folks pitting us against each other. There’s a few ways to do this, including looking at the truth: If we analyze past elections of Black officials, as University of Washington political scientist Matt Barreto did earlier this year, we see that Hispanics have no history of withholding support from Black candidates. David Dinkins was voted in as mayor of NYC with 73% of the Latino vote, Harold Washington won 70% of the Latino vote to become mayor of Chi in ’83 and former LA mayor Tom Bradley also ran home with the victory five times due in part to huge support from Hispanics. There are also eight Black reps in the House of Representatives who preside over districts that are more than a quarter Latino. Barreto points out that even Obama himself has enjoyed overwhelming support from Latinos in past elections; when he ran for senate in ’04, he won the Democratic nomination with more Latino votes than Latino candidate Gerry Chico. Wow.

We should also decry the insulting simplification of the Hispanic vote: Since when did voting for one candidate become synonymous with hating the other? Many Hispanics may just identify with Clinton’s platform, while others have admitted to voting on the basis of name recognition—not out of a fundamental hate or mistrust or lack of confidence in a Black candidate. (Nevermind that these groups are essentially the same anyway-but that’s a discussion for another column.)

But the most important way we can dispel this myth is to show and prove that we cannot be picked apart by lies and fear-mongering: Turn the channel when cats start talking about how Puerto Ricans don’t like Blacks on Sunday. (Yeah, no one will know because you probably don’t have a Nielsen box in your house, as they rarely go to non-white households, but you get the point.) Tell folks the truth about this so-called Black-Brown Divide. Then rally around the party nominee, whether it’s Obama or Clinton (humph). Voting together, advocating together-that’s how we make sure our interests are abided by, during this election season and for the next four years.


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