I had the pleasure of chatting in person with a regular commentator of tdaxp today. The conversation began with Bush’s State of the Union address, but eventually turned to the issue of comparative racial and the difference between blacks and latinos. That is, the different between black group-level political strategy and latino group-level political strategy has been symbol v. substance.
For the past 50 years, most self-identified black movements have focused on highly symbolic victories. Brown v. Board of Education is a great example of this. In one swift movement, the Supreme Court declares separate but equal is inherently unequal. A bumper-sticker slogan for the ages. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are the legacies of this strategy, focusing on symbolic grievances to achieve symbolic victories (plus funding and jobs for their organizations and hangers-on).
During the same period, Latino politics seems to have been focused on one big gain: immigration. National-level latino politics seems to focus on making more latinos. I can’t recall a latino analog of Jesse Jackson, but efforts by latinos to enlarge their voting bloc have been tireless for more than a generation.
For now, the results show that substance is more important than symbolism. The continuing poor standing of blacks on most measures of welfare, combined with the continuing integration of latinos after three generations in the country, is compounded by the growing population imbalance. According to the 2000 census, 12.3% of Americans are black while 12.5% are Hispanic. There is every reason to believe the gap has grown larger in the years since then.
America’s transition from a secondly black to a secondly latin country will not have the same consequences has the lack of a Catholic majority in Lebanon of the Sunni’s loss of control of Iraq. But it won’t be without consequences, and a likely one is a change to the mythic past.
But that is a post for another time…