Jonathan Tilove

My Life As A Race Writer

Strange Bedfellows, Unintended Consequences, and the Curious Contours of the Immigration Debate

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Strange Bedfellows, Unintended Consequences, and the Curious Contours of the Immigration Debate

(From Debating Immigration, edited by Carol M. Swain. Cambridge University Press. 2007)


Jonathan Tilove

I am a reporter with Newhouse News Service. Since 1991, I have been writing stories exclusively about race and immigration. Those stories are then sent to two dozen newspapers across the country owned by the Newhouse family and to an assortment of other subscribing papers, all of which can use the stories as they see fit.

Early in my tenure, prompted by developments in California, I became interested in the question of whether there was a new form of white flight afoot, this time away fro the growing diversity in those places receiving the most immigrants. To help find the answer, I entered into what would become a long and continuing collaboration with the demographer William Frey of the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan. The first fruit of our collaboration was a story that appeared in the summer of 1993. It began as follows: “Unprecedented white flight from the breaking waves of immigration is transforming the American landscape in sweeping ways.”1

The story reported that while most immigrants in the 1980s were settling in a handful of states, significant numbers of whites in those states were relocating to places then largely untouched by immigration. It was, as the story put it, “recreating on a grand scale the classic pattern of white suburbs ringing minority cities.”

In the body of the story I noted that blacks, too, were leaving prime immigrants destinations and relocating to thriving black communities, mostly back south, Atlanta foremost among them. But the emphasis of the story was on this new “white flight,” which seemed, journalistically, the headline news.

But, as I was to learn some months later, a reader in Princeton, New Jersey, had taken umbrage.

In a special issue of TIME magazine on “The New Face of America,” in December 1993, Toni Morrison, just before embarking to Sweden to claim her Nobel Prize, authored an essay entitled, “On the Backs of Blacks.”2

   “In race talk the move into mainstream America always means buying into the notion of American blacks as the real aliens. Whatever the ethnicity or nationality of the immigrant, his nemesis is understood to be African American,” wrote Morrison.

She continued, “current attention to immigration has seen levels of panic not seen since the turn of the century. To whip up the panic, modern race talk must be revised downward into obscurity and nonsense if antiblack hostility is to remain the drug of choice, giving headlines their kick. PATTERNS OF IMMIGRATION FOLLOWED BY WHITE FLIGHT, screams the Star-Ledger in Newark. The message we are meant to get is that disorderly newcomers are dangerous to (stable) white residents. Stability is white. Disorder is black.”

Of course, the story in question was my own. I have read and reread that passage from Morrison’s essay many times and have never quite parsed how it fits into the larger logic of her piece, a logic that, as this chapter will indicate, I find compelling. As best I can figure, Morrison’s point is that I was waving the bloody flag of “white flight” – itself tattered “on the backs of blacks” – to scaremonger afresh.

Fair enough. White fright. White flight. A slick and sensational little couplet.

But wait.

“White flight” had long since entered he acceptable lexicon of not just journalism but academia and common speech. Pithy and evocative, the phrase communicated well what was going on. Since when was the reporter, academic, policymaker, or man in the street using the phrase assumed to be cheering the phenomenon, laying blame, or taking sides? Was I being held to a higher or different standard by a Nobel laureate who took her race talk very seriously?


But, as I was to find in the years to come, writing about white flight from immigrants elicits a very different reaction than writing about white flight from blacks, for reason that I think have everything to do with race and, as you pull the thread, help explain the strong support system for immigration even when it comes, as Morrison put it, “on the backs of blacks.”

White flight from blacks seems perfectly obvious. But white flight from immigrants? Prove it, and provide not only outcome but intent. And what is your motivation in writing about this and giving succor to nativists anyway?

Before continuing to explore reactions to this story, as I continued to follow it in the years to come, let me be clear where I am headed, about the point that my contribution to this volume will attempt to make. In the course of my years reporting about race and immigration, I have come to believe that indifference to the fate of black America, or in some quarters a ;passive-aggressive hostility to African Americans, has become an animating feature of support for a liberal immigration policy and helps to explain the strange bedfellows who have made that policy unstoppable even in the face of lukewarm pubic support at best.

Part of he hidden appeal of immigration is that it can and will help relieve the United States of its special obligation to black Americans by reducing their relative importance, by drowning out their complaints, and by creating an even larger percentage of the population who, when asked about he legacy of slavery and discrimination, can reply, “I had nothing to do that that,” creating, in essence, a growing population of deaf ears. It is an effect that only works because most of the immigrants arriving since the immigration reform of 1965 are neither white nor black.

This sounds counterintuitive. It might seem that the color of skin of immigrants would work to their political disadvantage. They are, after all, eroding the white majority that the United States has always had an that, one might assume, an important number of whites, who sill and for a long time to come will exert political power well beyond heir numbers, might want to preserve. After all, isn’t maintaining a certain comfort level of white majority part of what white flight is all about?

But, in fact, it is more socially acceptable to up and move than it is to bring explicit questions of race and racial change, into he immigration debate. As it is, immigration restrictionists are commonly assumed to harbor some racial animus or diversity-phobia, however hey may couch their arguments. One can imagine that if most immigrants were now as hey were before, white Europeans the merits of immigration would be more thoroughly and dispassionately debated.

But there is something both bigger and more subtle at work here as well. Were most migrants white, the various guardians of social justice in academia, in the press, in e he realm of governmental advocacy, and in the black community itself, would be on alert as to how these new arrivals were affecting the fortunes of America’s native born minorities, first and foremost African Americans. But precisely because immigrants are themselves “minorities,” and more especially newer minorities with their own compelling claims for concern these sentries of justice have been, for he most part, seduced or at any rate diverted from their previous laser-like attention to the plight of blacks in America.

But back to my story.

In the summer of 195, armed with new metro area figures, Frey and I contributed a short piece to The New York Times Magazine. This time the headline screamed, “Immigrants In, Native Whites Out.”3

We wrote, “Look collectively at the New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and Boston metropolitan areas – 5 of the top 11 immigration destinations. In the last half of the 80s, for every 10 immigrants who arrived, 9 residents left for points elsewhere. And most of those leaving were non-Hispanic whites. Of the top immigrant destinations, only metropolitan San Diego was attracting more whites from the rest of the nation than it was losing.”

The story also discussed another largely unreported impact of immigration. Again quoting our piece: “Because of immigration, in the 30-odd years since the dawn of affirmative action, blacks have gone from more than two-thirds to les than half of America’s minority population. Nationally, black workers, and especially the black middle class, are disproportionately concentrated in government jobs. But with substantial numbers of new immigrants arriving, blacks in these port-of-entry cities find themselves increasingly overrepresented vis-à-vis their shrinking percentage of the minority population. The result: The new minorities’ affirmative action claims for fairness can’t help but come at the expense of blacks.”

This time the reaction came from Frank Sharry. Sharry was and still is director of the National Immigration Forum, the dormitory for the strange bedfellows that make the pro-immigration coalition so formidable. Its board of directors include leaders of the National Restaurant Association and the National Council of La Raza, the National Association of Manufacturers and UNITE-HERE, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (an organization of Hispanic farmworkers in Oregon), and the International Franchise Association. National Immigration Forum dinners are events where those who exploit immigrant labor bread with those who labor against that exploitation.

In Sharry’s letter to The Times Magazine, Frey and I stood accused of  “sociological shenanigans,” of  “substandard research,” and of “scapegoating immigrants” for suggesting that there was any cause and effect between the arrival of immigrants in places like California and the departure of native-born whites.4

Well, we had begun our piece by describing Marilyn Yarosko, who had moved to the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nevada, after she began to feel out of place in her native Southern California. We wrote, “The Asian population of her hometown of Torrance, just south of L.A., had doubled to 22 percent in the 1980s. The pastor and most of the parishioners at her Roman Catholic Church were now Vietnamese. Most of her fellow nurses at Charter Suburban Hospital, she says, were Filipino, super-hardworking and, she thinks, a bit cliquish. Yarosko, whose parents were Canadian and paternal grandparents were from the Ukraine, is not a xenophobe. She is not bitter or looking for someone to blame, “We took it from the Indians: who are we to complain?” she says. But, she acknowledges, “I began to feel like an outsider.”5

Hardly a frothing nativist. But Yarosko had moved at least in part because of some very swift demographic changes, changes precipitated by immigrants moving in and accelerated by native moving out. (Some academics would refer to this process as “invasion and succession,” but that kind of language is way too provocative for daily journalism.)

One could argue that the dislocation of folks like Yarosko was the way of the world, part of a natural cycle of change and renewal. But instead, the impulse by Sharry and others was to deny that people like Yarosko existed or mattered and to suggest instead that reporting or scholarship that took them into account was out of bounds. I was learning – white flight from immigrants demanded a higher order of proof than white flight from blacks.

Classic white flight was a given.  It was perfectly obvious that for decades whites were moving to deep white spaces in the suburbs and leaving many cities, an especially what came to be known as the “inner city,” increasingly black. No one doubted that race played a role in this white flight, even if many, probably most, whites made their choice of where to move without ever explicitly thinking about race. The proof of white flight was the changing demography of cities and their suburbs. Period.

To bring the numbers up to the recent past, now consider that Miami has become only 12 percent Anglo, to use the local terminology. Whites are less than 30 percent of the population of Los Angeles – until 1960 the whitest big city in the United States. In 1970, the New York City borough of Queens, the home of Archie Bunker, was 86 percent white, whiter than Utah is today, whiter than Kansas. Queens is now a third white and nearly half foreign-born.6

Those numbers came to pass because of a lot of new people were moving in and a lot of other people moving out, and the people moving in were a lot less likely to be white than the people moving out – just like the other white flight. So why the different standard of proof?

My reading of the unspoken, even unconscious thinking at work goes like this: Of course there was white flight from blacks. Who wouldn’t run? But white flight from immigrants? Blacks are scary. Blacks lower property values. Immigrants aren’t scary. Immigrants rehabilitate property values. Immigrants have great restaurants. And so on.

Let us push on. In the January/February 1999 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, Joel Millman, a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal’s  Mexico City bureau and the author of The Other Americans: How Immigrants Renew Our Country, Our Economy, and Our Values, wrote a 3,200-word article entitled, “Going Nativist: How the Press Paints a False Picture of the Effects of Immigration.”7

Millman charged that reporters were rationalizing “nativist arguments, even bigotry” in their writing about native-born flight from immigration. There had been quite a few such stories by then, and, one by one, Millman detailed their flaws as he traced them back to their insidious origins in Frey’s work and that first story I had written six years earlier.

Again, Sharry was quoted raising the question of  “causality.” “People were leaving California because the economy tanked,” Sharry said. “Now that they’re coming back in droves, you don’t see [Frey] saying people are moving to be nearer the immigrants.”

There are two points here. First, immigrants continued to pour into California even as the economy tanked. And, secondly, between 1990 and 2000, whites went from being 57 percent to less than 47 percent of the California population. Their absolute numbers dropped 1.2 million over the course of the decade. While the exodus is now more broadly diverse in its makeup, according to the state demography unit’s latest projections, the number of whites in California will continue to decline by more than 3 million between 2000 and 2050, a half-century in which the state’s Hispanic population is expected to increase by 18 million and the Asian population by nearly 3 million.8

Sometime after his piece in the Columbia Journalism Review appeared, I received a voicemail message from Millman, whom I had never met or talked to. He was inviting me to a book party – I presume it was for the paperback edition of The Other Americans. He sounded cheery and ended his message by reminding me of who he was: “I’m the reporter who thinks immigrants are good.”

Wow. I guess that made me the “reporter who thinks immigrants are bad.” Now we are getting someplace. Let us deconstruct. The immigrant story is uplifting, especially in a post-9/11 world. It makes Americans feel better about America, about themselves. In the era of “why do they hate us?” immigration seems an act of love and reassurance. Here are people who are wiling to risk everything to become us. We are still the envy of the world. And the individual stories are inspiring – tales of harrowing sacrifice and striving. The immigrant story is a powerful one, Horatio Alger in perpetuity, and deeply embedded in the American psyche and self-definition.

I am as sentimental, as affected by this, as anyone. I, too, think immigrants are good, even if, as a journalist, I might choose not to have that sentiment inscribed on my business card. I am also sympathetic with a reporter who likes the people he writes about and attempts to see the world from their point of view. But there are limits.

It never occurred to me that a reporter or academic who wrote about white flight from blacks would stand accused of blaming blacks for the phenomenon. Would a reporter who “likes blacks” be required to deny that white flight happened as the price of that affection? So why was it that writing about white flight from immigrants was itself taken as an act of belligerence, of bias, of nativism? There was something more at stake here.

It is naturally quite wrong to assume that a reporter for The Wall Street Journal in any way shares the political values of its editorial page. But I this case, I think it is fair to say the Journal’s editorial page and reporter Millman are very much in sync on why immigrants are so good and high levels of immigration so necessary.9

Chapter 2 of Millman’s book begins, “America, strictly speaking, is not a nation.” “We have no common culture stretching back to caves or to tiny grains of prehistoric corn,” he writes. “What’s common in America is the now. And so, “If the mother country is not a race or a tribe or a fixed territory, what is it? That’s simple. America is an economy. More precisely it is a market.” Very well. One nation under Wal-Mart.

The rest of Millman’s book is a very well-researched treatise on why immigrants are indispensable to the health of the market that is America.

“Immigrants are our oldest and most dependable pool of `riser,’ a kind of demographic yeast that guarantees shared prosperity,” he writes. “They are the villagers entering and renewing our cities, repeating a pattern of self-cleansing as old as civilization itself. Essentially, we could not be Americans if we were not foreigner first.”10

Immigrants help everyone, including blacks, Millman argues, by reclaiming ravaged neighborhoods and dying cities from the white flight that left behind black blight. If cities such as Newark and Detroit never fully recover, the blame rests with the immigrant restrictionists who succeeded in tamping down immigration from the 1930s to the 1960s and deprived those cities of the immigrants who might otherwise have spared them the devastating impact of white flight.

The lessons of history are clear to Millman: immigrants are the cure for white flight; never the cause of it. The benefits of their presence are everywhere evident.

For example, in his book, Millman credits immigrants with being “arguably the most important” reason for the dramatic drop in crime in New York City in the early 1990s, as the total population of young adult males declined and the proportion of that population of young adult males declined and the proportion who were foreign-born increased. “Thus New York not only shrunk its crime-prone population, it replaced it with a better class of homo urbanus… with their greater propensity than their American-born neighbors to wash di

A better class of homo urbanus. That’s it. Immigrants are not just good. They are better. Better than who? Better than native-born blacks, or at any rate those still living in poor, urban neighborhoods. This, of course, has emerged as the common wisdom on the matter, with important consequences for African Americans.

Sociologist Stephen Steinberg describes what is going on here in his essay, “Immigration, African Americans, and Race Discourse,” which was published by the journal New Politics in the summer of 2005, and represents one of the few occasions when a scholar of the Left has taken a serious look at the impact of immigration on blacks.12  Steinberg writes, “In the popular idiom, the question takes the form, `We made it, why haven’t they?’ When these comparisons were made between European immigrants and blacks, it was always possible to contend the blacks alone encountered racism. Now that most immigrants are nominally `people of color,’ the question takes a new and pernicious twist: if Asians and Latinos – and now the clincher, if West Indians can make it – why can’t African Americans? Doesn’t this prove that racism is not an insurmountable barrier?”

Peter Schuck made the point in 1993 in a prescient piece in The American Prospect.13 African Americans, Schuck wrote, are competing against “the mythology and imagery of immigration” and losing. “Political elites, ordinary citizens, scholars, and journalists, in polite company as well as on radio call-in shows, are increasingly making comparisons between American blacks and immigrant ethnics. Such comparisons often focus on sensitive topics: economic status, attitudes toward work and welfare dependency, family values and stability, crime and violence, school completion, entrepreneurial spirit, and labor force attachment.” And, Schuck concluded, “The crucial, incendiary political fact about these comparisons is that they often disfavor American blacks as a group.”

The problem here is that while blacks are losing this high-stakes competition, there is very little attention paid to the ways in which the competition is stacked against them. In The Other Americans, Millman agrees that “[i]mmigrants, by entering the poorest neighborhoods, confront black America’s weakest families and often outcompete them. But, he argues, “[t]he notion that black neighborhoods need to be protected is not only wrong, it is dangerously counterproductive” because immigrant “vitality tends to raise all economic boats together.”14

Furthermore, Millman contends that many black Americans simply removed themselves from competition for service jobs – “with the rise of black consciousness, service jobs were perceived as servile positions beneath dignity. The result: “While American-born blacks were chafing against jobs cleaning white houses, watching white children and sponge-bathing the white infirm, whites were growing uneasy hiring that they saw as angry young blacks.”15

 Or, as Mexican President Vicente Fox put it in the spring of 2005 (as translated from the 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.” Fox was roundly criticized as a “spurious comparison” with “ominous racial overtones.”16 Never mind that Fox was saying what everyone from President Bush to the man in the street is suggesting when they say that immigrants do the jobs “Americans won’t do.”

But, as widely accepted as this aphorism has become, it bears a little scrutiny. Certainly, immigrants, self-selected as they are, bring a drive and ambition that may make them especially attractive workers. Some may be working beneath what was their station in their home country in order to gain a toehold in America, while many come from such places that even the worst job in the United States means a step up for them. These latter folks may be willing to work at a price and under conditions that most native-born Americans would not tolerate. As former Labor Secretary Ray Marshall has put it, they are working “hard and scared,” and the more tenuous their legal status, the more scared they are.17

   For employers, this especially pliant labor force is a good thing, and if that is the point of immigration policy, then it is working. Of course, by this standard, the undocumented worker is to be preferred to the legal immigrant and, a generation later, the newest arrival is to be preferred to the son or daughter of the earlier immigrant, who, one would be expect, acculturates to “American” standards and expectations.”

And where do you draw the line? Can there be no African Americans ready and willing to work in construction in Washington D.C., or the booming suburbs of North Carolina? Absent immigration, would construction grind to a halt?

In the meantime, observers marvel at the vitality of the enclave economy, of the niches created by ethnic entrepreneurs in which every last worker is a co-ethnic, and of network hiring, which enables employers to rely on ethnic-specific referrals from existing workers.

But wait. “This is racism, plain and simple!” writes Steinberg.18 “Ethnic nepotism and racial exclusion are two sides of the same coin.” Network hiring is nothing but the “old-boy network” reborn. And yet, because the practitioners of such exclusion are refugees from South Asia or El Salvador, these exclusionary practices are objects not of head-shaking outrage but nodding admiration and acceptance. And employers are off the hook, too, because the notion that immigrant workers are better than blacks has gained the mahogany sheen of a hardwood truth. Blacks no longer even need to be considered for jobs and, because the immigrants who are hired instead are also not white, employers run little risk of running afoul of antidiscrimination laws or their own sense of shame.

“It used to be a truism that blacks were the “last hired,” and it has taken a great deal of artifice and obfuscation on the part of immigration scholars to deny the obvious: that filling the hiring queues with millions of immigrants has had adverse consequences for African Americans, particularly during the post-civil-rights era when blacks were poised for progress,” writes Steinberg. But, Steinberg laments, “Immigration scholars have stubbornly avoided these conclusions, not out of any animus toward Africans Americans, but rather out of sympathy with immigrants and their struggles.

Meanwhile, the black niche in the economy – the public sector and the Post Office – is increasingly vulnerable to the cries for the “fairness” of more proportional representation. Over time, affirmative action morphed form a form or reparation to the black descendants of slaves, to a prospective guarantor of  “diversity,” in which everyone of color is more or less fungible.”

When I wrote about the effect of immigration on affirmative action in 1994, I talked to James Lewis, who was then research director of the Urban League in Chicago. He recalled his previous job, running an employment agency for Cambodian refugees in Chicago: “I was struck by the number of times employers said to me directly, `We want to phase out our blacks and bring in Asians. It keeps us clear in EEO and gets us better workers.’”19 Nonetheless, Lewis said minority immigrants ought to be eligible for affirmative action, “because it’s good public policy.”

That is typical of what I think is a genuine generosity of spirit on the part of most black leaders. As Schuck notes in Chapter 2 of this volume, black leaders have been “neutralized” on immigration by their liberalism and political alliances. But I also think that support for immigration feels right for many blacks on account of color and their own history of challenging oppression. Just as it is hard for the children or grandchildren of immigrants to support a more restrictive immigration policy, it is hard for many African Americans not to be sympathetic with other non-whites who are struggling.

This effect was poignantly in evidence in a national survey conducted in 1994 by Louis Harris on behalf of the National Conference (formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews, it is not the National Conference of Communities and Justice). It revealed a circle of unrequited racial affinity. According to the survey, blacks felt they had the most in common with Latinos and the least with whites and Asians, while both Latinos and Asians felt they had the most in common with whites and the least in common with blacks. While blacks were chasing the Rainbow, Hispanics and Asians were chasing whiteness. Whites, meanwhile, said they had the most in common with blacks and the least in common with Asians.20

There are, naturally, occasions of black backlash against immigrants or immigration, some less obvious than others. Lost in the firestorm of criticism that engulfed the school board in Oakland, California, in 1996 when it voted to recognized Ebonics as a language was the fact that this was the genesis of an effort to provide African American children with the same attention and language help provided to the growing number of immigrant children in the community.21

At the leadership level, most of the elected and advocacy leadership of minority immigrant communities do stand shoulder to shoulder with the black civil rights leadership. But no one expects the rank and file Hispanic and Asian newcomers to see their destiny as particularly tied to the fate of black Americans. As the balance of power slowly shifts, one can expect blacks to lose clout.

As Xavier Hermosillo, a Latino activist and talk radio host in Los Angeles, summed up the relationship to me back in 1993, “They shall overcome; we shall overwhelm.”22

Even if blacks remain the most cohesively meaningful group, what Amitai Etzioni, in his book, The Monochrome Society, refers to as he “dethroning” of blacks as America’s pre-eminent minority matters.23

As I wrote after the 2000 Census showed Hispanics closing in on blacks numerically, “There are only so many Ford Foundation grans, `Nightline’ town meetings and doctoral dissertations to go around, and the consideration of Latino America cannot help but come at least a little bit at the expense of black America.”24

In 1968, the Kerner Commission concluded that America was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.” Twenty-four years later, in 1992, Andrew Hacker could write a book, Two Nationals: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, and be taken quite seriously.

Those days are over. When President Bill Clinton named his advisory board of race in 1997, there was an early disagreement between the chairman, historian John Hope Franklin, and a member, Angela Oh, a Korean-American lawyer from Los Angeles, about where the board should place its emphasis.25

Said Franklin: “The country cut its eyeteeth on black-white relations.”

Said Oh: “We can’t undo this part of our heritage. But what we can affect is where we are headed. I want to talk about multiracialism because I think that’s where we’re headed.”

Both were right. Throughout American history, blacks, and the ways America dealt with blacks, have been the central dilemma – studied and worried over. The traction I those times of progress came because of black claims on the American conscience. But with each passing year, that claim is fading because of the passage of time but also because of America’s changing complexion.

For many, the great hope now is that immigrant Hispanics and Asians will fracture the black-white dichotomy, blurring and maybe eventually erasing racial and ethnic lines. It is one of the ways that, in Etzioni’s view, they can “save America.” As Etzioni explains in Chapter 14 of this volume:

When all is said and done, one should expect that the Hispanic (and Asian) Americans will contribute to the depolarization of American society. They will replace African Americans as the main socially distinct group and will constitute groups that either are not racial (many Hispanics see themselves as white or as an ethnic group and not as a member of a distinct race, black or brown) or are of a race that is less distinct from the white majority…. By increasing the proportion of Americans who do not see themselves as victims and who intermarry with others, these immigrants will continue to “normalize” American politics.

In other words, Hispanic and Asian immigrants will “normalize” an American politics that had been distorted by the alien within – blacks. They will help transform a society where, Etzioni notes, many blacks “continue to see themselves as victims.”

So much for history. Ultimately, Etzioni and others pin great hopes on intermarriage to mute conflict and “encourage a sense of connectedness.” His chapter in this volume adds:

Not only will this sense of interconnection reinforce America’s core values of social and economic mobility and limited social distinctions and decrease racial tensions, but it will also mute fears of tribalism, equally divisive and destructive. As I previously noted in The Monochrome Society, “If one must find a simple image for the future of America, Tiger Woods, or Hawaii, as I see it, seems more appropriate than a view of a country in which Louis Farrakhan and his followers and the Aryan Nation are threatening one another.”

Etzioni may be right, but he may be wrong.

Hispanics and Asians are much more likely to intermarry than blacks. It is at least possible that America’s black/white divide will become America’s new black/nonblack divide or some variation on that theme with the black and some brown poor becoming even more isolated from the otherwise increasingly inclusive beige mainstream. One can anticipate scholarship on, “How Everyone but Blacks Became White.” More than 60 years ago, in The American Dilemma, Gunnar Myrdal wrote that “the overwhelming majority of white Americans desire that there be as few Negroes as possible.”26

There are troubling echoes of that sentiment in Etzioni’s of an America “saved” because Hispanic and Asian immigrants have helped to marginalize blacks. Wishing for a future that is more Tiger Woods than Louis Farrakhan may sound all right to many whites but I suspect would deeply offend many blacks. It is, I think, akin to suggesting intermarriage as the answer to the “Jewish problem.”

Immigration is transforming America, especially racially. The future may be Etzioni’s “Hawaii,” conjuring images of a multiracial paradise. But, it is also not beyond imagining an America that becomes more mestizo and more unequal. For commentary on that possibility, I return to Las Vegas and that first “white flight” story from 1993, and a man I met named Stan Godek. Godek, a native Texas who was descended from Polish immigrants and had converted to Judaism to marry his Israeli wife, had crossed the desert from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, where he got a job working in construction on the Luxor, a new hotel-casino being built in the shape of a pyramid. He was earning $26 an hour, three times what he had been making when he left Los Angeles. “All the illegal aliens in L.A. are driving the wages for construction way down. I mean way down,” Godek told me. And, he said, he and his wife were ready to leave Los Angeles anyway. “L.A. was just dying for me,” he said. “I’m all for the melting pot. But I’m afraid we’re going to end up like Mexico, with just the very rich and the very poor.”





Written by jonathantilove

September 8, 2012 at 5:53 pm

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