The Political Awakening of Blacks and Latinos in New York City: Competition or Cooperation?

Article excerpt

BLACK AND LATINO COOPERATION IS CENTRAL TO THE ELABORATION OF A SOCIAL bloc capable of forging a democratic and egalitarian future for the people of New York City, and, what is more important, for the larger social formation of which New York City and the United States are a part. Black and Latino competition, on the other hand, reinforces the status quo in which the largest segment of both populations is consigned to the margins of the social economy. At the same time, a subaltern class, a bureaucratic bourgeoisie, has congealed within both populations to represent the interests of the larger system among these populations and to translate their grievances into system-appropriate scenarios. We will argue that for the Black and Latino populations in New York City, the logic of competition is driven by the narrow class needs of the middle class as a class "for itself," while the logic of cooperation is more consistent with, and indeed central to, the needs of the Black and Latino working classes and those comm itted to working in their interests.

We will review the development of Black and Latino electoral power in New York City since World War II, assess its potential and limitations for meeting the needs of Blacks and Latinos, and document the development of social activism as an alternative to electoral strategies of empowerment. Electoral organizing in the United States is particularly vulnerable to being highjacked by entrepreneurial politicians who forego political principle and instead seek the best opportunity for personal advancement. The most fruitful cooperative approaches to Black-Latino empowerment are thus in the domain of social activism, leading to the creation of new movements for social change. We believe the most promising aspect of the Black-Latino coalition reflects a larger process of class and social group formation that will profoundly affect the struggle for social justice. Part of our task is to transcend oversimplified paradigms that underestimate the seriousness of the situation of oppressed racialized groups, and thereby, the significance of the opposition they mount. Popular paradigms such as the ethnic secession model are much too localized and do not sufficiently examine the large structures and historical processes with which we need to be concerned.

Post-Industrial Capitalism and the Political Awakening of Latinos and Blacks

Two closely related postwar developments have been particularly salient for the fortunes of Blacks and Latinos in New York City. First, restructuring of the capitalist economy is having a profoundly damaging effect on the standard of living of both groups (Torres, 1995:61-64). Second, changes in the demographics of the city greatly improved their potential to gain political power and representation in the electoral arena (Falcon, 1988: 171). We will highlight the aspects with particular relevance for this analysis.

The linchpins of the Black-Latino coalition in New York are the African American and Puerto Rican communities. Both groups have been disproportionately consigned to the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. The similarities in their structural positions and social status made for important alliances between their intellectuals and lower strata during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. Restructuring of the capitalist world economy has profoundly weakened the lower strata in both groups, as well as workers previously in the primary sectors of a highly segmented labor market (Torres, 1995: 61-64). More specifically, it has consolidated a lower stratum of the working class, one disproportionately composed of racial minorities -- including immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia, as well as women (Arrighi, Hopkins, and Wallerstein, 1989).

Along with this, the managerial-professional strata of both groups grew significantly in the postwar period, especially among African Americans -- in close relationship with government employment (Torres, 1995: 61-64). …