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It was a beautiful April day. As the van pulled away from the border checkpoint and into California, my thoughts were of the hills outside Tijuana. The image of dozens of women, men, and children, bundles in their arms, milling about on hills, would not leave me. They were waiting, we had been told, for the darkness that would camouflage their run across the border into the land of the American dream that we took for granted. The van sped on its way up Interstate 895 carrying Cynthia and me in the rear seats and our friends Pat and Nick from San Diego in the front-four privileged members of the middle class ending a day in northern Mexico.
My thoughts turned to the fall of 1957 when, as a boy living in a small town in northern Illinois, a ten-year-old named Hector gave me my first lesson in relative poverty. Hector's parents were poor migrant farm workers from Mexico, in town for a few months to help harvest crops. During the time that his parents worked, Hector and his younger sister were enrolled in school. Hector's English wasn't very good, and his family's seasonal migration pattern had kept him well behind the academic level of the fourth-grade class. The tall, bronze-colored Hector sort of naturally gravitated into friendships with the half-dozen African Americans at the school: soul people, bonded through our poverty and our brown skins. One day, in the middle of the term, as suddenly as he had arrived, Hector was gone. I never saw or heard from him again. Many times I have pondered what became of Hector and his sister.
I hid my face from my friends as a tear traced its way down my cheek. Abruptly, my thoughts were interrupted as Nick braked and the shadowy figure of a woman darted across the highway. Then there was a man, then another. Suddenly, we were in a traffic jam: it was a checkpoint of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Officers were more or less randomly stopping cars to check for undocumented immigrants. I knew we would be checked. Our van was sprinkled with an assortment of brown skins, and the driver was of Mexican ancestry.
After the check, we continued our journey to San Diego in silence. My thoughts remained with the desperate human beings trying to evade the INS, and I wondered if they experienced feelings similar to those my ancestors must have felt running from slave patrols under cover of night in antebellum America. I felt very close to these Mexicans who were making a desperate and daring bid for a better life. Surely there had to be a better way to manage immigration policy.
A few days later, back in suburban Washington, D.C., I drove into a housing development under construction. The carpenters, bricklayers, and assorted laborers were busily at work. All the supervisors were white men, and all the others were Latino men. I instantly thought of the hundreds of African American men and women I had just seen milling about on the streets of Washington. And I thought of all the historical and social science work I had read and done concerning the vicious discrimination against African Americans by the construction industry in the United States. Why were all the supervisors white men, all the workers Latinos? Where were the African Americans and women? At that moment, I knew the meaning of ambivalence.
RACE, IMMIGRATION, AND THE DISCOURSE OF AMBIVALENCE
Few contemporary topics evoke more conflicted attitudes than does immigration. Many Americans may feel compassion for Florida-bound Cubans and Haitians braving the Atlantic in small boats, for hard-working Vietnamese immigrants whose life savings and livelihood went up in flames when their fishing boats were bombed during a dispute with Texas fishermen; but the same people may be apprehensive about the consequences of immigration for their own livelihoods and for the stability of "their" cultural and social institutions.
Such ambivalence poses dangerous risks for a democratic society. Frequently, people with conflicted attitudes either suppress the less salient, popular, or economically expedient attitude or they remain silent, leaving public debate and policy-making to the less ambivalent. Public debate diverges to extreme positions, and elected officials dismiss the search for a middle position that may exist but will be nearly impossible to discern given the complexity of voters' opinions and the simplicity of public debate and opinion poll questions. A chilling effect on free discourse may result. Individuals and organizations may remain silent because of anxiety toward their own conflicted attitudes and the possibility that raising certain issues may identify them with more extreme and personally repugnant viewpoints.
Something akin to this is now occurring in the debate over immigration. On the whole, immigration is beneficial to the United States. But it does have both positive and negative effects, often on different people and places. Our task as citizens of a democratic society is to restructure the debate on firmer, more honest grounds.
My own ambivalence toward immigration reflects my cultural position as an African American. On the subject of immigration, African Americans may be the most ambivalent group in America, reflecting a powerful tension between a widespread belief that increased immigration is detrimental to blacks' economic well-being and a moral commitment to equality and the rights of dispossessed peoples.
Polling data reveal that African American respondents are more likely than other Americans to associate immigration with detrimental labor market competition. Even so, a nationwide poll found that blacks were more supportive of both immigration and immigrants than were nonblacks. Nearly two-thirds of all Americans agreed that immigrants take jobs from the native-born, and more than three-quarters of African Americans believed that "businesses would rather hire immigrants than black Americans." Yet African Americans were evenly split between those who thought that the United States should continue accepting immigrants at current or higher rates and those favoring fewer immigrants, whereas other Americans favored lower immigration quotas by a margin of two to one. Furthermore, whereas a majority of white Americans were against bilingual education in the public schools, African Americans favored it by a margin of nearly four to one (Mandel and Farrell 1992, 118-19).
Effects on economic well-being are but one consequence of immigration. Intuitively, Americans understand that the nation is undergoing a period of profound changes. And they sense that these changes will have major consequences for the nation's social fabric. Throughout America's history, immigration has had an enormous impact on the development of the nation's economic, political, and social institutions. Correspondingly, immigration has also had great effects on the character of ethnic and race relations. Today's immigration will continue this pattern. This chapter discusses how contemporary immigration's most profound effect may well be its alteration in the very manner in which Americans conceive of race and ethnicity and in race relations.
The Black-White Paradigm
Slavery and African Americans' central position during several constitutional crises that literally defined the meaning of American democracy and citizenship have made black-white relations the dominant paradigm for comprehending race in the United States for four centuries. Moreover, because they continue to be disproportionately poor, African Americans remain at the forefront of American discourse on the precise nature of pluralism and equality. But the demographic effects of immigration foreshadow the demise of this bimodal conceptualization of racial identity and race relations. I am convinced that revolutionary change for this cultural paradigm is inevitable, yet I understand why black and white Americans resist it.
A major source of resistance to the demise of the black-white paradigm is the fact that it transcends its apparently simple function as a way of understanding race and ethnicity. The paradigm, fully internalized by many generations of Americans, is built into the fabric of American social ideology and culture. Fundamental American social values are understood through reference to it. To illustrate, one function of the black-white paradigm has been its role in supporting the frequently voiced claim that class distinctions assume no structural role in maintaining inequality in the United States. Although it has been the most open society in history, the claim that there are no class barriers is false. Frequently, race, as both a primary determinant and as a shield for class, has assumed that role.
Throughout American history, the black-white paradigm (which conveniently ignored the presence of other groups) has been inextricably connected to and a fundamental support of the American dream of equality of opportunity because anyone espousing it is challenged to accept the proposition that African Americans are the exception that proves the rule. What are the core elements of the American dream and the black-white paradigm? I define the American dream in simple terms. It is that all members of the United States polity are free to define success and to strive for it under conditions of equal opportunity. It is understood that the existence of equal opportunity is consistent with both success and failure. Attainment of one's goals is dependent on individual talent, hard work, and, to some extent, luck. The black-white paradigm, no less simple, holds that African Americans' perpetual subordinate status presents no significant challenge to the validity of the American dream because blacks' status is due to their own inadequacies.
The black-white paradigm has also served the immigration ideology that is central to the American dream. Even in the colonial era the dream and the paradigm served important cultural functions. Structural barriers to upward mobility for poor white immigrants, although remarkably lower than in Europe, perpetuated a lower class of unruly whites mired in poverty. But the presence of black slaves mitigated the cultural significance of the imperfect social mobility. The historian David Brion Davis, drawing on work of Edmund S. Morgan (1972), argues that the "paradox" of slaveholders declaring the freedom and equality of all men is resolved once we understand that the enslavement of Africans reduced the need for lower-class white indentured servants. Morgan argues that increased importations of slaves allowed "a decrease in the number of dangerous new [white] freedmen who annually emerged seeking a place in society that they would be unable to achieve" (Davis 1975, 260-62).
In effect, Morgan argues that Americans "bought their independence with slave labor." The highly visible and constrained slaves at the bottom of society enabled colonists to promulgate ideas of freedom and equality for all whites in a competitive society. After their emancipation, black Americans remained consigned to the bottom rungs, serving as the exception proving the rule of American egalitarianism. Deeply ingrained in the nation's history and culture has been a profound need to have a population of lower-class blacks assuring whites that their values hold true.
Abraham Lincoln, who characterized the American dream in all its ramifications as well as anyone, stressed the freedom to compete and the freedom to fail. But he, unlike any previous president, chastised the nation for not living up to its creed and giving blacks a fair chance to succeed or fail: "As a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal,'" wrote Lincoln. "We now practically read it 'all men are created equal, except negroes'" (Schlesinger 1991, 9).
From Alexis de Tocqueville in the early nineteenth century to the present, virtually all Europeans who made a careful study of our peoples and institutions have subscribed to some form of the indomitable egalitarianism of Americans. "No novelty in the United States struck me more vividly during my stay there than the equality of conditions" are the first words to appear in de Tocqueville's (1996) analysis of American democracy. But it was the Swedish scholar Gunner Myrdal who, during the early 1940s, formulated the American ideal of equal social opportunity as a way of describing the national character. He wrote that "the essential dignity of the individual human being, of the fundamental equality of all men, and of certain inalienable rights to freedom, justice, and a fair opportunity represent to the American people the essential meaning of the nation's early struggle for independence" (1944, 4). Yet Myrdal was also aware of what surveys undertaken throughout the 1940s would prove: majorities of white Americans believed that black Americans' second-class citizenship was justified by their intellectual and moral inferiority to whites (Schumann et al. 1985). Nevertheless, unlike many other European students of American culture, Myrdal rejected whites' beliefs as a rationalization of the disjuncture between their professed commitment to the creed of equal opportunity and the actual legal and social status of blacks. He viewed African Americans' socioeconomic status to be a fundamental challenge to the validity of the American dream.
Many Americans accepted Myrdal's critique as applying to the color-caste system of social and legal segregation in the South, but in the North, despite pervasive discrimination against blacks, the absence of an elaborate legal machinery of segregation allowed most whites to convince themselves that African Americans' failure to succeed could be attributed to their own shortcomings. Black-white relations in the North were usually subsumed under a model of ethnic group competition. Blacks were assumed to be just one of a number of ethnic groups who in different areas and times competed for political and economic resources. This competition generally resulted in winners and losers. The resulting hierarchy of group status changed over time as different immigrant groups entered the competition at the bottom rungs and managed to move up.
Often the final stage in this vertical movement into the dominant class structure of American society was postulated to be symbolized by an ethnic group's moving out of a residential enclave to a "middle-class American neighborhood." Thus, the ethnic competition model was simply a restatement of the creed of equal opportunity and the American dream. Without denying that assimilation was tougher for blacks, Asian Americans, and nonwhite Hispanics, proponents of the model argued that the difference between them and white ethnic groups was one of degree but not of kind (Moynihan and Glazer 1963; Drake 1965).
Excerpted from Immigration and Race Copyright © 2000 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
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|1||Introduction: Immigration and the American Dream||1|
|Attitudes and Interactions|
|2||The Residential Segregation of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, 1970-1990||44|
|3||The Politics of Black-Korean Conflict: Black Power Protest and the Mobilization of Racial Communities in New York City||74|
|Competition for Jobs and Services|
|4||Educating Immigrant Children: Chapter I in Changing Cities||98|
|5||Immigrants Puerto Ricans, and the Earnings of Native Black Males||125|
|6||Labor Market Dynamics and the Effects of Immigration of African Americans||143|
|Politics: Coalition and Competition|
|7||Political Representation and Stratified Pluralism||163|
|8||Legislative Redistricting and African American Interests: New Facts and Conventional Strategies||195|
|9||Political Activity and Preferences of African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans||217|
|10||Coalition Formation: The Mexican-Origin Community and Latinos and African Americans||255|
|List of Contributors||311|