The issue is painful and explosive, and city and county officials tap dance around it for fear that they’ll offend blacks and Latinos or that they’ll stir up racial antagonisms. But Los Angeles’ black and Latino clash is real and deep-seated, and it goes way beyond the recent spike in hate crimes at L.A. schools.
But politics and school troubles, worrisome as they are, are not the biggest flash point of conflict between blacks and Latinos. Jobs and immigration are, and L.A.’s elected officials are loath to talk about either for fear they’ll be called racially divisive.
The irony is it took a stray, impolitic remark by Mexican President Vicente Fox back in May to ram the issue back on the racial table. Fox meant no harm with his quip that blacks won’t work certain jobs. He was trying to make the point that congressional immigration reforms are bad for Mexicans and Americans. That’s a disputable point, but it brought instant howls of protest from Jesse Jackson and other black leaders.
Though Fox slightly backed away from his quip, what he said needed to be said. Still, its implication was wrong. The black unemployment rate is double that of whites and higher than that of Latinos in L.A. County. Among young black males, unemployment has reached near Great Depression levels in the city and the county. Jobs, or rather the scarcity of them, are a major crisis for blacks. Blacks have been bumped from lower-end jobs in the service and retail industries in L.A. County.
Young blacks, especially students, might well take these jobs if they were offered them, but many employers flatly refuse to hire them, instead hiring illegal immigrants. Employers rationalize their discrimination with the claim that young blacks are lazy or more crime-prone, and illegal immigrants are more diligent and industrious.
That anger seeped through in a recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California. It found that blacks, far more than whites, regard illegal immigrants as a big drain on public services and a liability to the local economy. The perception—no matter how baseless—that illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from blacks will continue to inflame resentment.