Tuesday evening, in the wake of rioting in Milwaukee, Donald Trump held a rally in a nearby suburb—and made a direct appeal for black votes. He’s not likely to get many. His central appeal to blacks, up to now, has been based on “law and order.” Terrible violence and other crimes plague too many urban black communities; reducing crime is a fundamental precondition to progress. Still, some observers felt that, on crime, anyway, Trump was trying to rally his white base more than he was trying to reach new black voters.
On other issues, however, Trump made a genuine appeal to blacks. He questioned whether voting overwhelmingly for Democrats, as blacks do, has delivered the expected benefits. He touted the virtues of his economic-nationalist policies, arguing that NAFTA and other trade deals helped destroy urban manufacturing jobs once held by blacks. Similar economic rhetoric has resonated with white working-class voters. And Trump pushed his immigration policies. “No community in this country has been hurt worse by Hillary Clinton’s immigration policies than the African-American community,” he said.
Indeed, if there’s one group with a prima facie, legitimate gripe about immigration, it’s urban blacks. The white working class largely lives in areas with relatively few immigrants, but many blacks live in cities with substantial immigrant populations. Less-educated black urban dwellers are more directly exposed to competition from immigrant labor. In Chicago, for example, Latinos dominate many residential construction crews. Black men could be doing many of these jobs. Some employers clearly prefer immigrants over blacks. Going back more than a century, fear of this race-tinged displacement led African-American leaders like Frederick Douglas and WEB DuBois to view immigration ambivalently.
Immigration has also badly diluted black voting power and political influence in many cities. In 1980, Chicago was about 40 percent black and 14 percent Hispanic. Blacks and lakefront liberals formed an electoral alliance to elect Harold Washington as the city’s first black mayor in 1983. Today, after black population losses and a doubling of Latino population share, the city’s one-third white, one-third black, and one-third Latino population produces a divide-and-rule dynamic benefiting white mayors like Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel.
Immigrants come to the United States with no sense of responsibility for slavery or Jim Crow, no guilt over “white privilege.” They often have their own narratives of colonial or other oppression, and feel no compulsion to put black aspirations and social-justice claims over their own. And many countries around the world are highly ethnocentric. While some have their own indigenous concept of “multiculturalism,” they are very different societies from the United States, with their own problematic legacies—including, often, negative views of blacks. The Washington Post recently reported on the “huge problem with racism” against Africans in India and China. An AP story noted that blacks in India experience a “daily battle in a country where their dark skin places them at the lower end of a series of strictly observed social hierarchies.” A writer for Al-Jazeera pointed to her culture’s racism problem, saying, “The Arab slave trade is a fact of history and anti-black racism is a fact of current reality, a shameful thing that must be confronted in Arab societies.” The Los Angeles Times reported that Africans found life in Russia to be “hell on earth.” Why would anyone believe that coming to the U.S. would magically change these dispositions?
Members of the American intelligentsia pride themselves on interacting with people from around the globe, but they’re usually dealing with the most cosmopolitan, highly educated citizens. The typical technology company looks like the United Nations, for example (albeit without many blacks). Many in the white-collar knowledge economy come to assume that their international coworkers are the norm in those countries, but this is far from the case.
As far back as 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a far-left advocacy group, examined the rising conflict between blacks and Latinos, saying, “Around the country, evidence of a growing divide between blacks and Hispanics is mounting. It’s a split few want to discuss.” In the wake of Baltimore’s riots, NPR covered the tensions between blacks and Koreans. In California, legislation to repeal Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in state college admissions, died in the legislature after a backlash from Asians, who realized that they would be the biggest losers. Tensions have even broken out among native-born American blacks and black immigrants from Africa.
As ethnic groups multiply and grow in America, often borrowing the template of the civil rights movement for their own goals, they dilute the claims of black Americans. A study by sociologists Mary C. Waters, Philip Kasinitz, and Asad L. Asad argued that “the increasing racial diversity of the population owing to immigration means policies that aim to promote racial equality but that are framed in terms of diversity often do not address the needs of native African Americans who, arguably, need such policies the most.” Diversity used to mean “black.” Now it can mean anything from a Mexican small-business owner to a Chinese software developer to a Pakistani doctor. Major Silicon Valley firms actually employ a lower share of whites than the population as a whole—and virtually no blacks.
The Democratic Party continues to rely heavily on the urban black vote, despite its support for untrammeled immigration, along with other liberal policies that make it hard for blacks to afford living in many American cities. None of this is terribly new: though the warning signs have been flashing for years, blacks remain largely sympathetic to immigration, and they don’t seem inclined to desert the Democrats, at least for the time being. But if large-scale immigration continues, and the GOP, post-Trump, becomes the party of a soon-to-be white minority, black political clout will face an inevitable downgrade. Trump’s speech was interesting, then, for its context if nothing else. Blacks may not vote for him, but they should ponder his warning about the effect of unlimited immigration on their future prospects.
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