By Ruth Conniff
Because of redistricting and population trends, some African-American politicians may lose their seats to Latino challengers this year. This could lead to increased friction between the groups, so positive leadership will be necessary to limit this risk.
Some historically black urban areas are now predominantly Latino. The congressional district that includes Harlem is 55 percent Latino and 27 percent black. Harlem, the symbolic cradle of African-American culture, has long sent a black representative to Congress. But that may soon change, if a Latino challenger unseats the 81-year-old incumbent, Rep. Charles Rangel.
This race for the House may become a litmus test for the relationship between blacks and Latinos, who have a nuanced relationship and whose political agendas often collide despite many commonalities as citizens in this country.
Immigration is probably the most divisive issue, as many Latinos advocate for strong immigration reform while many blacks do not see this as their issue. This contest will also test black voters’ ability to trust a Latino to represent them and their needs. And it will force Latino voters to decide whether cultural and ethnic alliances and loyalties outweigh political clout.
New York City is not the only place where this jockeying is happening. According to the 2010 census, nationally, Latinos make up 16.3 percent of the population. Blacks amount to 12.6 percent.
Nationally, Latinos became a majority in 191 of the country’s 366 metropolitan areas, which account for 83.7 percent of the U.S. population. Atlantic City, N.J., Chicago, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Detroit and Cleveland are among those experiencing this demographic change.
Chicago, another historical cradle for blacks, saw its black population drop by more than 11 percent between 2000 and 2010. The African-American population now stands at 32.9 percent, while the city’s Latinos are right behind at 31.7 percent. Latinos now have 13 wards where they are a clear majority, up from 10, which will increase their power.
In Denver, African-Americans make up 9.7 percent of the population but their numbers have been dropping so the city council is currently facing a transformational change due to redistricting. Of the 11 districts in the new map, only one has a black population greater than 25 percent.
Most tellingly, the South, a traditional black stronghold, has nine of the 12 states with the steepest increase in Latinos: South Carolina, followed by Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia. While Latinos may not be able to take traditional black seats, their concerns must be addressed.
Blacks and Latinos, long discriminated against and disadvantaged economically, need to ensure they support politicians who promote their interests. Leaders in both communities need to stress this point and must resist the temptation to pit one group against the other. No one wins that way.
Juleyka Lantigua-Williams writes about current issues for the Progressive Media Project. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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