President Donald Trump’s move to end an immigration policy that protects undocumented young people from deportation is amplifying the age-old “us vs. them” in black and brown communities.
It’s pointless yet understandable in a segregated place like Chicago. Though the diverse city is roughly divided into racial thirds, we don’t live together for the most part. The political and economic hierarchy puts whites at the top followed by blacks and Latinos scrapping for the number-two position. The two “lesser” groups jockey to be the so-called “minority du jour.” A school gets built in one community or a political appointee is named in another and both sides raise suspicious eyebrows. This type of thinking doesn’t benefit either community.
At the core of the tension is the belief that Latinos steal jobs from blacks and sanctuary status for “illegals” is prioritized above other pressing city problems. Meanwhile, immigrants arrive in this country and can quickly adopt anti-black attitudes. Furthermore, when we hear platitudes like “we are a nation immigrants” or “immigrants built this country,” it feels like an erasure — not just of native people but black Americans who are descendants of enslaved Africans.
Still, Chicago is at a “Trumpian” moment in which a black-brown divide could morph into a black-brown coalition.
The Latino Policy Forum is trying to play a role in getting people to sit down together and at minimum get to know each other. Sometimes it’s that simple. The nonprofit has a fellowship program to bridge black and brown communities by bringing the next generation of civic leaders together. The first cohort graduated in June. They did a race card project — in which people distill their thoughts and experiences about race — called “Salsa Con Soul” to confront stereotypes on both sides.
L. Anton Seals, a local black community organizer, was a fellow. When he hears black folk say they shouldn’t be concerned about immigration, he finds that sentiment historically off base.
“African Americans are a part of the anchor of human rights — period. It dismisses that,” Seals said. It also ignores black Latinos or black immigrants.
“I don’t fall into that kind of shortsighted ‘they’re taking away from us’ and ‘if Mexicans went away, these job would open up for black people,’” Seals said, noting the economic exploitation of owners of companies who pay undocumented workers less because they can get away with it.
Even in a city as polarized as Chicago, there are natural areas in which to convene around policing and labor. Groups like Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) and Organized Communities Against Deportations are seizing that opportunity by supporting each other’s causes, showing up at each other’s protests and meetings.
Under-resourced communities have plenty of common ground to mine. This summer, a Gage Park man who has lived in the country illegally since he was five years old, filed a federal lawsuit claiming Chicago police erroneously placed him in its gang database. I’ve heard all too often in my reporting that the city’s gang database is unreliable and too many violent crimes are inaccurately labeled “gang related.” Instead, the database is a dumping ground to profile young black and Latino men.
There’s also the persistent myth of the white working class, which has become a catchphrase since Trump won the presidency. Job loss is habitually framed through the sole lens of whiteness. Black and Latinos comprise the working class, too, and have suffered job loss and deindustrialization for decades in this region alone.
In this month’s issue of In These Times magazine, I write about the complexities and nuances of black and brown relationships. There are great examples of working people across racial lines understanding that their bosses financially benefit from racial division while actively fanning the flames behind the scenes.
Activists are calling for a sanctuary city to include black folk and other marginalized groups. The call to action doesn’t ignore immigration. In fact, it expands upon the existing paradigm to promote a sanctuary city for all Chicagoans in which quality housing, education and health contribute to community safety.
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