Now that Jesus “Chuy” Garcia appears to be in striking distance of the mayor’s office, political operatives are exploiting the notion that a “black and brown” coalition could rule the day.
But there’s little reason to believe a majority of black voters are suddenly going to jump on Garcia’s bandwagon.
It’s going to take a lot more than promises and comparisons to the late Harold Washington’s historic campaign to convince a majority of African-Americans that a “black and brown coalition” is going to benefit them.
That’s not because black people are jealous of Hispanics.
But a lot of black people don’t understand how an ethnic group can come to this country and look down their noses at African-Americans, when the suffering that blacks endured through Jim Crow and segregation opened doors for other groups.
Are blacks “resentful” of Hispanics, as my colleague Mark Brown suggests? I think that depends on class. Black people who have obtained a good education and have a career certainly aren’t looking over their shoulders to see how much progress Hispanics have made.
The trouble for Garcia is that black and brown people have been competing for scarce resources in this city for a long time, and politicians like him haven’t said a word about forming a coalition.
It is going to take more than a few weeks of meets and greets to build trust across that divide.
Obviously, the black-Jewish alliance that elected Rahm Emanuel mayor the first time around didn’t happen because Emanuel was President Barack Obama’s chief of staff.
The historic relationship between blacks and Jews was a foundation that Emanuel was able to build on. Though strained at times, that relationship has been genuine and longstanding.
It was no accident that the Jewish community was the African-American community’s most consistent ally during the civil rights movement. Jews could empathize with the plight of black people who were being discriminated against on the basis of their skin color.
As an immigrant, Garcia has the life experience that working-class families on the South and West sides can relate to.
And while some would argue that what Garcia has to do is convince black voters that he would be better than Rahm, I think the divide runs a lot deeper than that.
The tension between blacks and Hispanics isn’t just about job competition.
Blacks have long complained that Hispanics, many of whom are immigrants, arrived in this country and looked at them with a jaundiced eye.
In fact, in 2005, during heated debates over immigration, Mexican President Vicente Fox seemed to give voice to that disdain when he told an interviewer “Mexican immigrants in the United States take jobs that not even blacks want to do.”
Although Fox later apologized for his comments, the remarks helped drive the wedge between the two groups.
Some activists who were around during the Washington years don’t see a black-brown coalition anytime soon because of the lingering resentment.
“We have not recovered from the internal battles that occurred after Harold’s death. That fractured the great political unity that we had in Chicago. Now, we are split into even more factions. I can’t see the black community coming to the table with other people when black people can’t come together with each other,” the activist said.
He also argues that a black and brown coalition does not mean black people will be better off.
“The unifying issue for Latinos was immigration. What is the unifying issue for African-Americans?” he asked.
If Garcia is serious about wooing the black vote, there’s no way to do that without getting to the bottom of their discontent.
This is not just a city that is the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent.
This is a city that is still segregated by race and class.