Last week, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey that polled the reactions of Blacks, Whites and “Hispanics” to a Ferguson police officer’s shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager. The survey, which included a sample size of 1,000, was then used as the thesis for a Colorlines post authored by Aura Bogado titled “Do Latinos Care About Ferguson?”
This title received considerable criticism, and was later changed. In this post, Bogado concludes: “Latinos have a long way to go in confronting our anti-black biases.” The reason behind the author’s conclusion was because, as per the survey, 18-percent of “Hispanics” said they “closely followed” the story, as opposed to 54-percent of Blacks and 25-percent of Whites. While a number of factors, independently or collectively, could explain the figure, the author’s conclusion looked beyond the nuances to render one simplistic and incomplete catalyst – anti-Black racism within “Hispanic” communities.
While anti-Blackness is a considerable issue in our community and should be discussed, the author’s assumption that because Whites show more interest in Ferguson than “Hispanics/Latinos,” in turn makes this community virulently anti-Black, is irresponsible. The author fails to acknowledge three things wrong with the survey:
1) There is historical precedence to the current tactics being deployed by the police in the town of Ferguson;
2) That Whites – and a white majority police force – are directly implicated in the issue, which galvanizes whites with slanted racial and racist views; and,
3) The Pew Research Center survey itself makes no distinction on whether some participants were afro-Latino. The author overlooks how these two identities often intersect.
It is also worth mentioning that Chicanas/os and Blacks have a history of solidarity. This history is reinforced in college campuses and inner cities around the nation today, particularly around matters linked to affirmative action, the school-to-prison pipeline, and disproportionate police criminalization and institutionalized violence. Given the historical and current racial dynamics of the city, one has to ask, are Whites following the events in Ferguson because of sincere interest in social justice or could it be linked to racism?
Is History Bound to Repeat Itself?
When rumor of a nine o’clock curfew spread through Ferguson, it echoed the sordid history of “sundown towns” in America, which were widespread throughout many cities in the 1960s. In Colorado, “No Mexicans After Night” were popular, while in other states, policies warning Native Americans were typical.
It is estimated that nearly 10,000 sundown towns existed before 1970. Sociologist Jim Loewen, and author of the book Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, describes sundown towns as being predominantly White communities, where Blacks in the South and Mexicans in the Southwest were not welcome in the daytime, but especially after dark. The term sundown towns reflected the signs, which typically read that non-Whites had to leave as soon as dusk hit, if they did not leave, they would be subject to arrest, assault, or even death.
Although Loewen has not confirmed with certainty tha Ferguson was a sundown town, he says it is possible “based on a statement in the published history of its neighbor, Kinloch, a majority-Black town. Ferguson, meanwhile, shows symptoms of what we call ‘second generation sundown town problems,’ such as an overwhelmingly White police force that (probably) formerly employed driving-while-black-style stops.”
Therefore, a curfew imposed by a White majority power structure was bound to have repercussions. In 1980, Ferguson was 85-percent White, today it is about 70-percent Black. Yet, the Ferguson police force continues to be predominantly White – about 94-percent – as are its public officials.
Sam Fulwood III, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, explained how the shift in Ferguson’s demography of poverty contributed to racial tensions in the city. Fullwood said “What had been going on in Ferguson as well as in many, many, many other communities all across the country is demographic change, which has been uneven and has been perceived, particularly by people of color in those communities as disadvantageous to them.”
Like many cities, institutionalized racism, segregation and gentrification are endemic in Ferguson. The divide in the city was reinforced when overwhelming support for the police officer involved in the shooting came to surface. Supporters of the police officer, Darren Wilson, held signs that read “Innocent Until Proven Guilty,” an ironic statement given that the many media outlets already branded the dead teenager, Michael Brown, a “criminal.”
In addition to “pro-Wilson” rallies, supporters have also raised over $200,000 for the officer and his family. The organizers of the fundraiser were even forced to stop accepting donations when they reached and exceeded their goal of $100,000 in four days. The amount of money raised for the officer has surpassed the amount raised for Michael Brown’s family.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
For Bogado to claim that “Latinos” do not care about Black people, is anti-intellectual and indicative of spotty journalism. As early as El Plan de San Diego (1915), Blacks and Mexicans have united against oppression. Black and Chicana/o solidarity took off in the 1930s as both progressive Blacks and Mexicans understood the necessity of building political solidarity, especially in the struggle to desegregate the educational system and to secure the rights of Blacks and Mexicans to sit on juries, for example.
It also appears that the author has forgotten the legacy of the Black Panther-Brown Berets movements, as well as the many examples of political solidarity across the country that exhibit the spirit of that coalition. These revolutionary groups supported each other and their communities, and called on others to do the same. But these ties are not just a chapter in our history books.
Hip-hop group Rebel Diaz was in Ferguson, reporting the events that were unfolding. Two members of the group, Rodstarz and G1, gave insightful context of police militarization and excessive use of force against the protestors. The two members went beyond just reporting what they saw and encountered, but also visited the Brown family and spoke about how the media has been portraying the events.
The group tweeted:
“the media covering #ferguson has a similar racial breakdown as the police in #ferguson about 90% white. at least thats what we saw”
In addition to Rebel Diaz’s independent reporting, “Latino” organizations have made statements–diplomatically–offering their condolences to the Brown family and expressing their desire for justice to be served. Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the oldest Chicana/o advocacy group in the United States, stated his organization will be vigilant in ensuring that justice and accountability are served. Jessica González-Rojas, Executive Director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health said:
“[t]he militarization and violent conduct, whether of police or immigration enforcement officials, are issues of human rights and racial justice, and warrant full investigation and accountability measures. My deepest condolences to Michael Brown’s family and all communities facing state violence.”
Indeed, anti-Black racism is still ripe within “Latino” communities. Yet, its existence should not simplistically, and completely, eclipse a rich history and present of Black and Chicana/o solidarity. Nor should it overlook the ongoing efforts of “Latinos” to dismantle anti-Black racism inside and outside of their communities.
— by Gabriela