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With many analysts fixated on the shrinking white (once-) majority in California, another important story has often been underplayed: the movement of many immigrants, particularly Latinos, into traditionally African American neighborhoods. While this has transformed the urban landscape with new businesses, new churches, and new ways of living, it has also generated a palpable sense of loss – one exacerbated by worries over the negative impacts of immigrants on less-skilled and less-connected Black workers.
With African Americans and immigrants bumping up against each other in their neighborhoods and the economy, the media has tended to focus on interethnic tensions, conflicts, and clashes. This may make for good reporting – but it misses the daily accommodations in our neighborhoods and schools, the common struggles to reduce over-policing and disproportionate incarceration, and the efforts to organize across race and ethnicity for safer housing, better jobs and a healthier environment.
“All Together Now? African Americans, Immigrants, and the Future of California,” offers this more complete story. The authors – Manuel Pastor, Juan De Lara, and Justin Scoggins – dig deep into data on residential integration, wage and employment outcomes, and best practices of grassroots organizers to understand what’s happening in neighborhoods. The report “provides organizers and activists with much needed facts and insightful analysis surrounding African American-immigration relations in California,” says Gerald Lenoir, of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.” The empirical evidence is surprising and counterintuitive at times – and, in the end, offers implications for building a new set of alliances through the frame of “everyday social justice.”
First, using an immigrant proximity index, they find that living together is common but complex. Neighborhoods are indeed changing as many African American neighborhoods have experienced a sharp increase in immigrants (of many ethnicities). But while some communities have seen sharp declines in their Black population, others have remained relatively stable, and there are also a set of neighborhoods where African Americans and immigrants have moved together.
Second, economic competition cannot be denied but it is not the main story. Within some specific occupations, displacement of African Americans by immigrants does exist, but in most cases immigrants are improving the economic picture for existing residents of all skill levels. Overall, both groups share an everyday neighborhood reality of high need, significant disadvantage, and lower opportunities – and so have more in common than in conflict.
Third, there are a range of community-based organizations building new alliances to address these common challenges. Working to strengthen both immigrant and Black institutions in rapidly changing neighborhoods, developing policy agendas that serve multiple constituencies, understanding that groups sometimes need to organize separately before they organize together, and paying special attention to youth, parent, and faith-based leadership, these efforts are pointing the way to a better future for all Californians.
According to Lenoir, “The results can help to inform our education, advocacy and organizing strategies as we struggle to overcome the obstacles to building a multiracial social justice movement for all."