African American- Immigrant Relations in a Global Era Andrew Grant-Thomas, Deputy Director Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity
Why study African American-Immigrant Interactions
Both immigrants and African Americans face serious structural constraints and challenges that must be addressed proactively
Demographic, economic and political trends point to increasing interactions between the groups
Understanding the dynamics of inter-cultural, inter-racial relations is critical first step for creating an inclusive multi-racial democracy in the U.S.
Both groups are seen as natural partners in the progressive movement
Successful joint efforts would be a testament against the anti-immigrant movement, which a) uses racist frames, b) tries to draw a wedge between the two communities
Context: Globalization, U.S. Policies, and Immigration
Free movement of capital leads to international movement of labor: immigration
NAFTA and CAFTA:
create a race to the bottom in labor standards
harms agriculture in Latin America,
increase the number of people immigrating to the U.S.
U.S Bracero (guest-worker) program, drew more than 5 million agricultural workers from Mexico in 1942-1964. Its effects continue today
Armed conflicts lead to displacement of people and creation of refugees. U.S. supplies almost half of world’s all arms sales.
Context: Structural, Demographic, and Cultural Trends within the U.S.
Demographic changes within the U.S. (i.e African Americans’ movement to the South) bring Latino immigrants and African Americans into frequent contact in gateway cities, which lack sufficient infrastructure
Despite living side by side, in many places black Americans and immigrants are fairly segregated from each other – spatially, socially and institutionally
Both communities are most impacted by economic duress and structural racism
Media insistence on an African American/ immigrant (and “Black/Latino”) conflict and competition storyline
NAACP chapter in Maryland work on diverse issues such as racial biases in housing, police brutality and racial profiling, living wage, workplace discrimination, school funding, and school desegregation.
All volunteer members
NAACP chapters in Prince George’s County, Frederick County, and Montgomery County all have different joint works with CASA
“ [When I approached the NAACP], I said we need to come together. We don’t have a choice if we want to make a difference in that society. We have been fighting each other and other people are very happy because we are doing that. And they were in agreement, in total agreement. They said you know we were waiting for this call. We found tremendous reception in the African American community, in NAACP , and in African American churches”
When asked why CASA took the first initiative in starting the partnership, Torres responded:
“ It is a lack of resources. They are a voluntary organization. They are doing a tremendous job, but they have other full-time jobs. It is very difficult for them to do what I am doing. This is my full-time job, it is my passion, it is my commitment. I believe, since we have in this particular case more resources, I believe we also have the responsibility to take the initiative.”
CASA and the Montgomery Chapter of NAACP also worked together in the workings of Thornton Commission.
In 2002, the Maryland General Assembly enacted “The Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act” according to Thornton Commission’s recommendations. This legislation specifically helped disadvantaged Latino and African American children.
Translation equipment was used in events (i.e. joint candidate forums) in order to overcome language barriers.
CASA co-authored "Crossing Borders, ” an anti-racism curriculum that seeks to engage African American and immigrant grassroots leaders in confronting the supposed differences that have challenged their ability to build greater joint power.
An Open Society Institute fellow in CASA’s Baltimore office works on implementing the curriculum in Baltimore.
An educator in CASA’s Prince George’s office will implement the curriculum in three core constituencies - policy makers, youth, and day laborers from African American and Latino communities.
“ We started that relationship and got deep in that relationship in understanding each other. And most importantly we started to develop activities and tasks, and struggle together. So we started to identify that we have a lot of things in common; that we have been discriminated for many many years. And the history of the African Americans is as extreme as, or even worst than the Latino community’s experiences. So we have been learning all of this through purpose and you know the relationship has improved tremendously.”
Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA de Maryland
Complementary organizational resources: Resources come in different forms i.e. material (i.e staff), or nonmaterial (experience, political connections). It is important that the combined resources are complementary so that
the organizations’ weaknesses may be counterbalanced
the organizations find incentives to partner
Organizational and financial power of CASA far exceeded that of NAACP chapters, which depended on volunteers. On the other hand, NAACP commanded significant political power within Maryland due to the size of the African American population and due to their connection to politicians.
Acknowledge the importance of relationship building: Learning experiences that increase understanding of the other group’s culture and worldview can be extremely helpful to alliance operations. The curriculum prepared and implemented by CASA was an important means to build inter-communal trust . Similarly, translation equipments were used to overcome language barriers. These kind of relationship-building efforts are key for long-term movement building.
Devote resources to alliance functions: Employment of individuals who will dedicate all their time to alliance work would strengthen partnership. CASA is in the process of employing a staff member who will be solely responsible from the workings of the partnership.
Presence of supportive elements within the local/appropriate power structure: The existence of a progressive White community in Maryland helped the alliance to get support from third parties for its joint projects