"Hillary wins Hispanics; Obama wins Blacks." Increasingly, pundits suggest this voting pattern reflects not these candidates, but more permanent divisions. Hispanics and Blacks are rivals, we're told, reluctant to vote for one another.
Bull... This statement, which threatens to become conventional wisdom, simply isn't true. It's not based on history or on circumstance. Instead of reporting on a division, it threatens to create one that isn't there.
The reality is that African Americans and Hispanics may have come over on different boats, but they are in the same boat now. The housing foreclosures stemming from the subprime crisis hit them the hardest. Blacks and Hispanics were targeted for subprime loans. They are the biggest victims of rapacious mortgage brokers who peddled loans with hidden prepayment fees, or rapidly rising interest rates. They had to reach the farthest to be able to afford a decent house; they are suffering the most when the bottom fell out.
Blacks and Hispanics do compete for jobs, particularly among low skilled workers. But that means that they have a shared concern for raising the minimum wage, for guaranteeing paid sick leaves, for enforcing fair labor standards, occupational health and safety laws. Employers that exploit undocumented workers are a shared threat. Employers that trample labor laws and suppress workers trying to organize unions on the job threaten Blacks and Hispanics most of all.
Blacks and Hispanics share the same schools, and have the same desire for ending the savage inequality of American schools. They strongly support new commitments to high quality education – from universal pre-kindergarten to get children ready to learn, to smaller classes in the lower grades, after-school programs and affordable college. And just as Latinos push to learn English, I always urge Blacks to learn Spanish. That is the language of our neighbors, of our key trading partners. Rather than "English Only," America will thrive when we become multilingual in a global marketplace.
Black and brown should be an alliance, not a division. Together, we represent the majority in America's largest cities. Together we will pick presidents, governors, senators, mayors. We have shared interests, shared agendas and shared neighborhoods. Sure, sometimes that leads to tensions, just as gangs war over turf. But more unites us than divides us. In fact, there are more African-South Americans than there are African Americans. The slave ships stopped in South America first.
Now as the U.S. economy slows, Blacks and browns, the last hired, will be the first fired. Animus once focused on mythical "welfare queens" now is directed at equally mythical idle "illegals" driving up costs of schools or health care or welfare.
The reality is that no one wants to leave their own country; they do so out of desperation, seeking a way to feed their families. Under NAFTA – the North America Free Trade Accord – Mexican peasants were displaced from the small farming plots, so they were forced north to look for work. This week, I am meeting with the Mexican president, to discuss what might be done together.
When we come together, we can win. Dr. King and Cesar Chavez worked together and marched together. Together they called for a war on poverty that crossed lines of religion and race. In Chicago, Harold Washington was elected Mayor with the help of Latino voters. In Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa lost his first race for Mayor because the Black community voted for someone whose family had long ties to the community. Villaraigosa worked hard to develop relationships, and won on his second try, with significant African American support. Latinos supported Wellington Webb in Denver; they voted for David Dinkins in New York. They stood with me in 1984 and 1988. They voted in large numbers for Barack Obama when he ran for the Senate.
In these presidential primaries, Hillary and Bill Clinton largely share the same political platform. So it isn't surprising that Latinos have voted for the candidate they knew rather than the one they were just learning about. And that Obama's support in the Latino community has risen as he has gained more exposure in successive primaries.
So don't spread the lie that Blacks and Browns can't come together or won't support one another.
Jesse Jackson is a longtime civil rights activist and founder of the RainbowPUSH Coalition.