President Obama is healing a racial divide by bringing together Latinos and African-Americans — America’s largest minority and the group formerly known as such.
It’s just not in the way that anyone would have imagined.
Obama is unifying the two minority groups, which together account for almost 90 million Americans and nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population, in a sense of shared disillusionment.
To be clear, majorities of both communities still approve of the job that Obama is doing as president. A Gallup poll released last month found that 85 percent of African-Americans and 54 percent of Latinos applaud Obama’s job performance.
But both those percentages are down from what they were in previous months. So much so that they either set or tied new lows. For various reasons, there are many disappointed people in these two communities that tend to give Obama high marks.
First, why do you suppose these two groups need to be brought together in the first place? And if there is tension between them, where does it come from?
The answer depends on whom you ask.
Many African-Americans resent that Latinos are growing in number and crowding them out of jobs and neighborhoods. They complain that the attention that goes to Latino buying power or Latino voting power isn’t going to African-Americans. And they claim that Latinos are “piggy-backing” on centuries worth of civil rights struggles and protests by African-Americans, and think themselves entitled to rights and benefits that came from battles fought and won by someone else.
Meanwhile, many Latinos complain that African-Americans accuse them of taking jobs that African-Americans — and other Americans — won’t do. They find it irritating that African-Americans blame Latinos for their troubles and shortcomings rather than take responsibility for their own lives. And they resent that African-Americans — in an attempt to preserve whatever influence they have — continue to perpetuate the idea that diversity is an issue of black and white.
The demographics aren’t in dispute. According to the 2010 Census, Latinos are the largest minority in more than half of the largest cities in the United States, outnumbering African-Americans in the country’s urban centers. This is the new color scheme in 191 of 366 metropolitan areas. In the nation as a whole, Latinos have outnumbered African-Americans since 2003 — seven years faster than demographers predicted.
Change usually creates tension, and this brand of tension is likely to only be exacerbated by the fact that, while the vast majority of African-Americans continue to support the nation’s first black president, a growing number of Latinos are disappointed in Barack Obama over an act of betrayal. At issue: Obama’s broken promise to make comprehensive immigration reform a top priority of his administration, and the fact that the Department of Homeland Security is, at the moment, feverishly deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants out of the country — the vast majority of them Latino.
You might assume that, with most Africans-Americans still rallying around Obama, and many Latinos running away from him, a chasm has opened up between the two groups.
Actually, it’s not as wide as you might think. As loyal as most African-Americans are to Obama, there is a contingent of activists, intellectuals, and media personalities within the black community who are angry with him for abandoning some of their causes and focusing his attention elsewhere. And interestingly enough, when you hear these African-Americans talk freely about what they think Obama has done wrong, it sounds an awful lot like what Latinos are saying.
He is indifferent to the concerns of the people on the left who led the charge to elect him president. Check.
He is too quick to compromise with opponents, and cave in on his principles. Check.
He is foolishly wasting his time trying to please people who will only be pleased when he is removed from office. Check.
He assumes that his critics have nowhere else to go and so he can treat them badly, because the idea of voting Republican is so unattractive. Check.
Don’t look now, but a divide is closing. When they look at President Obama, many African-Americans and Latinos see the same thing. And that provides a chance for these people to come together in a sense of shared frustration.