Friday, October 13, 2006

Dissertation Thoughts

Trying to brainstorm, bear with me. **Did a little shifting so this could be on top**

So, in revisiting the end of this chapter, I have to consider, once again, the evidence that, at least in issues surrounding the workplace, blacks and immigrants from Latin American countries don't generally build strong coalitions. Hard in an industry that has always been hostile to"traditional" worker organization via unions--in my study, unions have disappointed many black workers (by either being ineffectual in the face of company policy/pressure or by seeming to side with the company) and have been unable to reach Latino workers (b/c of lack of communication and the fact that many work through subcontractors and thus are not eligible for union membership)--and whose management encourages and sometimes sows the seeds of intergroup conflict and tension.

But the problems don't all come from above. There is real resentment on the part of some black workers and a recent study suggested that many Latino immigrants come to the US with negative stereotypes of blacks already firmly embedded. Add to that competition over schools, neighborhoods, and any other number of spaces, and cooperation seems highly unlikely.

Yesterday, in the midst of considering all this, it occurred to me--as Advisor so commonly says--that in studying this, I wasn't reinventing the wheel. Many of the problems between these two groups mirror the issues between black and white workers in the late 19th/early 20th century (and possibly beyond). But here is where my thoughts took a wandering path. In the last couple of decades (or so), historians have argued very convincingly that white workers--even the poorest of the poor--were not wholly manipulated into an unwillingness to build coalitions with black workers. Instead ( and this a very simplistic, rough approximation of a very complicated argument), they were willing to ignore common class issues in the interests of racial solidarity (and this didn't begin in the 19th century). In other words, they accepted, believed in, helped shape white supremacy and the privileging of whiteness and gained just enough from it (even if the gain was ideological) to not cross color lines.

If I compare the black and Latino experiences to that, my question is, if there is no similar privileging of "brownness" (and I don't think there is beyond the issue of "less brown = more better"), what is the overarching reason for the lack of coalition building along class lines? Why is race/ethnicity "trumping" in this particular context, too? I'm thinking that maybe it is related to white supremacy, also, but in a much different way: after years of seeing, and experiencing the wealth of this country in "pie" form, in which the majority group has the dominant share and everyone else is left fighting over a wholly insufficient piece (God, this is a horrible analogy), maybe blacks and Latinos (speaking in a generalized fashion) have accepted the notion that there is a zero-sum game going on, that for one group to advance--get a larger share--another has to take a smaller piece.

I see that, as I work my way through all these sources, reflected in blacks' worries about Latinos being the new, "largest minority group" (whatever that means)--there is a real fear that we will lose whatever political power we had/have, that we will lose powerful whites' attention as they seek to address "Latino" concerns. Conversely, in one sociological study, Latinos expressed some of the same thoughts--that black people had the "ear" of white people, that white people "cared more about" black people, that social services programs were geared for black people.

So the relations, between these two groups is still, in part, being determined in the context of how they understand their relationships with the majority group. But am I discrediting black and Latino agency? Is this way too simple? Does anyone understand what the hell I'm talking about? I had it on my mind and needed to write it out--figured I might as well do it in a context in which I might get feedback.

Update: Y. Carrington has an interesting post so related to what I'm fumbling and bumbling through here.


Gwyneth Bolton said...


Might you bring in the immigrant issue as well? For example, African Americans have similar issues even with other black folk who migrate to this country and seem to "do better" than us in shorter time etc. I remember hearing family members complain when I was growing up not only about the Puerto Rican or Domincan folk that moved into the city, but also the Jamaicans and other West Indians. It was this sense that everyone else can come here and do well/work their way up and out to an extent and we can't--a lot of bitterness in that regard. I'm just wondering if that might add more nuance, provide another lense... Because it was very much the case with black workers getting a raw deal in relation to the white ethnic immigrants who later became white, etc. Just a thought... The chapter sounds really interesting. The project sounds interesting. Good stuff!

elle said...

One thing that she does want me to address is that in times of high immigration, black workers tend to fare poorly--they are relegated to a sort of "unpreferred" worker status. And I hadn't thought about the intra-racial(ethnic) thing until the other day when a fellow student who's doing an immigration topic pointed out to me that some of the issues that I see b/w black workers and immigrants is reflected in conflict between Latino Americans and immigrants--a little bit outside what I'm doing, but relevant in some ways.

So Advisor had already suggested I look into blacks' reactions towards Asian immigrants as well as immigrants from Latin American countries, but neither she nor I thought about "black" immigrants. There is a wariness, I think, learned from past lessons, that new immigrants will identify with whites over blacks ( experience w/
Irish, Cubans, some Asians) that impedes co-operation. I wonder how that works with immigrants who share the same skin color...

Thanks, Gwyneth.

Courtney said...

Have you read Cohen's Making a New Deal? That's another "classic" on the interethnic conflict and white complicity in it...

Keep up the thinking big! I look forward to reading more on this.

elle said...

quinn- thanks for the tip. God, I'm wishing I would've thought about this a year ago!!!!

belledame222 said...

>have accepted the notion that there is a zero-sum game going on, that for one group to advance--get a larger share--another has to take a smaller piece.

I think you're def. onto something there. yah: it all goes back to that same old problem: you have to be able to see, much less attack, the -frame,- not just the problem posed within the frame. It's the same reason as (loosely, but) why the Democrats keep losing to the Republicans; why the sex wars are as exasperating as they are; why shouting matches between theists and atheists are as exasperating as they are; and a million other things besides. This is a big, key one though.

"economy of scarcity."

and, my own thing: that mentality extends to things beyond the material to more ineffable things. Love=zero-sum game. Attention=zero-sum game. praise. kindness. and so on. actually i think that that is -one- big chunk of the underlying problem right there. never enough ANYTHING to go around, people think, even, ironically, maybe even -especially,- the stuff that clearly there's absolutely no limit on.

Leslie M-B said...


(begin white girl sarcasm)

Shouldn't you just be grateful we white folks can in most cases tell the difference between blacks and Latinos? Look how far we've come!

(end sarcasm)

This isn't my area, but I'm wondering if there might not be some good theorizing about this matter in writing by people in/from Cuba. A good friend is a white Cubano who writes about Cuban Americans but who teaches in African American studies and he thinks a lot about brown/black relations, I believe. I'll pass on this post and encourage him to comment.

elle said...

oh, trillwing, that would be wonderful.

elle said...

and belledame, i did menton i'm stealing this right: "you have to be able to see, much less attack, the -frame,- not just the problem posed within the frame."

brownfemipower said...

ok, elle, i've taken some time to think about what you've said--because of course, the first way I wanted to respond to this was through the lens of a fellow blogger. and go on about how right you are, and what can we do to challenge and change this?

but I realized that wasn't really what you were asking for. hee hee!!

So, anyway, this got me to thinking about the tension between chinese and indian workers in mexico during the time right before the mexican revolution. indian people were forcibly moved into a debt peonage system wheras chinese workers came over as a way to get some cash to send back home. So although working conditions were miserable for both--one group obstensibly wanted to be there, and another was being forced into the system through many times violent means. Sound familiar? :-)

so in other words, i'm wondering what role a percieved choice versus a percieved lack of choice (speaking from either groups point of view here) has to play in the outcome you are talking about. although both groups may insist that they have no choice--that they forced to cross the border because of economic issues, or they were forced here through slavery--the tension seems to come when there is an assumption of choice by the other group--mexicans had a *choice* where black folks did not, black folks are complaining about not having a choice, when they should be doing what they can now that the choice is made--even if it *was* an involuntary choice.

Does that make sense?

brownfemipower said...

p.s., "femi" is me, bfp, i don't know why this thing is giving me such a hard time...i've tried posting twice before now, and it wouldn't let me--and now it's calling me "Femi"...what the hell??? :-)

(i tried to post to tell you how great your site change is, i really love it!)

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