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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Million More March ... was about ...

one of the cleverest ploys ever inflicted on a people. And it wasn't at the hands of Minister Louis Farrakahn, but can be traced back to those who came together more than ten years ago to reconfigure the way the census would be designed. Crazy? Maybe not. Inspired, depending upon the goals.

Under the new set of criteria -- black people would no longer be counted under the old "one drop" rule, but starting with the census of 1990, would be able to check multiple boxes for racial identity. I knew at the time that something truly revolutionary had occurred. I wrote about it for my boss. No longer would I need to claim my "Negro" or "African American" designation, but could now legally become other, or any number of exotic racial combinations. This could be a field day for those of us whose race was fast-becoming no more than a political choice due to generations of miscegination. This is surely true for my grandchildren and my nieces and nephews who -- over the past generation of growing up in the relatively enlightened S.F. Bay Area -- brought Asian genes into our already exotic blend of racial and cultural genetic jambalaya.

But there's a darker side to this change in racial identification. Within a few weeks after the census results were analyzed we learned that (Aha!) African Americans would soon no longer be the largest racial minority, but were fast being overtaken by Latinos. Stories about the need to pay attention to the Latino vote grew, and politicians gradually began to cast their eyes toward the barrios instead of the projects in order to increase their political power among the "unwashed". It was during those years that we began to see a lessening of attention paid to illegal immigration and noticeable changes in hiring policies that now saw a major displacement of the country's black service workers.

Black hotel maids, janitors, day laborers, porters, nurses aides, gardeners, etc., all were now replaced by immigrant labor. They were now doing those "jobs nobody else wanted" but that had supported black families for generations and built a bridge into the middle class for many, including mine. Where did the black service workers go? Some improved their lot through education and increased opportunity, but many dropped into the underground economy fueled by the illegal drug trade. Given the new time restrictions on welfare and little education and/or training that might move them out of poverty, the outcomes were highly predictable. People will feed their children in whatever ways necessary. The streets got meaner over time, and the continuing violence that naturally feeds on desparation and hopelessness is now cutting down our young in frightening numbers. There is the growing concern that our young have internalized the race-hatred and have become suicidal -- and that homicide is but one manifestation of that truth.

Blacks had lost political power through the simple act of taking advantage of the opportunity to identify as "other." We lost significant political power by reducing our numbers through the census analysis. The truth is that -- under the old one drop rule -- there are actually more of us now than ever before in history! The Latino population, despite growing numbers, cannot begin to overtake the numbers of us who are mastiso, creole, and every other black blend love can create and has over many generations. We tend to forget that where schools, housing, and workplaces have been resistant to racial integration, we've had integrated bedrooms since before the days of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings! And not exclusively through sexual exploitation, but through at least some courageous people crossing those lines of separation for the sake of love.

It's a game of semantics that has proven devastating to our ability to bring together our people toward the unification needed in order to truly overcome. With help of the census designers, we hardly know who our people are! We've been successfully splintered into a thousand racial bits and atomized into a meaningless blob no one needs pay attention to, politically. With each generation that blends into the whole, we lose potential leadership, energy, and the sense of belonging to something beyond ourselves that we must have in order to give substance to the kind of demonstration attempted on the Mall in Washington yesterday. I would predict that by the twentieth anniversary of the Million Man March, we'll have all but disappeared into some multicultural-multiracial gumbo! And it will have all started with a seemingly simple change in statistical language.

This is surely not to say that Latinos have entered this country in great numbers to purposely steal away the work of African Americans. To the contrary. Everyone of us is trying desparately to make life better for our children than it has been for ourselves, especially those from below the border. But it is to say that Latinos are the benificiaries of white racism by default with little reason to be aware of or any incentive to resist the rewards it brings to an equally needful people.

One day as we all progress inexorably toward a more just society, we'll have those critical conversations and black and brown Americans will begin to recognize the ways in which we're competing for space on the bottom rung of the economic ladder and will unite toward change -- together -- change that will begin to move all of our children out of poverty and into economic viability. That is when the demographics of our prisons will no longer reflect the inadequacies of our seriously flawed systems of education and governance. But first we need to begin to control the language that controls us -- by recognizing the manipulation and challenging the distortions when they threaten our mutual well-being.

Since when was "75% minority" not the majority?

Photo: Andrés Soto of the Richmond Progressive Alliance shown here at an event to save Breuner's Marsh, a wetlands adjacent to the East Bay Regional Park's Point Pinole. It is currently under threat by private development that will limit public access and destroy habitat for endangered species.

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