Locating Latinos in the Field of Civil Rights: Assessing the Neoliberal Case for Radical Exclusion

By Delgado, Richard | Texas Law Review, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Locating Latinos in the Field of Civil Rights: Assessing the Neoliberal Case for Radical Exclusion


Delgado, Richard, Texas Law Review


Locating Latinos in the Field of Civil Rights: Assessing the Neoliberal Case for Radical Exclusion WHO IS WHITE?: LATINOS, ASIANS, AND THE NEW BLACK/NONBLACK DIVIDE. By George Yancey.[dagger] Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2003. Pp. x, 230. $49.95.

I. Introduction: A New Kind of Racism

Poor Latinos! Nobody loves them. Think-tank conservatives like Peter Brimelow, joined by a few liberals and a host of white supremacist websites, have been warning against the Latino threat: Because our dark-haired friends from south of the border insist on preserving their peculiar language and ways, they endanger the integrity of our Anglocentric culture. In order to guard against Balkanization and associated disorders, we should limit immigration from Latin America and police the southern border even more vigilantly than we do now.1

Recently this group of scholars has been joined by a second group. Composed for the most part of moderate liberals, these writers argue that Latinos pose a different kind of threat. Classified as minorities by many university and public administrators, members of this group nevertheless consume social services and affirmative action slots intended for the country's historic minorities-blacks and Native Americans. Precisely because Latinos assimilate, according to these commentators, they have little claim on our civil rights sympathies.2 Latinos, then, come under fire from the right for not assimilating and from the left for doing the exact opposite. The right uses unassimilability as a rationale for keeping Latinos out; the left, their success in fitting in as a reason for denying public benefits and places in colleges and universities to ones who are already here. Individualistic, no-nonsense Americans have a limited stock of empathy, this group writes. Why risk compassion fatigue by extending our civil rights sympathies to groups who do not really need them?3

The former group includes Brimelow, Patrick Buchanan, Samuel Huntington, liberal Arthur Schlesinger, the anti-immigrant organization FAIR, and a legion of white supremacist websites that inveigh against the evils of "mud people."4 The second, somewhat softer-edged school includes scholars such as Paul Brest, John Skrentny, Orlando Patterson, Mari Matsuda, and columnist Charles Krauthammer, who warn of the danger of dilution when well-meaning activists and administrators extend civil rights programs to groups beyond their original beneficiaries.5

A recent book by George Yancey typifies this new movement. Published in 2003 by Lynne Rienner Publishers, Who Is White?: Latinos, Asians, and the New Black/Nonblack Divide offers an extended argument, complete with footnotes, charts, graphs, and survey material, for limiting civil rights remedies to blacks alone.6 This Review Essay first surveys the recurring admonitions of nativist writers that Latinos are incompatible with America. It then turns to the recent school of liberal critics who reason that Latinos assimilate-intermarry, move into white neighborhoods, learn English-so successfully that they can safely be ignored. The first group's arguments are weak normatively-their vision of America as a sanitized, Anglicized nation with little diversity of thought, culture, or ethnicity is simply out of keeping with contemporary ideals.

The second group's are not. Normatively strong, they rise or fall on the strength of their factual predicate and what follows from it. Are Latinos, in fact, assimilating, and if so, in what ways? Are they following the same path as that of earlier European groups, such as Irish, Italians, and Jews, who were first considered nonwhite, culturally inferior, and incapable of higher intellectual functioning, but soon secured social acceptance and admission to the white race?7 And, if Latinos are coming to terms with America in some respects, what does that mean for social justice? Should we quietly but firmly write them out of the civil rights equation in favor of those more needy? …

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