Especially The Blacks And The Latinos

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My former colleague Tim Padgett has an unfortunate and deeply problematic article on Sotamayor's effect on the relationship between blacks and Latinos, a subject that major media has never gotten a solid handle on, for reasons that are made clear in Padgett's lede:

Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court is a historic milestone for Latinos, but it resonates well beyond Hispanic pride. It is perhaps the most potent symbol yet of a 21st century rapprochement between the U.S.'s two largest minorities, Latino Americans and African Americans, who in the 20th century could be as violently distrustful of each other as blacks and whites were.

One must be clear about what constituted "violent" distrust "between" blacks and whites in the 20th century. It meant thousands of whites, in Atlanta, in 1906, assembling on the streets to randomly murder black people. In Springfield, Illinois, in 1908,  it meant whites pillaging a Jewish businesses for arms, and then proceeding to the black side of town, attacking black business and black homes, and thousands of black people fleeing for their lives. It meant whites--across the nation--in 1910 assembling in mobs and murdering random black people (On the 4th of July!). The cause? Jack Johnson had the temerity to win the championship. It meant whites in East St. Louis, in 1918, perpetrating  a pogrom against the city's black population, and killing over 100 black people because, "southern niggers need a lynching."

I have not known Latinos in the 20th Century to perpetrate a Red Summer. I have not known blacks to lynch Latino veterans, returning from war, in their uniforms. The fact is that there was no violent distrust between blacks and whites in the 20th century. Rather there was a one-sided war waged against black people by white terrorists, which government, in the best cases, failed to prevent, in many cases, stood idly by, and in the worst cases actually aided and abetted. I'm sorry but comparing that to whatever's happening between blacks and Latinos, is a slander against both those groups, and an amazingly naive take on the history of white America in regards to race.

The great problem with this whole Latino/Black divide story, is the undergirding idea that "the divide" even comes close to approaching the cluster-bomb of racist terrorism, government-sponsored wealth destruction, systemic discrimination which was visited on blacks in the 20th century. For nearly half that century, blacks in the South--on pain of death--were essentially forbidden from voting. Its amazingly self-serving to suggest that that evil even approaches anything that's happened between blacks and Latinos in this country. It also conveniently allays American discomfort, with an ugly, shameful past that we'd love to see go away.

Leaving aside the differences between how blacks relate to Puerto-Ricans in the Bronx, versus how they relate to Cuban-Americans in Florida, it is borderline delusional to pretend that some beef between some folks in L.A is the equivalent of Martin Luther King. Or even Rodney King. It isn't. And the fact that we can't tell the difference is still haunting us.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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