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American While BlackAfrican Americans, Immigration, and the Limits of Citizenship$

Niambi Michele Carter

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190053550

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190053550.001.0001

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Lies, Fairytales, and Fallacies

Lies, Fairytales, and Fallacies

Immigration and the Complexity of Black Public Opinion

(p.8) 1 Lies, Fairytales, and Fallacies
American While Black

Niambi Michele Carter

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter introduces the key ideas animating the text. The twin issues of race and nationhood remain a significant part of the conversation regarding black political incorporation and are rendered most visible in the domain of immigration. Blacks have a different perspective of America that is grounded in their peculiar history and experiences with the country and its institutions. The chapter begins by putting forward the major theoretical underpinnings of existing works in black public opinion. In particular, it focuses on the work on interminority relations and lays out the critical interventions of this text. Chapter outlines and a roadmap to the rest of the text are provided.

Keywords:   interminority conflict, interminority coalition, police brutality, whiteness, black/white racial paradigm, immigration

SINCE THE 1990S, there have been a variety of negative, and sometimes hostile, interactions between blacks and immigrants. From California to New York, the cleavages between native-born blacks and immigrants of color are apparent and deep (Kasinitz 1992; Kim 2004; Rogers 2004). For example, the Los Angeles Rebellion of 1992, which stemmed from the acquittal of police officers who brutalized Rodney King, was framed as the manifestation of black anti-Korean sentiment (Kim 1999; Min 1996; Min and Kolodny 1994). Although this conflagration came to encompass a range of the black community’s frustrations, including mistreatment by Korean shop owners, it was also an expression of a long-simmering frustration with the disrespect of black people that long preceded Korean immigration into Los Angeles (Abelman and Lie 1995; Horne 1997).

In 1992, blacks in Los Angeles were awaiting many promised improvements to community parks, and recreation and health centers, which were agreed upon in the wake of the Watts Riots in 1968. Moreover, in March 1991 a black teenager, Latasha Harlins, was murdered by Korean shopkeeper Soon Ja Du, which exacerbated tensions between these communities. Mrs. Du and Ms. Harlins scuffled after Mrs. Du accused Ms. Harlins of shoplifting. As Ms. Harlins was leaving the store, Mrs. Du shot her in the back of the head and killed the teenager; as she lay dying, Latasha clutched the money she was intending to use to pay for the juice she was accused of stealing. Although the murder was caught on camera, Ms. Harlins’ killer received no prison time. Despite being found guilty of manslaughter, Mrs. Du received five years of probation, (p.9) community service, and a $500 fine. This case , which happened approximately two weeks after the Rodney King incident, was largely overlooked as another important precursor to the Los Angeles Rebellion or as an accelerant in black–Korean tensions in that city. Brenda Stevenson’s 2015 book, The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots, offers an important corrective to this conversation. Still, this does not mean blacks were not already frustrated with the influx of Korean immigrant entrepreneurs in their neighborhoods. In the areas of beauty culture, liquor stores, and dry cleaners, Koreans had a virtual monopoly, particularly in poor communities. People believed that immigrants may have received government assistance such as business loans. This, coupled with immigrants’ assumed lack of respect for the local community and unwillingness to hire local blacks all contributed to a complicated set of circumstances leading to 1992. Although it was untrue that immigrants received these rumored tax breaks, it has been shown that immigrants have been able to marshal resources that blacks cannot access to start businesses (Bogan and Darity 2008). Moreover, the belief in some kind of unearned assistance to immigrants was more powerful than the truth, and, given the black community’s experience, the claim of tax breaks being given to immigrant businesses was credible.

In summer 2018, a protest of an Asian-owned nail salon in Brooklyn by its mostly black patrons repeated many of the same tropes of the Los Angeles conflict. That August, a dispute over an eyebrow waxing service gone awry at the New Red Apple Nails devolved into violence. A black woman customer, displeased with her service, refused to pay for her eyebrow wax despite the insistence of the salon staff that she pay for services rendered. What resulted was a brawl where the customer, along with relatives accompanying her, was accosted with broomsticks and other implements around the shop. A video of the clash went viral on social media and spurred a boycott of the Asian-owned business. Amid protests by some black residents and calls for supporting black-owned businesses, much of the historical nuance of this moment was lost. In 1990, also in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, there was an economic boycott of the Family Red Apple store after an altercation where Korean shop owner, Bong Ok Jang, attacked a Haitian patron, Ghiselaine Felaissant, over a financial disagreement. What resulted was a sustained effort by African American, Haitian, and other Caribbean activists calling for blacks to shop where they were respected. In this instance, blacks were portrayed as irrational and hostile, but as Kim (2000) noted, these protests were not (p.10) spontaneous, short-term actions. Rather, they were part of a longer history of activism where “[B]lack collective actors are not mindlessly lashing out at the nearest target but purposefully reacting to the existing parameters of oppression” (p. 12). What is more, Korean immigrants were also active participants in the conflict “because each group’s position is invariably defined in relation to those of other groups.” Stated another way, black conflicts with other groups have a context, and that context usually has something to do with whites—who are often allowed to go unnoticed and unnamed.

Similarly, the murder of Jamiel Shaw II served to demonstrate a different type of danger immigration poses to black people. Mr. Shaw was an accomplished athlete whose football talent made him a prospect for a number of colleges, in his upcoming senior year in high school. On his return from a shopping trip he was confronted by Pedro Espinoza, a gang member, who shot Mr. Shaw after he did not identify a gang affiliation. Mr. Shaw was tended to by his father who was speaking with his son at the time of the shooting; Mr. Shaw’s mother was in Iraq serving her second tour of duty. What made this case more sensational was the fact that Pedro Espinoza was an undocumented immigrant recently released from custody on other violent crimes. The family of Jamiel Shaw II sued the city of Los Angeles for wrongful death because its status as a sanctuary city protected Mr. Espinoza from deportation. Later, the family sought to rescind Special Order 40, an action which, if successful, would have revoked the city’s status as a sanctuary for undocumented persons. Though both efforts by the Shaw family failed, they serve to interrupt the pattern that frames interracial conflict as the result of black aggressors and too often overlooks the role of globalized anti-blackness (Bashi 2004).

These examples allow us to see the longer trajectory of racial skirmishes between blacks and other racial minority groups, many of whom have a more recent immigrant experience. These groups increasingly find themselves in contact with one another and facing zero-sum competition for social, political, and economic services (Sonenshein 1993; Vaca 2004). While the racial conflict in these moments is often mutual, it is more often represented as evidence of racial animus on the part of blacks rather than part of a set of more complex racial dynamics where blacks may feel they are threatened. This book addresses these frequent misreadings of complicated situations or flat-out untruths. I do not believe these characterizations necessarily are ill-intentioned or malicious. Rather, it is much easier to blame black discontent and indignation as (p.11) a source of conflagration rather than to interrogate blacks’ righteous anger about racial (in)justice. And while immigration is not necessarily an injustice perpetrated against black people, it would be disingenuous to take no notice of the ways in which immigration has the potential to harm black people, not because immigrants are bad but because of how the racial order positions different groups and situates their needs and priorities relative to one another (King 2002; King and Smith 2005). In some ways, then, the racial conflicts we see are not anomalous but are quite predictable.

Nonetheless, the “controlling image” of angry, intolerant blacks is an easy trope to accept in a society where blacks have consistently remained at the margins.1 However, this image belies the real frustrations and limited options blacks have for remedying their exclusion, despite their resistances (Kelley 2003). The stereotype of black intolerance has been sufficiently compelling that we have almost stopped asking questions about the racial circumstances that give rise to black attitudes toward immigration and assume blacks are simply unwelcoming. In so doing, we leave white supremacy and the institutionalization of racial hierarchy intact, because it is viewed as past and having little to do with present racial conditions. While the civil rights revolution saw the formal end of Jim Crow, the far more pernicious aspects of this system have been left unquestioned (Carter 2012, 2013; Honig 2001).

The coverage and critiques of police shootings over the years since the murder of Trayvon Martin provide a way for us to understand this phenomenon. From Dallas to Baltimore, police departments have been implicated in the deaths of black men and women. In most cases, the police officers are never charged with any wrongdoing. In the rare cases where charges are filed, convictions are often not forthcoming. Since 2005, only 33 police officers have been convicted of murder for on-duty fatalities, and only 93 have been arrested and charged with manslaughter or murder for on-duty shootings (Silva 2018). In either instance, police departments and the system that enabled these officers to carry weapons and murder nonthreatening people are allowed to pat themselves on the back for acting swiftly to discipline officers. Generally this means placing officers on administrative duty, as happened with Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, who was cleared internally of any wrongdoing in the shooting of Laquan McDonald. It would take over a year before any charges were filed on Officer Van Dyke for the murder of McDonald, and the McDonald case is extremely rare. In cases where officers are deemed unfit to continue (p.12) in their present positions, they are often relocated to other departments. This happened in the case of Cleveland officer Timothy Loehman, who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, and Betty Shelby, the Oklahoma officer who killed an unarmed Terrence Crutcher.2 In any case, the police department gets to look like they have addressed their failings by removing the troubled officers. These public shows of attrition/responsibility locate responsibility with individual officers—not the poor training, personality tests, stopgaps, and all too powerful police unions that allow officers who are unfit for duty to continue on the force. Nor do these examples address the record-keeping policies that allow officers with numerous use-of-force complaints to continue working in the field of law enforcement. The system as it exists does not indict the police officers who lie in order to cover-up the misdeeds of their colleagues on the force. Even in cases where police departments are made to pay settlements, sometimes in the millions of dollars, this does not acknowledge the systemic problem and need to reevaluate a policing culture that has moved from protecting citizens to enforcing the law in a way that paints citizens as the enemy. Rather, settlements effectively are payments that redress wrongs in a way that forestalls deeper conversations about police culture. Once payment is accepted, the tacit agreement is that the wrong has been redressed and no further correction is needed. All of these efforts are ways to preserve a dysfunctional policing culture that serves no one well, including the police officers—but the end goal is not justice. The end goal is to mollify the public by appearing to do something but offering little in the way of substantive change, such that policing culture can proceed unimpeded.

White supremacy operates in much the same way. While individuals are shamed for their individual, racist actions (such as recent incidents of whites calling the police on black people for innocuous behaviors), there is little discussion of the root causes of such behavior.3 Of course, individual insensitivity is part of the issue, but why would anyone feel empowered to use the police in this way? Why would these white people feel they have a right to deny black people access to the same private and public spaces they inhabit? It is because white supremacy normalizes whiteness and its presence everywhere, making automatically suspect those who do not register as white. Therefore, while white people escape blame by placing responsibility on these individual bad actors, we have not asked the really important questions that would lay bare the foundation of white supremacy that these people rest easy upon. The fact that some white people call police with the expectation the police will respond and discipline the offending (p.13) black bodies is the embodiment and exercise of white supremacy. Because in a white supremacist system every institution, including the police force, is there to service “the system of domination by which white people have historically ruled over and, in certain important ways, continue to rule over nonwhite people” (Mills 1997: 1–2). This is not to suggest power is evenly shared across all those people racially identified as white. What it does mean, however, is that whites may not see a difference between their white identities and those of the nation-state. According to Mills, racial identity is inexplicably bound up with space, which must be “normed and raced at the macrolevel (entire countries and continents), the local level (city neighborhoods), and ultimately even the microlevel of the body itself,” which makes those racialized as non-white a danger to whiteness and therefore in need of punishment. To the extent that individuals resist their coerced acquiescence to civil white authority, the police are used as the ultimate enforcers of the whims of white supremacy (Mills 1997: 43–44). The pernicious nature of white supremacy makes it appear that non-whites are in all ways suspect, troublesome, or dangerous when they are outside of white control.

In this way, racial barriers to black inclusion in housing, education, the public sphere, and employment, for example, have made it appear that their exclusion is simply a matter of happenstance. No person, group, or institution was ever responsible for Jim Crow because it was simply “how it was,” and this all changed with a revision of the racial rules. There was no substantive ownership taken for Jim Crow, the institution that systematically bankrupted, undereducated, murdered, disenfranchised, and traumatized black lives. The mythology that Jim Crow was “the law” and that whites were captive adherents to the conventions of their time means that no one is responsible for the horrors of this period. Therefore, racism is bounded and contextualized, much the way we discuss slavery, as being “of the day”; no wrong was really committed, because none of these behaviors was against the law. Therefore, the mythology of racial integration maintains that when segregation laws are lifted and we became officially a post–Jim Crow, colorblind country, those behaviors dissipated because the law changed. The narrative trick that such rewriting does is to make racism the result of individual behaviors or temporary slippages in application of American ideals. Yet, what this deeply unsatisfying narrative never answers is, what about American society made Jim Crow possible?

The answer to that is white supremacy, which is foundational to American identity. Yet, by treating Jim Crow laws as ephemera of a bygone (p.14) era, white Americans do not have to own their participation in, or at least tolerance of, a system that sought the acquiescence of non-white people to notions and practices that support white dominance (Mills 1997). Racial hierarchy where blacks occupy the nadir and whites the apex, and all other groups are figured against both whites and blacks, creates fertile ground for the interracial dustups we have witnessed across time and today.

Consequently, explorations of interminority relationships have omitted whites from their analysis because black/white racial divides are deemed outmoded, particularly as the nation’s demographics suggest a more multiracial America. Thus, white supremacy, and the ways in which it structures interminority relations, continues to wield a lot of power (Anderson 2016; Betancur 2005; Mills 1997). As these calls to move from a biracial to triracial understanding of U.S. race relations become more persuasive, I argue it becomes more difficult to see the ways in which white supremacy conditions black attitudes with respect to immigration, such that black attitudes on immigration are not only about immigration but a referendum on blacks’ progress (Bonilla-Silva 2004; Frank, Akresh, and Lu 2010; Lee and Bean 2007). To wit, I argue black attitudes on immigration are mediated by their understandings of black/white racial relations. That is, the best way to understand black attitude formation on immigration is to be attendant to the workings of whiteness.

This book focuses on the continuing significance of the black/white racial paradigm for understanding black public opinion on immigration. By doing so, this work demonstrates the historical and current importance of unresolved racial conflict with whites and how this informs black public opinion in the domain of immigration. Thus, this work extends the literature and insights on interminority relations by demonstrating how and why race matters in black public opinion on immigration. Additionally, I extend the literature on black politics by offering a theory of black public opinion toward immigration, which is not generally a salient issue or usual part of black political agendas. Although this has started to change, given the current spread of immigration to traditionally black areas and the increased visibility of black immigrants, a gap in the literature remains (Austin 2013; Ha 2010; McClain et al. 2006, 2007, 2011; McKanders 2010).

Black Engagement with Immigration

Although America is legally desegregated, it is far from an integrated body politic. Blacks feel this more acutely in times of increased immigration (p.15) (Borjas 2016; Borjas, Grogger, and Hanson 2006; Greer 2013; Hellwig 1978, 1982; McClain et al. 2006; Tillery 2011). While immigration may provide a net benefit to the nation, there are undoubtedly repercussions felt by the most vulnerable in the face of these new arrivals. Borjas (2016) argues that employer desires to exploit immigrant labor depresses wages for all low-skilled laborers, particularly black and Latino workers. These wages are likely not to rebound—not because of immigrants, but because the availability of more workers depresses wages for everyone. As Borjas states, “[I]mmigration redistributes wealth from those who compete with immigrants to those who use immigrants—from the employee to the employer,” and this competition always leaves employees disadvantaged. Black workers do not need an advanced degree to understand the intricacies of labor exploitation (i.e., enslavement, sharecropping, convict leasing, and prison industries). Thus, when overlooking blacks’ long-standing dialogue about immigration—dating back to pre-emancipation, nineteenth-century America—it becomes a lot easier to characterize the contemporary moment as if it is simply a response to present circumstances (Ferreira 1999; Jenkins 1999; Tillery 2011). Yet, blacks had a great deal to say about incoming Irish immigrants in the 1840s because they were concerned about the potential for their social elevation in the face of these new arrivals. Likewise, they were concerned Chinese Exclusion (1882) set a dangerous precedent in racial politics, even if it potentially meant they could gain a foothold in the economy (Junn 2006; Shankman 1978). Blacks, therefore, were not only concerned with the immigration of others but often considered emigration as a strategy for their racial inclusion in the United States.

Some blacks were so discontented with American racial progress that they considered leaving the United States altogether. While some blacks did emigrate to other countries, most others decided to migrate internally. Still, blacks included themselves among the world’s sojourners. Proponents of black emigration believed a majority-black nation held the potential for social and political mobility because race, a necessary condition of American exclusion, would be lessened.4 As Tillery (2011) notes, this was an extended, and oftentimes contentious, conversation, because blacks were wary of ceding their claims to America and the institutions they helped craft. Part of their reluctance to simply “move on” to the Liberian colony, or some other location, was the idea that people from other nations would be allowed to lay claim to American citizenship even though blacks were integral to forming this nation’s identity. Thus, (p.16) most blacks eschewed the possibility of more freedom abroad in favor of fighting for justice at home. Rather than abdicate their contributions to (European) immigrants and their descendants, they would fight against their ostracism.

Blacks’ intellectual production on this matter has largely been left out of the historical record, and the present moment is often treated as the first time blacks have had an original thought about the issue of immigration. This could not be farther from the truth. With the exception of a few, such as A. Philip Randolph’s anti-immigrant rhetoric rooted in his ideas regarding labor struggle, the larger black community has remained remarkably consistent in their feelings, opinions, and behaviors regarding immigrants of all colors (Carter and Pérez 2015; Diamond 1998; Ferreira 1999; Hellwig 1980; Scott 1999). Blacks have been, and I argue remain, highly ambivalent regarding immigrants (Greer 2013). In the main, blacks believe deeply in the right of all groups of people to self-determination; yet, they are wary that another group’s self-determination will come at their expense socially, politically, or economically—and rightfully so, if one considers the upward trajectory of European immigrants arriving in the United States throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These immigrants surpassed native-born blacks on most measures of well-being (Hershberg et al. 1979; Jacobson 2001; Lott 1992; Parker 2009). Blacks have very real and confirmed fears that whites manipulate immigrants into turning away from potential alliances with blacks for greater social and political gains (Jacobson 2001; Katznelson 2006; Roediger 1999; Yancey 2003). For example, the interracial impetus of the Populist Movement was greatly undermined by the use of racially divisive political maneuvers. These maneuvers kept black and white workers from forming a sustained, organized body around a collective class identity (Roediger 1999).5 Likewise, the importation of “coolie” labor in the South after slavery was a plan devised by white elites to undercut black demands for better labor practices and the expansion of civil rights (Loewen 1988; Quan 2007; Rhee 1994; Wong 1986). In the present, white employers often prefer hiring immigrant employees because they believe they are better workers; white employers also believe that immigrants are easier to exploit than native-born workers because they lack social networks that would enable them to obtain higher wages and more stable employment (Powers 2005; Saucedo 2006).

These examples demonstrate that blacks have a reasonable fear their race will continue to be an impediment in the labor market. Given the (p.17) prevalence of the stereotype that immigrants work harder than native-born blacks, their concerns are not unfounded.6 Employers generally consider black men to be “unstable, uncooperative, dishonest and uneducated” (Kirschenman and Neckerman 1991: 204).7 Similar stereotypes exist for black women, who are often designated as “single mothers” by employers and are more likely to have their job performance assessed negatively (Kennelly 1999).8 Although labor is only one area where blacks have a difficult time reconciling their national identity with their racial identity, it is far from an unusual circumstance (Dawson 2001; DuBois 2003[1903]). The centrality of race to America’s national project as a chief signifier of inclusion and exclusion is well documented (Mills 1997; Nobles 2000; Omi and Winant 1994). That white males came to represent an unqualified membership in the polity and black people either unfit or provisional citizens, at best, is purposeful (Frankenburg 1997; Lipsitz 1995). From 1790 until 1952 “Congress made it a requirement that only ‘white persons’ could become American citizens,” which left anyone not considered white, by whatever definition was in use at the time, without an official status with respect to the U.S. government (Martínez 2007: 336). As a result, whiteness became the chief qualification for membership, and this statute had the effect of deepening the connection between whiteness and Americanness, such that they became virtually synonymous. This is not a matter of hyperbole; experimental work of psychologists Devos and Banaji (2005) across multiple studies demonstrates that individuals see the prototypical American as racially white. What is more, for white respondents with strong national identities they found their racial and national identities to be linked in such a way that identifying as racially white became shorthand for being American. As a consequence of this American=white association, Devos and Banaji found that white foreigners were likely to be considered more American than Asian Americans born in the United States. Altogether, the authors’ findings suggest that America is, at least psychologically, white-identified. Despite the implicit association between whiteness and Americanness, blacks were resistant to this characterization and less likely to subscribe to this notion.

From the end of enslavement throughout most of the twentieth century, the United States was relentless in its efforts to disaffirm black citizenship rights, devising all manner of legal and extralegal devices to prevent blacks from fully participating in the mainstream (i.e., white) public sphere (Brown 1994; Clarke 2008; Franklin 1957, 1972; Kendi 2016; Mabry 1938; Dawson 1994b; Key 1996[1949]; Muhammad 2010; Perman 2001; Reich (p.18) 1996; Woodward 1974). Thus, to be included in the national polity, blacks have had to make repeated demands on the state, as bracketed Americans, to force the United States to move closer to its promise of equality. Yet, many of these efforts were routinely opposed by a majority of whites who came to signify resistance to a more racially just nation (Alderman 2000; Anderson 2016; Hoelscher 2003; Lichtenstein 2006; McMillen 1994; Moye 2004; Wells 2004; Woodward 1993). Although the norm of racial equality is publicly accepted, and overtly racist attitudes have receded, white public opinion remains firmly arrayed against affirmative policies to bring about racial equality in a range of domains (Banks, White, and McKenzie 2018; Clawson and Oxley 2012; Gilens 2000; Hancock 2004; Unnever and Cullen 2007).

I argue that the result of necessary and repeated protest activity on the part of blacks has not only yielded greater political inclusion for them, but has also produced a sense of racial insecurity (Weldon 2011). While it is the case that social movements can expand the representational possibilities of underrepresented groups, it is also the case that in an ideal circumstance, citizens should not have to fight with the state for rights they are due. This is not to suggest that the state should operate unchecked by its citizens. Rather, the allure of a democracy is that the regularity of elections and the like, which is supposed to keep representatives accountable to their constituents for their (in)actions, should also be expected to maintain the mechanisms of that accountability. That blacks have had to fight almost nonstop for the most basic citizenship rights, I argue, has engendered a feeling that they are not full citizens of this country. For blacks, partial civil rights enforcement has been the hallmark of their existence even in the post–Civil Rights Act era. Despite formal declarations, blacks have not enjoyed a full civil rights enforcement regime in this country. And while the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is only 50 years old, the Supreme Court saw fit to essentially gut the legislation that was and is a cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement. The culmination of over a century of black organizing efforts, the VRA mandated federal oversight of designated jurisdictions that repeatedly violated the rights of blacks and other racial minorities by making them pre-clear any changes to the procedures and manner of elections in their jurisdictions. These “covered jurisdictions” had to be accountable for the ways in which their voting procedures might hinder the voting rights of groups that had experienced discrimination in the decades prior to the VRA. In the election of 2016, the gutting of the VRA led to a number of states enacting legislation to (p.19) suppress black votes. According to the Brennan Center, in 2016, fourteen states added more voter restrictions in anticipation of the presidential election. These voter restrictions continued into 2017 and 2018 with legislatures in Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, and Texas, to name a few, either strengthening voting laws on the books or enacting new voter restrictions (Brennan Center for Justice 2017). In 2018, on the cusp of a historic election in Georgia where the first black woman, Stacey Abrams, could be elected governor, her opponent Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, oversaw the purge of black voters in an attempt to win the election. What is more, Kemp refused to step down from office before the election and was caught on tape lamenting Abrams’ get-out-the-vote efforts, saying, “if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote” it would be harmful to his campaign. This would not have been noteworthy if Kemp and his office had not been in control of the time and manner of elections. To date, his office has rescinded over 50,000 voter registrations, mostly by black applicants, and purged over 100,000 voters from the election rolls (Smith 2018). This type of behavior does not engender trust in American electoral institutions, and it is also totally predictable when one considers the arc of black politics in the United States. Malcolm X in his “Ballot or the Bullet” speech of 1964, on the eve of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Act, best captured this sensibility. He said:

Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American. Why, if birth made you American, you wouldn’t need any legislation; you wouldn’t need any amendments to the Constitution; you wouldn’t be faced with civil-rights filibustering in Washington, D.C., right now. They don’t have to pass civil-rights legislation to make a Polack an American.

Because black rights have been severely curtailed and in some cases outright denied by agents of the state, either through direct or indirect means, blacks cannot rest easily on their citizenship to serve as a mark of difference between “us and them” (Kinder and Kam 2010). If we subscribe to the view of Malcolm X, the fact that blacks have had to be incorporated into the body politic through legislation does not seem to work very well; it is evidence they are not American, nor were they intended to be. In the area of voting, which is supposed to be a guarantee of citizenship, we see the limits of black national identity. The actions described above are not (p.20) simply a matter of civil rights enforcement but part of an established pattern to deny black people their rights as American citizens.

Collective Memory and Black Attitude Formation

The collective memory and experience of black people has repeatedly demonstrated that being an American does not prevent one from being made an outsider within one’s own country (Walters 2012). Although America has confirmed that it can and does yield to the demands of excluded groups, it does not acquiesce easily or completely to such demands (Weldon 2011). The political import of immigration in this century is once again forcing blacks to evaluate how race impedes their ability to fully enjoy the benefits of citizenship, conferred by birthright, as Americans.

This need to rearticulate a black political agenda in the face of immigration was clear in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as European immigration reached unprecedented levels. Immigrants, mainly from Italy and Ireland, faced a number of circumstances reminiscent of that of blacks. Although these immigrants were allowed into the country because of the nebulous “free white persons” clause in U.S. immigration policy, their presence was not greeted with enthusiasm on the part of native-born whites (Guglielmo 2003; Ignatiev 1996; Knobel 1996; Warren and Twine 1997). In many respects, early Southern and Eastern European arrivals were not held in any higher esteem than their black counterparts (Gleeson 2001; Jacobson 2001; Barrett and Roediger 1999; Roucek 1969). Racial and cultural stereotypes often classed these immigrants as only one step above black people. As a result, it was thought that such immigrants would only be able to be partial citizens because they lacked the capacity for self-governance.9 Yet, these European immigrants moved from being undesirables to whiteness10 in fairly short order. The inclusion of European immigrants was predicated, at least in part, on their willingness to adopt racially prejudicial attitudes toward blacks (Jacobson 2001; Lott 1992; Roediger 1999).

Thus, new immigrant groups who were eager to be accepted as mainstream white Americans were granted admission based on their distancing themselves from blacks, some of whom tried to forge allegiances with their downtrodden European brethren (Ferreira 1999; Shankman 1980). In the Irish, particularly, blacks saw the potential for an alliance because of their shared histories of oppression (Black 2010). Intellectuals like (p.21) Frederick Douglass felt this cross-racial cooperation would be beneficial to both groups, because they could seek to resolve their mutual woes. Unfortunately, such hopes went unrealized as immigrants traded these connections for white acceptance. As Douglass (1892) noted, “The Irish, who, at home, readily sympathize with the oppressed everywhere, are instantly taught when they step upon our soil to hate and despise the Negro. They are taught to believe that he eats the bread that belongs to them. The cruel lie is told them, that we deprive them of labor and receive the money which would otherwise make its way into their pockets . . . He will find that in assuming our avocation, he has also assumed our degradation . . . Every hour sees us elbowed out of some employment to make room for some newly-arrived immigrant from the Emerald Isle, whose hunger and color entitle him to special favor . . . while a ceaseless enmity in the Irish is excited against us” (pp. 366–367). This wave of immigration was instructional for blacks. It demonstrated the strength of white supremacy to adapt to changing circumstances and coopt the “near white,” who were previously harmed by white supremacist practice, in an effort to perpetuate white dominance at the expense of blacks (Bonilla-Silva 2004).11 The ability to access the hegemony promised by white supremacy undermined the possibility of interracial collaboration and made it clear that whiteness would remain a more powerful motivator than justice. As such, assimilation to whiteness, as a sign of becoming American, was a hurdle blacks would never be able to clear.

That newcomers would be able to access levers of social mobility routinely denied black people was clear evidence that blacks were not believed to be real Americans; although they were born in this country, and their ancestors contributed to its development with free labor, their constitutional rights as citizens had limited practical value (Mills 1997; Smith 1997). Race made it nearly impossible for blacks to enjoy most immunities and protections granted by the Constitution because whites were routinely allowed to encroach on their civil rights and liberties. Still, blacks reasoned they should at least have a primary claim to inclusion in the body politic over European immigrants because they were natural born citizens (Rubin 1978). Yet, such claims fell on deaf ears as blacks watched themselves being pushed further outside of the public sphere in favor of European immigrants, who became assimilated into whiteness in a relatively short span (Jacobson 2001).

This post-1840 period of immigration underscored the potential for American inclusiveness as well as the depths of white supremacy and the (p.22) limits it placed on its black citizenry. As Jim Crow laws stiffened nationally, U.S. borders were relaxed. Although blacks did not expect they would soon become favored citizens, the incorporation of European immigrants did suggest the kinds of benefits they could hope for when their time came. Decent neighborhoods, civil service employment, union-protected jobs, and other trappings of a middle-class existence that immigrants could access were things blacks expected to be available to them once they were politically incorporated. By all indicators of the time, such as lynching, rampant disenfranchisement, and various black codes,12 blacks’ hopes for the future seemed dim, but they believed in the promise of America (DuBois 1918, 1929; Mills 1997).

Despite some very convincing reasons why blacks should be restrictionist in their immigration preferences, they have not historically supported efforts to curb immigration to the United States (Diamond 1998). Generally speaking, immigration has not made it into blacks’ top issues (Pew Research Center 2010). Prior to 1965, given the ever-present issue of racial segregation, it makes sense that immigration would not be at the fore of a black political agenda. Yet, even in the contemporary moment when blacks are asked about their top issues, the issue of immigration is generally not among them. According to a Gallup poll from July 2013, healthcare and unemployment were the main issues they felt confronted their group. Furthermore, blacks are the most dissatisfied with their treatment in American society of any minority group and still feel it is necessary to have the U.S. government enforce their civil rights. At the same time, less than ten percent of blacks polled felt immigration was an important issue. This is significant because this book is about black public opinion on immigration, but by my own admission, immigration is not a salient issue for blacks. Nevertheless, immigration gives us a way to think about how blacks use their race to form (racial) opinions about national belonging.

Because of their second-class citizenship status, national identity became subsumed by race as the operational identity for blacks because it was the key determinant of their social, political, and economic status (Gaines 1996; Shingles 1981). This does not mean that being black meant that one did not see themselves as American; the fact that blacks continued to engage all mechanisms at their disposal for greater social and political incorporation suggests they felt entitled to citizenship. It is also the case that their exclusion enabled African Americans to survive periods of the most severe disenfranchisement and mount effective challenges (p.23) to discrimination domestically as well as internationally (Andrews 2004; Gill 2004; McAdam 1999; Nunnally 2012; Price 2009; Ransby 2003; Von Eschen 1997; Weare 1973). Because blacks had to create a counterpublic, they were able to create organizations, institutions, and industries that served and sustained their communities (Dawson 1994b). This resulted in a duality of black life as both black and American (Brown and Shaw 2002). Dubbed “two warring ideals” by DuBois, the tension did not result from identity politics, which is sometimes assailed as a kind of tribalism that makes integration impossible. Rather, the duality DuBois describes is the result of a white supremacy that defines blackness as a problem to be solved. For DuBois, and many others, the quest for black people is to have a country where it is “possible for a man [sic] to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face” (DuBois, [2003]1903: 2–3). Unfortunately, this desire to be full citizens remains elusive for many blacks, yet they persist in enforcing their rights claims by using every available means to hold America accountable (Weldon 2011).

Whose America? Whose Immigration?

My argument in this book is straightforward. I assert that blacks use the issue of immigration as a way to articulate their feelings about the failures of the nation-state to address their needs and incorporate them as full members of the citizenry. I theorize black opinion on immigration, therefore, is mediated by their sensibility about their lack of belonging in the body politic. More importantly, I posit that blacks view immigration through the lens of the black/white racial paradigm and are ambivalent with respect to immigration. I term this ambivalence conflicted nativism. Conflicted nativism comes from a sensibility that immigration will potentially harm black progress, but immigration should not be restricted, because white supremacy, not immigration, is what ultimately harms black social mobility. In short, what blacks seek is full inclusion in the public sphere, and immigration represents a potential barrier to that inclusion. I argue that this is different from anti-immigrant sentiment. Rather, it is a rational response to the myriad ways in which white supremacy has coopted those who are not black into the racial matrix in such a way as to keep blacks at the nadir of the racial order. Therefore, blacks are not anti-immigrant but anti–white supremacy. The problem is that there are few ways to articulate this position and express it succinctly. (p.24) Consequently, immigration serves as a vehicle for grievances against the white supremacy that orders American society. This does not mean blacks are monolithic in their feelings about immigration or immigrants; in the main, however, blacks do not organize or support anti-immigration campaigns.

The twin issues of race and nationhood remain a significant part of the conversation regarding black political incorporation and are rendered most visible in the domain of immigration. Blacks have a different perspective of America that is grounded in their peculiar history and experiences with this country and its institutions (Carter and Pérez 2015). Therefore, these simultaneous feelings of belonging as Americans and being excluded as blacks cannot be divorced from attempts to craft a vision of an inclusive American national identity for the black community vis-à-vis immigration. I contend that to approach these issues, one has to appreciate the legacy of black/white racial dynamics that shape the (racial) boundaries of this belonging (Holland 2012). Black responses to immigration stem from an interconnected yet tortured history, with race and national belonging related to their marginalization as Americans and their unreconciled feelings toward whites. For blacks, there is no “moving beyond” race, because America has yet to deal with the lived consequences of its racial order in the lives of black people (Carter and Dowe 2015; Shams 2015; King and Smith 2005).13

Black People, Black Identities: Theorizing a Black Body Politic

Although we have greatly enhanced the theoretical and practical understandings of black politics in the decades since the VRA (1965), the literature on black politics is just beginning to address the new racial realities blacks are living with as a result of new waves of immigration (Greer 2013; McClain et al. 2006, 2009; Rogers 2006). Because of an increase in non-European immigration beginning in the post-1965 period, blacks reside in a country increasingly dominated by non-black minorities. Furthermore, because of these new racial realities, the language of displacement has come to signify much of the conversation around blackness in recent decades.14 Indeed, Latinos frequently have been described as America’s “new” minority set to “dominate” or “displace” blacks as America’s largest, most powerful minority group.15

(p.25) Per the decennial census, blacks are no longer the most numerically dominant minority group in the United States.16 Much of the conversation around minority politics has shifted to discussing Latino and Asian immigrants as important members of political coalitions in deciding elections.17 Yet, the complicated political lives of blacks have come to occupy a lesser part of this conversation because blacks vote overwhelmingly as Democrats and have seemingly been “figured out” by the political establishment. In much the same way that blacks have come to be treated as ubiquitous in political discussions, the theoretical conversation has seemed to transcend them. Black/white racial dynamics that had been emblematic of the American racial struggle seem to have fallen from public discourse. Increasingly, scholars and others suggest there needs to be more of a focus on other minority communities who are neither black nor white (Bonilla-Silva 2004; Delgado 1997; Martínez 2007; Perea 1997; Wu 2003). In short, discussions of black people and black/white racial dynamics seem to be passé in popular discourse. Because blacks are seen as more commonplace and have seemingly been supplanted by other groups on the rise, their space in the racial conversation seems to have become less certain as American race relations have become more complex.

Because of the demographic changes wrought by immigration, some scholars suggest we need to refocus our understandings of race so they are less focused on the experiences of blacks (Feagin 2010; Mutua 1999). Along with this post-black racial conversation, the black/white paradigm seems to be treated as less relevant in discourses around race, a relic of a time that no longer exists and with limited applicability to this moment. How, then, do we talk about the black/white racial dyad in a changing America? To my mind, this paradigm has been unresolved and under-addressed for the sake of political expedience. As a result, the black/white paradigm has been ignored in plain sight, but black people have not given up on this paradigm for understanding their embodiment in this America. I contend the black/white dynamic remains a significant interpretative framework for understanding the contours of racial relationships in the contemporary United States. Blacks are the foil for whiteness (Bonnett 1998; Hartigan 1997; Lipsitz 1995; Wiegman 1999). They were the psychic backdrop upon which an idea of whiteness became visible. Thus, (white) America is rendered visible, in part, because of the uses and misuses of black bodies that became animating forces for a number of America’s most significant inventions, such as anti-miscegenation laws, the war on drugs, and mass incarceration. All these efforts came to define the ideal citizen (p.26) through the systematic dehumanization of black people, perpetuated by legal and extralegal institutions (Carter 2012, 2013; Feimster 2009; Hodes 1993; Wiegman 1995). Thus, it is an understatement to say the struggles represented by the black/white racial dynamic are an indelible part of the American fabric (Mills 1997). As Holland (2011) observes, “the way in which we understand how racism manifests itself is through a black/white example that belies very static, but necessary, repetitious reading of racist practice,” such that we have not transcended the black/white paradigm but have continued to perfect it (p. 8). By extension, this book claims that black people read immigration as an addition to their struggle (with whites) for inclusion and recognition in the public sphere.

On the one hand, black people read immigration as an act of self-determination, which they appreciate. Much of the black diaspora’s struggles can be characterized as a quest to be fully agentic beings and wresting control of their lives from oppressive forces (Bashi 1998, 2004; Carmichael and Hamilton 1967; Gaines 1996; Von Eschen 1997; Sawyer 2006; Tillery 2011). Domestically, blacks have fought strenuously for the right to move freely in this space both metaphorically and in actuality. Blacks fought against an America that curtailed their abilities to decide their community and individual needs. The long fight against Jim Crow was about liberating black people so they could progress economically, socially, and politically. The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, for example, was about the ability to use public conveyances, literal movers of black bodies, in a way that honored their humanity (McAdam 1999). Black people wanted the freedom to not only move through their city unmolested on public transportation, but to also be fully actualized beings. Thus, the buses were symbolic of the many strictures that prevented black people from realizing their full potentiality. Self-determination has long been recognized by black people as the true marker of a liberated life and absolutely constitutive of a fully human experience. It was an experience explicitly denied most blacks until the official dismantling of Jim Crow in 1965, and one that many argue remains elusive (Coates 2015; Cole and Omari 2003; Franklin 1992; Hochschild 1996; McAdam 1999).18

On the other hand, blacks are also wary of what newcomers’ posture will be toward their group, because immigration has often retarded their social progress. This is not because immigrants are malicious, but because they are self-interested in their own assimilation and often have achieved it at the expense of blacks. Whether these groups meant to hurt (p.27) blacks is immaterial; white supremacy is immune to intention. Harming black people is a core dictate of this social institution. The end goal of white supremacy is white dominance, and that is only achieved through squelching those who reside on the boundaries of whiteness. Therefore, the only way for these groups to assimilate was to distance themselves from black people by being complicit in the oppression of black people. Thus, the rules of white supremacy have been such that to be associated with blackness has meant the social death of said group. Consequently, the extent to which a group can separate themselves from the stigma of blackness has correlated with increased social success.

By casting their lots with whites, immigrants could hope to gain some semblance of acceptance. This does not mean these groups, like Asians, necessarily thought of themselves as white. However, it does mean the newly arriving were relatively quick to discern that being viewed as closer to whites could vastly improve their social condition. As such, blacks have witnessed many groups achieve greater successes in fairly short order, while their community continues to occupy the lowest rungs of the racial hierarchy. Thus, the black community, despite its history in the United States, has never achieved the level of integration one might expect given their length of residence in this country.

Therefore, for black people, and those interested in understanding them, it is necessary to recognize that it is not simply a matter of moving beyond black and white. Black people are an essential part of the racial conversation and feel the need to assert their centrality into ongoing racial discourse so as to not be ignored, redefined, and/or swallowed by dialogues that would eschew their significance in American racial discourse. Moreover, much of the racial story for black people comes back to their contentious relationship with white people. It seems counterintuitive to write a book about immigration where whites feature so prominently, but that is because whites, as shorthand for white supremacy, are still prominent in the minds of blacks as they consider their racial condition (Feagin 2010; Hacker 2003; Massey and Denton 1993; Walters 2009). Immigration is a way blacks can articulate their ongoing distrust of whites and their political motives (Gay 2002; Nunnally 2012; Tate 2003). Therefore, the issue of immigration is not about immigrants per se. Rather, for black people it is about the maintenance of white supremacy and the ongoing neglect of black concerns.

Keeping this in mind demonstrates why immigration is such a useful lens through which to engage black public opinion on race. (p.28) Because immigration neither has been fully theorized nor has it been explored greatly in social science literature with respect to black people, it is ripe to demonstrate the conflicting feelings blacks have about themselves and their relationship to the nation. In particular, this work seeks to (re)assert the importance of the black/white racial paradigm for black public opinion formation. While scholars such as Masuoka and Junn (2013), Kim (2000), Betancur (2005), and Jennings (1994) demonstrate the importance of the black/white racial paradigm, the push to move beyond black/white understandings of race seem to dismiss the centrality of this formative relationship to how black people think about the world—even as that world is becoming more racially complex. Despite the important cues yielded by these works, few have taken up the significance of whites in the literature of interminority relations. In general, studies of interminority relations have looked at the racial demographics on the ground and observed that American cities are increasingly populated by blacks and other minorities.19 Because of white flight, a lack of black mobility, and immigration, America’s urban centers are increasingly non-white. Despite the negligible presence of white people in these spaces, the degree to which white supremacy continues to structure the relationships among minority communities cannot be underestimated.

Theories of Interminority Relations: Coalition, Competition, or Something Else?

The topic of interminority relations came to the fore as the racial demographics changed and America’s urban centers were populated primarily by racial and ethnic minorities. As the diversity of America’s urban centers increased in the 1970s because of immigration from Asia and Latin America, accompanied by white flight, researchers began to look at the relationships between minority groups (Bobo and Gilliam 1990; Eisenger 1973; Schuman, Steeh, Bobo, and Krysan 1997; Sigelman, Bledsoe, Welch, and Combs 1996). These demographic changes fundamentally altered the substance of urban minority life, which was increasingly characterized by frequent contact between and among people of color (Fong 1998). This ushered in a bevy of new studies that sought to examine the nature and structure of interminority relationships. These studies generally took two forms as researchers sought to locate either coalition or competition between racial/ethnic groups.

(p.29) I first turn to coalition theories of interminority politics. After the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement and other similar social justice campaigns, a cadre of researchers began their work from the belief that experience with racial prejudice and discrimination would bring groups of color together. Because of familiarity with the joint practices of discrimination and exclusion, they theorized, groups of color had something in “common,” which was the necessary adhesive for minority electoral coalitions (Fong 1998). Because none of the groups were numerically powerful enough to wrest power from the ruling white elite, they needed to coordinate their efforts to achieve greater political incorporation in America cities, particularly depending on the racial composition of the setting (Hero and Tolbert 1996). Thus, the common wisdom was that one’s group was connected to other minorities excluded from the public sphere, and that minority groups would be compelled to work together.

In some instances authors indeed found coalitions to be the preferred electoral strategy of minority groups (Browning, Marshall, and Tabb 2002). As a result of being (numerical) minorities politically, economically, and socially, groups of color coordinated their efforts to achieve greater sociopolitical incorporation. This was especially true in local political contests. The 1973 election of Tom Bradley as mayor of Los Angeles was a great example of a successful minority coalition. Elected with the help of the Latino, Asian American, African American, as well as liberal Jewish communities, Bradley demonstrated the possibilities of interminority cooperation (Sonenshein 1993). And in cities as diverse as Denver, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Antonio, coalitions did help minorities win mayoral elections (Muñoz and Henry 1986, 1990; Perry 2003).

Coalition studies yielded mixed results, more often than not revealing cleavages between minority groups. This presented a major challenge in the accompanying theory that often did not designate or consider the circumstances under which coalitions would cease to be desirable. One of the critiques of coalition theories highlighted the fact that coalitions were often short-lived (Kadushin et al. 2005). In the case of Los Angeles, the broad-based coalition that was assembled by Bradley, and ultimately elected him to the office of mayor, quickly dissipated in the face of a contest over a vacant council seat. The presence of this council seat upset the racial balance the Bradley coalition had worked diligently to devise (Sonenshein 1993). So while a cross-racial coalition did form, it was unable to sustain itself when scarce benefits, like a council seat, were up for grabs. Race mattered in these instances, and scholars of coalition studies did not offer (p.30) a variegated account of the ways in which different minority groups experienced (white) racism and how this led to different needs and expectations of the government (Falcon 1988; Meier and Stewart 1991). Therefore, in instances where minority groups disagreed, coalition scholars usually defaulted to discussions of lack of leadership (Kaufmann 2003).

The appeal of coalitions was to come from this sense of shared minority status. A critical oversight of this theory was that it did not account for the highly contextual and uneven nature of America’s racial project (Jacobson 2001; C.J. Kim 1999; Omi and Winant 1994). Racial groups were sorted differently in the racial hierarchy with respect to whites as well as one another (Bonilla-Silva 2004; C.J. Kim 1999; J.Y. Kim 1999; Saito 1998; Song 2004). Therefore, the (occasional) ruptures in minority relationships should have been anticipated, because the aims and objectives of these groups were highly dependent on the respective group’s place in the American racial hierarchy. In these instances it was clear that minority group status had the potential to bring groups together as well as tear them apart (Fong 1998).

As scholars began to take seriously the proposition that coalition was as likely an outcome as competition, they began to look again at this idea of shared minority status—a cornerstone of the literature. For example, Kaufmann (2003) found “to the extent Latinos saw their social, economic and political opportunities tied to the status of minorities generally in the United States, the more likely they are to participate in minority led political coalitions” (p. 200). A sense of commonality enabled unity amid diversity in these communities and is indicative of the potential for mass-based coalitions between blacks and Latinos. Sanchez reinforced this finding, arguing that Latinos with a high degree of consciousness feel they have more in common with blacks. Although this does not necessarily mean automatic coalitions will form, it provides the raw material for these coalitions. This is particularly true for those Latinos who believe discrimination is a major problem for them. Still, there are significant subnational differences with respect to Latino feelings of commonality with blacks (Kaufmann 2003; Masuoka 2006; Sanchez and Masuoka 2010).

The fragility of political coalitions was made all the more apparent by intraminority tensions that cropped up in American cities, which led scholars to formulate alternative visions of interminority relations beyond the “coalition-first” model (Cheng and Espiritu 1989). Scholars, realizing the stress placed on urban resources as a result of economic recession, identified several reasons for interminority conflict: competition for (p.31) limited resources, perceived association with the dominant group, and interminority prejudice.

Those studying interminority conflict from a resource-dependent perspective borrowed largely from the early work of Hubert Blalock (1967), who developed his conflict framework by studying the relationship between whites and blacks. According to Blalock (1967), competition arises in moments where there are multiple groups competing for restricted capital. The result of this competition is that one group’s success retards the ability of the other group to access that resource.

In the realm of education Meier, McClain, Polinard, and Wrinkle (2004), in a cross-national comparison of multiracial school districts, examined the limited resources of administrators and teachers. Because these positions are in restricted supply, they are inherently competitive, and gains for one group will result in losses for the other; by default, groups are in zero-sum competition for these jobs. Furthermore, the authors found that when one group gains politically on the school board, their share of jobs in educational administration increases. Because jobs in educational administration are political, “African American school board members are positively associated with more African American administrators, and Latino board members are similarly associated with more Latino administrators” (Meier et al. 2004: 404). Additionally, the authors found evidence that board members support members of their own race/ethnicity while blocking the appointments of administrators not of their group. Still, a significant part of the competition story is the degree to which one can share in limited resources (i.e., city council seats) and the extent to which a group is a desirable coalition partner.

With respect to the former issue, in The Presumed Alliance, Vaca (2004) outlines the contours of Latino/black relationships in the twenty-first century where, for the first time in U.S. history, Latinos outnumber blacks as the predominant minority group. Instead of being a catalyst for greater cooperation between these groups, these new demographics have incited and heightened underlying tensions between them as they find themselves in increasing competition for finite social, economic, and political resources.

To illustrate, in his discussion of Compton, Vaca (2004) acknowledged the racial history of the city where whites exercised a great deal of power, which they used to exclude blacks from the city’s governmental structure. Because of black activism, they eventually would become part of the city government in Compton. Rather than view this history as informing the (p.32) politics of blacks in post–Civil Rights Act Compton, Vaca (2004) framed black conflict with Latinos as an irrational, unrelenting fear of Latino dominance. One of the main issues with this work is that Vaca took inherently zero-sum competitive situations and discussed them as if competition were a surprising outcome. In arenas like local elections, the competition that ensues is not necessarily the result of some deep rift between the groups. Although interracial animosity can be a culprit, competition is a rather “natural” outcome borne of the zero-sum situation and the limited resources at stake.

The history of exclusion that blacks fought against to gain positions in the Compton government is what informed their efforts, though problematic, to retain their share of power in the city. However, Vaca (2004) did not address this possibility; instead, he framed the issue as anti-Latino racism on the part of blacks and effectively left whites out of the analysis. By doing so, he missed the fundamental importance of whites who erected barriers to black inclusion, and how that informed black resistance. Blacks in Compton were not automatically anti-Latino as much as they were opposed to the potential of their group’s regression into political impotence as Latinos increased their demands for representation.20 This type of misreading of the racial landscape elides the ways in which racial inequality differentially sorts racial groups into social, political, and economic strata. As such, choices made by earlier generations of whites inform the ways in which blacks understand their circumstances in the present. Thus, the institutional rules that foster racial conflict in the contemporary moment have been nurtured in an environment of past and ongoing racial discrimination against blacks, where whites still occupy the top of the racial order. Thus, blacks are concerned about what this will mean for their group and their ability to maintain the political representation they fought for not long ago, but now see being eroded.

Although blacks and Latinos have combined efforts to achieve greater inclusion in a variety of contexts, fundamental differences over how this inclusion is supposed to look often have overwhelmed attempts at consensus building (de La Garza 1997). Efforts at coalition building have been further hampered by citizenship. Despite being intersecting conversations, issues of race and citizenship have complicated coalition efforts (Ancheta 1998; Kim 1999; Singh 2005). While blacks have consistently sought to fully realize their rights as American citizens, the lack of citizenship for Latinos, as well as some segments of the Asian community, has been a barrier to formal electoral activities such as voting. (p.33) Therefore, in Asian and Latino communities, naturalization, voter registration, and voting have presented substantial obstacles to inclusion in political coalitions with African Americans; without formal institutional power, these communities are viewed as unnecessary, or at least provisional (but not full) coalition partners (Pastor and Marcelli 2003).21 In instances where Latinos may dominate numerically, these numbers have not necessarily translated into greater political representation as has been the case for African Americans (Vaca 2004).

Nevertheless, during many of the moments of interminority conflict, focus is on the race of the minorities involved in the immediate conflict (i.e., blacks and Latinos in the agricultural sector) rather than focusing on the racially discriminatory macro-organization of communities that constrains the available group interactions that could predict such negative outcomes. Whites seemingly have no influence on the relationship between racial minority group members. By framing moments of interminority conflict without reference to the legacy of white racism, we lose sight of the larger issues of systematic racial discrimination that inhibit the political, social, and economic inclusion of minority group members (Betancur 2005).

This book focuses on the continuing significance of the black/white racial paradigm for understanding black public opinion on immigration. By doing so, this work demonstrates the historical and current importance of unresolved racial conflict with whites and how this informs black public opinion in the domain of immigration. Thus, this work extends the literature and insights on interminority relations by demonstrating how and why race matters in black public opinion on immigration. Additionally, I extend the literature on black politics by offering a theory of black public opinion toward immigration, which is not an issue considered a salient or usual part of a larger black political agenda. Although this has started to change, given current demographic circumstances, there is still a gap in this literature.

Colorblindness and Its Discontents

Viewing blacks as triumphant over slavery and racial injustice on the one hand, and as insecure American citizens on the other hand, allows us to think differently about the narrative of black political incorporation versus that of immigrant groups, who are often wrongly compared to blacks. The disappearance of many formal barriers to equality has not led to a (p.34) more open racial climate for blacks (Singh 2005). In fact, the continued presence of discrimination in the absence of a formal system of laws and practices á la Jim Crow has left blacks, and others, without a terminology to articulate opposition to inequality in an allegedly colorblind America (Omi and Winant 1994; Singh 2005). Colorblindness assumes that because official racism has been deemed illegal, people will no longer discriminate. Because formal Jim Crow policies, overturned by civil rights legislation, are often treated as racism’s only form, many assume racism neither changes nor adapts to new circumstances. Where racism is found, it is treated as an individual action taken against another rather than a systemic problem (Bonilla-Silva 2006, 2015; Kinder and Sanders 1996; Sears 1988; Sidanius and Pratto 2001; Sniderman and Carmines 1997). As a result, the colorblind perspective does not acknowledge group-centered processes of racism and discrimination; in fact, they simply do not exist under its hegemony.

Therefore, under the prevailing ideology of colorblindness, group-based remedies are difficult to secure, and the usual way to deal with incidents of racism is to punish the offending individual rather than seek out root causes supporting this type of behavior. As a result, programs such as affirmative action and other forms of group-based redress are viewed skeptically at best and dangerous at worst, alternatively classified as “welfare” favoring undeserving minorities and “reverse racism” for harming deserving whites.

Under colorblindness, racism only exists in the minds of those who see themselves as victims, not as an objective fact. Consequently, what appears to be the result of race—poverty, infant mortality, and high rates of incarceration—is explained in nonracial terms by the (unwise) choices individuals make. Witnessing the rollback of hard-won gains of the Civil Rights Movement, such as the dismantling of affirmative action throughout the 1990s and the recent attacks on the VRA (1965), has done little to assuage black fears of their own exclusion. As such, nationhood and its ultimate symbol—citizenship—are cold comfort for blacks who fear downward mobility in the presence of newcomers (Collins 2001; Estes 2005; Gay 2006; Singh 2005). This is particularly true because whites are viewed as conspirators in black failures. In spheres such as employment and politics, whites strategically and maliciously used immigrants to undercut black social progress (Powers 2005; Shankman 1978).

My theory of conflicted nativism argues that African Americans shift their opinions on immigration through the lens of persistent, state-sanctioned (p.35) discrimination, subjugation, and black/white racial conflict. Blacks claim preference in the sociopolitical environment on the basis of their American citizenship, despite their misgivings about their obviously disadvantaged status in the racial hierarchy (Blumer 1958; Bobo and Hutchings 1996). Blacks, however, see themselves as appreciably different from non-citizens or newly minted citizens because the stigma of blackness has not allowed them the social mobility that has been granted generations of immigrants (Bashi 2004; Frazier 1997; Tolnay and Beck 1992; Tolnay and Eichenlaub 2007). Examining the data concerning health, wealth, and poverty among African Americans, it is clear that the rising tide of American prosperity has not lifted their ships (Bell 1993; Carr and Kutty 2008). For example, black infant mortality rates are among the highest in the United States (MacDorman and Matthews 2011; Singh and Yu 1995). Furthermore, a majority of blacks continue to experience discrimination (Schuman et al. 1997), maintain high levels of unemployment (Farley 1987; McKinnon 2003; Williams and Jackson 2000), face overwhelming levels of incarceration and the consequences therein (Foster and Hagan 2009; Manza and Uggen 2006; Pettit and Western 2004), and make up a substantial portion of America’s poor (Harrington 1997; DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Smith 2010).

My theory of conflicted nativism aids in our understanding of how—in a time of greater visibility and increasing social and political prominence—there remains a continuing sense of exclusion among blacks, especially in the face of new immigrants of color. As such, my research demonstrates that black public opinion with respect to immigration is less hostile and more uncertain than previously thought, and it very much remains shaped by concerns about the distinct racial context of the United States that has traditionally pitted whites against blacks (Telles 1999).

A central problem with coalition and competition theories of interminority relations is that they betray the complexity of black attitudes and ignore the historical realities of black experiences with immigration. Although this book does not seek to discard these theories—they have much to offer and are indeed an important part of the book’s narrative—it does stage a theoretical intervention by incorporating the critical insights yielded by black politics and interminority relations to demonstrate the importance of memory and experience in black attitude formation, which are not typically applied to the issue of immigration (Harris-Lacewell 2004; Nunnally 2012; Tillery 2012; Walters 2009; Walton 1994). Nunnally (2012), for example, demonstrated that social trust, both interracially and (p.36) intraracially, is learned from one’s elders. This transmission of racial norms is learned, in part, through interactions with racial groups that have been stigmatized in American society. Similarly, Harris-Lacewell (2004) demonstrates the ways in which black people talk about race in their social spaces. By moving the focus from elites to average black people, Harris-Lacewell found a diverse, sophisticated expression of black ideologies. In both of these texts, it is social interactions with other black people in black communities that help black people identify racial inequality and provide the tools for negotiating the social and political world they inhabit. This book takes these critical insights and treats immigration as part of a larger black political agenda through which blacks to air their grievances with their unsatisfactory status in America’s racial hierarchy.

Through this text, I address the nexus between race and American identity and offer the following research questions: How does race influence black public opinion on immigration? How, if at all, do blacks leverage their national identity in formulating these opinions? What is the best way to understand black public opinion? Can we attribute blacks’ public opinion in the present to their historical experience of discrimination? How do contemporary experiences with discrimination affect their opinions on immigration? Lastly, how do blacks reconcile their racial and national identities?

I will address these issues in the following chapter, which looks at the role of national identity in black understandings of immigration. Conceptually, this chapter provides the theoretical underpinnings of the text as Chapter 2 highlights the continuing import of blacks’ recent history of struggle for staking out a position on the issue of immigration. It is my argument that black attitudes are best characterized as “conflicted nativist” in their orientation. This means blacks express some nationalistic proclivities toward immigration, but are more concerned with highlighting their anxieties about the ongoing importance of anti-black discrimination as the real key to black exclusion. In this way, this book is not about any particular national or ethnic group; it is about using immigration as a lens to interrogate the complexity of black opinion in an issue area not commonly associated with a black political repertoire.


(1.) The term controlling image was originally coined by Patricia Hill Collins to explain the outsider status of black women. Collins’ term assists in our understanding of the myriad ways in which those in power use stereotypes of black women to define the cultural value of this marginalized group. The power of these images resides in their ability to render black bodies as outside the boundaries of belonging and mark them as perpetual outsiders. The degree to which a group can differentiate itself from black women will make them more acceptable in the racial hierarchy. Thus, black women’s “stand at the margins of society” normalize systems of oppression because, as an excluded group, they “emphasize the significance of belonging” (Collins 2000, p. 70).

(2.) Officer Loehmann was deemed emotionally unfit to be a police officer in a previous position. This information was not disclosed to the Cleveland police department, and, subsequent to the shooting of Tamir Rice, he was fired for not having disclosed this information in his employment application. While Tamir Rice was shot in a matter of seconds upon the officers’ arrival at the scene, a grand jury declined to prosecute. Subsequent to Tamir Rice’s shooting, Officer Loehmann had been hired as a part-time police officer in Bellaire, Ohio; following a public outcry he withdrew his application for employment. Officer Frank Garmback, who accompanied Loehmann to the Rice scene, had been the subject of an excessive-force lawsuit for placing a citizen in an unlawful chokehold, but had been allowed to continue in his role as a police officer. Officer Betty Shelby was charged and tried for Terrence Crutcher’s murder but was acquitted. Upon her acquittal, she received back pay from the Tulsa police department. She is currently employed by the Rogers County Sheriff’s Department.

(3.) The prevalence of cellphones has enabled the video capture of whites calling police on black people, including children, for such activities as canvassing a political (p.188) district, babysitting, taking naps in dormitory study lounges, selling lemonade, leaving an AirBnB, going to the pool in their communities, returning home, moving into their homes, sitting in coffee shops, sitting in their cars, cutting the grass, accessing homes they have purchased, grilling at a public park, attempting to use a store coupon, and other everyday acts.

(4.) Liberia was the focal point of many of these discussions. Established in 1820 by the American Colonization Society, Liberia was constructed to be a haven for freed slaves. However, it was largely unsuccessful at attracting black people and was criticized by a number of thinkers as a scheme by whites to rid themselves of the “Negro problem” and ease their own consciences rather than being an altruistic attempt to assist blacks. Additionally, those blacks who did migrate to Liberia were not necessarily more progressive in their attitudes and treatment of native Liberians than their white counterparts. The rift between Americo-Liberians, descendants of the black American settlers, and native Liberians was accentuated during the First Liberian Civil War in 1980. Still, there were writers like Martin Delany and Henry Highland Garnet who suggested blacks take themselves to various islands of the Caribbean as well as Latin America in an effort to achieve success and thwart white attempts to harm their social progress.

(5.) It is also true that some immigrants are able to access whiteness, or approximate the white ideal, where blacks cannot. Blacks light enough to “pass” are a notable exception, but this is a rare circumstance that is widely unavailable to the larger group. This is significant because access to a white racial identity brings with it a degree of cultural currency in this country. For most groups, being able to cross into whiteness was a bridge to social mobility (Erie 1978; Jacobson 2001). By gaining a more favorable position in the racial matrix, immigrants once considered nonwhite were able to gather social and economic capital despite their newcomer status. Blacks were barred from many of these programs and remained unable to access the rights and privileges associated with white identity (Perlmann 1989; Pinderhughes 1987).

(6.) In 2005, former Mexican president Vicente Fox said, in Spanish, “There is no doubt that Mexicans, filled with dignity, willingness and ability to work, are doing jobs that not even Blacks want to do there in the United States.” Although the statement was widely rebuked, the sentiment President Fox expressed is not uncommon; the stereotype that Mexicans, as well as other immigrants, are hard-working, is relatively prevalent (Esses, Jackson, and Armstrong 1998; McClain et al. 2006; Waldinger 1997; Waters 1994). This is especially true when immigrants are juxtaposed to American-born blacks, who are more likely to be characterized as “lazy” rather than industrious (Alexander, Brewer, and Livingston 2005; Peffley, Hurwitz, and Sniderman 1997; Weber, Lavine, Huddy, and Federico 2014). However, what this concept ignores is how jobs are structured by employers so they can attract workers they deem to be easily exploited (Saucedo 2006).

(7.) Sigelman and Tuch (1997) have shown that blacks are well aware of the stereotypes that exist about them. Torres and Charles (2004), like Steele (1997), find that blacks internalize these negative ideas, and these (meta)stereotypes have implications for various kinds of interracial interactions, educational performance, and self-esteem.

(8.) Naming conventions have also been found to be a significant hurdle for blacks to access employment regardless of their skill set. Bertrand and Mullainathan (2004) confirmed that applicants with more “black sounding” names were the least likely candidates to receive callbacks. The authors’ findings suggest employers make determinations regarding individuals’ social class based on their names.

(9.) Anti-Catholic bias was an additional layer of the discrimination faced by these immigrant groups. Some reasoned that because of the organization of the Church, Catholic immigrants would be more inclined to follow the directives of the Vatican rather than act of their own free will. This resulted in wild theories that United States democracy was threatened if these immigrant groups were granted the full rights of participatory citizenship.

(10.) I use the terms whiteness and blackness to correspond to the social positions these racialized identities have come to signify in American life. Thus, these designations are not about color per se, but about how individuals who are differentially identified with these designations are sorted in the American racial order.

(11.) Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva uses the term near white to refer to those groups who embraced whiteness, or white racial identity, because it is the embodiment of power in this country, by distancing themselves from darker racial identities (i.e., black identity in the United States).

(12.) Black codes were enacted across the nation after the end of the Civil War to circumscribe black life. They varied in degree of severity, but prevented blacks from voting, serving on juries, legally possessing firearms, and providing testimony against whites in a court of law, to name a few. More pernicious, these codes devised harsher penalties for “black crimes” like theft of livestock or public drunkenness and criminalized unemployment through the use of loitering or vagrancy statutes. By criminalizing these relatively harmless crimes, states could essentially reinforce slave labor.

(13.) After the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, many in the media declared the United States to be “post-racial” because he was able to garner the support of white voters. Some viewed this as an indication that the United States had overcome its tortured racial past and evolved into a society that no longer harbors racial resentment. Yet, this declaration was made without any meaningful societal conversation about race, and, given the current racial climate, it seems the alleged post-racial moment was just that, because there has been nothing to suggest that Americans are any less attentive to race now than they were in prior generations.

(14.) Revisions of U.S. immigration policy in 1965 provided a path of entry for non-European immigrants for the first time. Caribbean immigrants are among the first sojourners of this period, arriving almost immediately after the 1965 changes, and by the 1980s there is a sharp increase in immigrants from various parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

(15.) A Google search of “Latinos dominate Blacks” returned 11.5 million unique results. Though not scientific, this gives the reader some sense of how pervasive is this characterization of American demographics.

(16.) As of 2000, Latinos are the largest minority group in the United States. Although administratively enumerated as an ethnic and not a racial group, Latinos are nonetheless touted as the largest minority group, composing roughly 15 percent of the American population. Blacks are the second largest minority at 13 percent of the population, followed by Asians at roughly 6 percent and Native Americans at 2 percent.

(17.) In 2012, both Asian American and Latino communities increased their participation in the electorate and became a more integral part of the Obama political coalition than had been appreciated prior to this time. For a more detailed look at the Asian American and Latino electorates, refer to “Inside the 2012 Latino Electorate,” by Mark Hugo Lopez and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera of the Pew Research Center (http://www.pewhispanic.org/files/2013/05/the-latino-electorate_2013-06.pdf) and the Post-Election Survey of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Voters in 2012 commissioned by the National Asian American Survey (http://www.naasurvey.com/resources/Presentations/2012-aapipes-national.pdf).

(18.) The daily incursions into black life—from the mundane, such as anti-black hair policies, to the spectacular, such as mass incarceration—suggest to scholars and laypersons alike that black people have yet to transcend race in such a way where their life chances are not adversely effected by their racial group membership.

(19.) Although the works of McClain et al. (2006, 2009) and others (Hernández-León and Zúñiga 2000; Marrow 2005) have started to look outside of traditional urban centers, there remains a bias in the literature that focuses on urban areas because these remain spaces of concentrated minority representation.

(20.) It is also important to note that such behaviors can be expected in situations of zero-sum competition. By definition, zero-sum situations incentivize competition because a win for one person/group represents a loss for another. Because zero-sum competition can only have one winner and the resources are finite (i.e., city council seats) there is no way to share cooperatively. Thus, competition is a predictable and necessary outcome, not a representation of some ethical failing by any person or group.

(21.) A notable exception was the Harold Washington campaign of Chicago in the early 1980s. Washington vigorously pursued the Latino community of that city—composed primarily of Puerto Ricans—and thus had campaign literature in the Spanish language explaining voting rights of U.S. citizens. Such measures (p.191) taken by Washington worked, and he was elected Chicago’s first nonwhite mayor (Muñoz Jr. and Henry 1986) For a more complete discussion of this case and the election of Mayor David Dinkins in New York City, see John J. Betancur and Douglas C. Gills (2000) The Collaborative City: Opportunities and Struggles for Blacks and Latinos in American Cities.