Civil Rights and Beyond is a compilation of scholarly articles exploring the history and varying conditions of conflict and cooperation among Latino and African American groups. Sometimes people, even civil rights activists, make the facile assumption that all people on the downside of political, economic and socio-cultural power share similar challenges and common political goals. Other times, those in power exploit and heighten differences between ethnic groups to prevent collaboration and coordination of organizing efforts to influence decision-makers. This book is definitely an antidote to the former and perhaps a guide to avoiding the latter.
As many civil rights organizers often urge collaboration to build power, it is important to understand the challenges in forming effective coalitions. Activists often use the term people of color to aggregate Latinos, Native Americans, African Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders.While it may work as an antonym for white people and useful when talking about issues that people of color may work on collaborative, such as t he Voting Rights Act. On the other hand, the rest of the time, this erases the different experiences of the many different ethnic communities who have experienced oppression in far different ways.
Civil Rights and Beyond focuses only on Latino and African American conflict and collaboration. Looking to the past for understanding the present, researchers examined the relationships one of LA’s Latino commissioners had with the African American community, the effectiveness of multi-racial organizing for public housing and public accommodations in Bakersfield.
The research on black-Cuban conflicts in Miami if fascinating, because so many of the Cuban exiles presumed whiteness and assumed white privilege and white attitudes toward African Americans. This was abetted by the federal, state and local government, all with the fighting communism. Whiteness became not just physical appearance, but social and culture attitudes against Communism and Cuba. While the NAACP was working to desegregate schools (it was after Brown v. Board of Education), school districts eagerly accepted Cuban students while resisting admission of black students. Black Miamians were fired and replaced by Cuban employees. One activist joked that for black people in Miami to get ahead, they would do better to flee to Cuba and return as refugees.
Mark Malisa has a fascinating section on internationalizing the civil rights struggle and the cooperative efforts of African Americans, AfroCubans and Africans to coordinate together to not only point out America’s failure to deal effectively with racism and the continuing oppression of African Americans in the US, but its complicity in oppression abroad, including past support for apartheid and support for racist regimes.
Other chapters look at the Black Panthers working with the Young Lords in Chicago and the Black Power movement collaborating with the independence movement in Puerto Rico. Still others look at the Rainbow Coalition and the Nuevo South.
Civil Rights and Beyond is a good resource for organizers, the leaders and activists of movement organizing against racism. It is scholarly and many of the articles have a narrow scope. Looking at organizing in the microcosm, though, of one community, can provide useful lessons for fellow organizers. It might be even more effective with the perspective of API organizers and Native American organizers as well. Their absence from the narrative of multi-ethnic civil rights organizing reminded me of CNN’s recent declaration that Bernie Sanders won the mostly white state of Hawaii. I am sure that was not the intention, but it seems a failing in perspective.
I would have like to have read something about communities of color collaborating around the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which some are using as an framework for civll and human rights organizing, but there was not mention of it. However, despite what is missing from Civil Rights and Beyond, what is present will still provide valuable history, insight and strategic frameworks for future collaboration.
I received a temporary e-galley of Civil Rights and Beyond from the publisher through NetGalley