If ever there were a time for a comprehensive Latino and African American political coalition, it is in the 2016 presidential election. Issues that affect the nation’s two largest “minorities” have dominated recent news cycles and are sure to be introduced and addressed in coming debates, town halls, and stump speeches. Together, we are far more powerful and likely to dictate the policies that will be supported by the people seeking to inhabit the highest office in the land.
Hillary Clinton cannot simply be heir apparent to the Black and Brown vote. The Clintons are masters at opportunistic window dressing and also have proven themselves fair weather friends of people of color. Aside from mockingly using a “blaccent” when imitating former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown and playing divisive racial politics when campaigning against then-Senator Obama, the Clintons have never been held responsible for their drug policies that proliferated the prison industrial complex and adversely affected scores of primarily Black and Latino people. The first Clinton administration barred a significant amount of Black and Brown people from receiving federal financial aid for education, public housing and welfare benefits if they had a small drug conviction. These prohibitions included small-scale marijuana arrests, a drug that is rapidly being decriminalized around the nation.
Bill Clinton’s recent mea culpa is cold comfort for a great number of Black and Brown families. While fixing the broken immigration system is on everyone’s mind, the Clintons must acknowledge how NAFTA help cause a crisis in Mexico, which resulted in poor displaced farm workers coming to the U.S. looking for the jobs NAFTA failed to create below the Rio Grande. Hillary Clinton may chose a Latino running mate like the young, impressive, though untested Julian Castro. While this choice would be something for the history books, considering the Castro brothers are from a state that lynched and segregated Mexican Americans much like Blacks, it still does not speak to action and policy that will affect people from the barrio of East Los Angeles to ghetto of West Baltimore.
I am certainly not saying that Blacks and Latinos should not vote for Clinton, only that she must work to earn their vote. She has Latinos involved in her campaign, but has been thus far mum on actual policy. Conversely, the Republican Party has done nearly nothing to court Black and Brown votes (despite having two “Latino” candidates and one African American), as their popularity (abysmal among African Americans for 50 years) is continually sinking with Latinos. Rand Paul maybe the only GOP candidate to do any outreach to people of color. However, it could very well be an attempt to cover for his belief in limiting the government’s power to intervene and enforce civil rights laws on private businesses. In fact, right wing talking head and “author” Ann Coulter stated that “the only way Republicans win is by driving up the white vote. It’s not about appealing to women or Hispanics or blacks, those groups are going to start fighting among one another.” Coulter maybe a vitriolic racist, but perhaps she has a point.
We must make it so that Latinos and African Americans find common ground on the issues or they will be an afterthought beyond mega church visits and Univision appearances. We cannot afford to fight one another and believe the disinformation spread by the media. The major cities all over the country have seen small glimpses of how a Black-Brown solidarity on the issues and in the voting booth can lead to change on the political landscape. From Wilson Goode to Harold Washington to David Dinkins to Antonio Villaraigosa, a rainbow coalition of African Americans and Latinos led to Black and Brown mayors and city council members (Latinos were a much smaller portion of the population then). If we do not back one another, the debate over immigration reform will continue to hover between temporary fixes and ridiculous fences and large-scale deportations. “Black Lives Matter” will be a t-shirt slogan rather than the impetus for sweeping reforms in police training and community oversight. Social ills will continue to plague our communities and officials will look in other directions.
I propose a joint political conference attended by the major African American and Latino advocacy groups such as the NAACP, NCLR and many others with the goal being to develop an agenda that benefits both groups. Other desired outcomes of said conference would be to build economic partnerships that could impact our communities where we often share space. There is no dearth of concerns that affect the two groups, from police brutality, racial profiling, achievement gaps, food deserts, substandard public education that contributes to a prison pipeline and health disparities. On local levels in particular, Black and Brown people together can make progressive third parties viable and can operate outside of the Democratic machine. This conference would happen every four years and focus on outcomes, as well as holding incumbent officials accountable. Mrs. Clinton needs to know we have the infrastructure to oust her after four years if she mimics her husband.
Though neither Blacks nor Latinos are a political monolith, their concern for the same issues and major demographic growth particularly of the latter, could sway a presidential election. Latinos are a significant minority in California, Florida, Texas and New York, all states that carry more than 29 electoral votes. Similarly, in New York and Florida, African Americans comprise more than 15% of the overall population. Add in swing state like Virginia, which is nearly 20% Black and carries a solid 10 electoral votes, and this coalition could become a political juggernaut on a national level. Of course, President Obama garnered support from both groups but no mainstream effort to sustain the momentum or build lasting coalitions between Black and Brown occurred. Coulter is correct that we will argue, but as Malcolm X once alluded to, we will argue behind closed doors and emerge posing a united front.
Jason Nichols is an academic and artist with a range of interests, which include Black masculinities, hip-hop music and dance, bullying amongst emerging adults, and Black and Latino identities and relations. He is a full-time Lecturer in the African American Studies Department at the University of Maryland College Park and the current Editor-in-Chief of Words Beats & Life: The Global Journal of Hip-Hop Culture, the first peer-reviewed journal of Hip-Hop Studies. Dr. Nichols is also a rap artist who raps under the moniker Haysoos and is one half of the internationally recognized rap group, Wade Waters.