Blacks vs. Latinos Tension Reaches Far Beyond Gangs, Jails

Sharon Woodson-Bryant, Los Angeles Daily News, Feb. 12, 2006

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca calms our fears of the recent jail race riots by politely assuring us that it’s a gang problem. He gives us enough emotional and political distance to remove the community comfortably from the black-versus-brown issues. So we casually isolate the violence as if it were an awkwardly wrapped package filled exclusively with criminals and angry black and Latino teenagers.

But there is a murky undercurrent of growing competition and resentment between blacks and Latinos outside of the prisons and high schools. Mexican President Vicente Fox said that his countrymen take jobs that American blacks don’t want. But if you look a little closer, you find a disturbing trend of employers giving Latinos preferential hiring over African-Americans. It’s not always that blacks don’t want the jobs.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal story, there’s a “new wave of race-discrimination cases appearing in the workplace: African-Americans who feel they are being passed over for Hispanics.”

According to the story, Donnie Gaut, a black man with 12 years of warehouse experience, applied for a job stocking goods at Farmer John Meats in Los Angeles but was turned down. He decided the problem wasn’t his resume but his race. He filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and, last October, he and six other black applicants who were also rejected for production jobs at Farmer John received a $110,000 settlement.

The EEOC found that the company had been almost exclusively hiring Hispanics for warehouse, packing and production jobs. The company had an all-Hispanic hiring staff and recruited new hires by word of mouth.

Another settlement was secured recently against the Zenith National Insurance Corp., which is based in Woodland Hills, for $180,000 to be divided among 10 blacks who applied for a mailroom job. The job was offered to a Latino man with no mailroom experience, according to the EEOC.

These kinds of settlements, the Journal article points out, mark a shift from years past, when blacks were likely to seek legal action against employers who showed favored treatment toward whites. Now, we have mounting tension between Hispanics and blacks as they compete for resources and job opportunities.

As Latinos grab the attention of marketers and gain political clout, many African-Americans feel that their influence is waning and that the decline is disproportionate and unfair. The tension has now spilled into the workplace. These ominous predictions were echoed earlier in Nicolas C. Vaca’s book, “The Presumed Alliance: The Unspoken Conflict Between Latinos and Blacks and What It Means for America.”

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