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Conflicting Shades of Brown - Minority Clash

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

I love taking my wife to dinners, parties, anniversaries, and formal outings of all kinds. I have found that a monochromic look - all gray, all blue or all brown can be stunning. High contrast color combinations work best: for example, a medium brown pair of trousers and a chocolate jacket teamed with a cream colored shirt. The monochromic look has just one problem: if you wear items that are very close in shade but not quite the same, you look mismatched or somehow poorly dressed.


In some parts of the nation, the media is trying to paint minority problems as essentially well-coordinated, monochromic cultural issues. Unfortunately this paradigm is producing an unsettling clash. Black and Latino problems are not the same! While a significant number of American minorities have similar problems and immigrants of all races face several common demons. One size does not fit all and white racism cannot be blamed for every root contention that extends from the white community to blacks, browns, and even Asian communities. Reverse racism from minorities to whites and inter-cultural racism from one group to another also muddy the waters of our American civil unity. Further, Dr. King’s goal of racial harmony is being challenged as economics enter the picture and segments of the black and the Hispanics in the labor market vie for their respective places in the sun - their share of jobs, contracts, political appointments, etc.

Unless you read the Los Angeles Times, you probably have not heard much about the Latino-on-black violence that has been plaguing southern California on and off for many years. Most recently, four Latino gang members jumped a black stranger in Compton and beat him with pipes. The man was visiting a black family that had just moved into the neighborhood; the men who beat him called him n*gger, informing him that blacks were no longer welcome in that neighborhood.


For several days after the beating, crowds gathered on the family’s lawn, shouting racial epithets and throwing beer bottles at the house. They disbanded each time the police arrived but returned as soon as they left. They achieved their goal; the mother sent her children to live with relatives and is packing up to move. According to federal authorities, this is not an isolated incident; Latino gangs have been forcing blacks out of particular neighborhoods all over southern California.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new. Last year I wrote of the 2008 slaying of high school football player Jamiel Shaw by gang member (and illegal immigrant) Pedro Espinoza. The court concluded that Shaw, a standout football player recruited by colleges like Stanford and Rutgers, was targeted because he was black. And I can’t help but wonder: if Espinoza had been white, would more of us know Jamiel Shaw’s name?

Few have heard of this Latino-on-black crime wave because it doesn’t fit the narrative that many in the media perpetuate. Media elitists would have us to believe that aristocratic whites are relentlessly oppressing all racial minorities and causing all of their woes. (Except Asians, whose high levels of education and economic success they find difficult to explain.) Hence blacks and Latinos are supposedly in the same boat: recipients of the short end of the stick in a white man’s world.


There are several dangerous consequences to this cookie cutter approach to race relations. First of all, the disparity of media coverage for certain crimes implies that justice for the black victim of a Latino (or black) killer is a less pressing concern. The murder of fifteen-year-old Hadiya Pendleton in Chicago by Michael Ward and Kenneth Williams (also black) briefly made national news because Pendleton had sung at President Obama’s inauguration. But how many more Hadiya Pendletons are there whose stories will never be told? Deaths of teens like Pendleton and Shaw speak to a much larger, more complicated problem: lawlessness in many urban areas would never be tolerated in a white, middle class suburb.

The one dimensional understanding of race relations also leads to perilous media inaccuracies. Any event that doesn’t fit the narrative of “white oppressor, black/brown victim” must either be forced into that mold or ignored altogether. This is why, when the Latino George Zimmerman (who grew up in a multi-racial family and modest neighborhood) shot black teenager Trayvon Martin, we were told Zimmerman was a “white Hispanic.” This was only the sixth time in its 160-year history the New York Times had used such a term; would they have used it if Zimmerman had been shot by a white man?


Perhaps the most harmful aspect of an overly simplistic approach to race relations is that it presumes that the power to improve the prospects of blacks and Latinos lies solely with powerful whites. If the plight of suffering blacks and Latinos is due entirely to the racist attitudes of whites, then it follows that only a change in those attitudes will improve their standard of living. This attitude trivializes both the power and importance of the families, churches and community organizations that have been so pivotal in lifting successful blacks and Latinos out of poverty.

It is also easier for a journalist to lament the existence of racism than to report on interventions in areas like education and community development that actually work. The politically incorrect truth is that popular government sponsored programs, such as Head Start, have very little impact on outcomes for lower income black and Latino children. Despite receiving over $150 billion in funding, a 2010 study of Head Start by the Department of Health and Human Services concluded that “the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by first grade for the program population as a whole.”

What does have a positive effect on at risk youth? Multiple studies, from institutions including Harvard University, have concluded that regular church attendance, even when controlled for income and parental marital status, has a dramatically positive effect on an at risk child’s likelihood to graduate from high school, avoid crime and become gainfully employed. But don’t expect to read that in the newspaper anytime soon.


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