Blacks Conflicted on Immigration

The NYT reports growing unease for some blacks on immigration. Now, that some blacks, like some non-blacks, are uneasy is hardly news. But the analysis is at least interesting:

In their demonstrations across the country, some Hispanic immigrants have compared the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle to their own, singing “We Shall Overcome” and declaring a new civil rights movement to win citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. Civil rights stalwarts like the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia; Julian Bond and the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery have hailed the recent protests as the natural progression of their movement in the 1960’s.

But despite some sympathy for the nation’s illegal immigrants, many black professionals, academics and blue-collar workers feel increasingly uneasy as they watch Hispanics flex their political muscle while assuming the mantle of a seminal black struggle for justice.

Some blacks bristle at the comparison between the civil rights movement and the immigrant demonstrations, pointing out that black protesters in the 1960’s were American citizens and had endured centuries of enslavement, rapes, lynchings and discrimination before they started marching.

Others worry about the plight of low-skilled black workers, who sometimes compete with immigrants for entry-level jobs.

And some fear the unfinished business of the civil rights movement will fall to the wayside as America turns its attention to a newly energized Hispanic minority with growing political and economic clout. “All of this has made me start thinking, ‘What’s going to happen to African-Americans?’ ” said Brendon L. Laster, 32, a black fund-raiser at Howard University here, who has been watching the marches. “What’s going to happen to our unfinished agenda?”

That blacks would be jeaolous of the civil rights mantle of Dr. King and others is hardly surprising. While Jackson et. al. are professional race agitators who constantly need to find new issues to keep their careers alive, blacks at the grass roots have their own interests to consider.

Many, for example, are outraged when gay rights crusaders try to analogize the two struggles. Not only is a large percentage of the black community socially conservative and religiously conflicted on the gay issue, they quite reasonably contend that their own experience is sui generis. Of course, some American Indians would beg to differ.

My strong guess (it is only that, as I have not found a recent poll that crosstabulates views on immigration by race with income) is that blacks and whites are likely to have rather similar views on illegal immigration when on controls for income and education level. People who are lower on the wage scale are naturally going to view the issue more personally and be more likely to oppose the influx of potential competitors than those on the upper end.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, LGBTQ Issues, Race and Politics, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. RA says:

    Blacks regularly vote to disenfranchise their childrens education by supporting anti-voucher Democrats. Why should the stop being stupid. Democrats want illegals to keep wages low and take jobs that blacks would normally apply for.

    Racist rehtoric trumps self interest and caring for your own family.