1965 immigration reform cost blacks minority primacy

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There is a deja vu quality to the nation's post-Katrina interest in race and poverty. It brings to mind the call-to-conscience of the Kerner Commission, named by President Johnson in the wake of the urban riots of the 1960s, and its warning of an America "moving toward two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal." But of course, America is not black and white anymore, thanks to another legacy of that era -- the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act, which Johnson signed into law Oct. 3, 1965.

Infused with the civil rights spirit of the day, Hart-Cellar eliminated national origin quotas designed to keep the United States a mostly Northern European nation, ushering in an era of mass immigration, mostly from Latin America and Asia. It would transform America's racial and ethnic makeup more than any legislation in history.
Forty years later, whites are a diminished majority in a far more diverse nation, but still comprise more than two-thirds of its population and a commanding share of its wealth and power.

Blacks, meanwhile, have lost their standing as the dominant minority group, effectively ceding their singular claim on the national conscience, their grievances undermined by the competing demands and relative success of many immigrants of color.

"People are becoming aware that you can't talk about black and white anymore," said Gerald Jaynes, professor of economics and African-American studies at Yale University. In 1989, Jaynes co-edited "A Common Destiny," in its time the definitive study of blacks in American society. By 2000, he was editing another volume, "Immigration and Race."

In 1960, blacks accounted for 69 percent of the U.S. minority population.

By 2004, according to Census Bureau estimates, blacks were only 39 percent of the minority population. Hispanics became the largest minority in 2001.

"What we have is not a black and white situation. It's black and brown, and white and Asian, and black and Asian, and on it goes," said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a black writer and commentator who presides over the weekly Los Angeles Urban Roundtable.

In Los Angeles, as in California, blacks are now the third-largest minority, behind both Latinos and Asians, their ranks of elected officials thinning year by year. Watts, the definitive black ghetto when it exploded in riots in August 1965, long ago became mostly Latino.

"This is a new world," said Nicolas C. Vaca, a Bay Area lawyer and sociologist, author of last year's "The Presumed Alliance: The Unspoken Conflict Between Latinos and Blacks and What It Means for America."

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