An Uneasy Black-Brown Solidarity On May Day

An Uneasy Black-Brown Solidarity On May Day

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Russell Lovell collects refrigerator magnets....his well worn refrigerator is plastered with them.

My favorite is this one on tolerance:

“The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour upon it the more it will contract.”

Standing on his front porch near the Fifth Street Bridge in San Bernardino Saturday, Lovell is struggling with tolerance.

As far as the eye can see - protesters hundreds of them marching carrying American flags on the way to San Bernardino City Hall during the May Day march for immigration reform.


Lovell, 79 recalls similar scenes in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama during the 1960s civil rights movement.

“In many ways it’s reminiscent of the 60’s. We have a similar history of racial discrimination and poverty.” he said. The 1960s civil rights movement was a frantic search by Blacks to force America to live up to its promise of justice and equality, and “that’s the dream of many in the immigration movement as well,” he said. But when asked to join the parade of marchers that packed his view Lovell bristled.

“I’m torn. Is this really a civil rights issue? It’s complicated. They’re not just picking lettuce, digging ditches and cleaning toilets anymore. They are now the top minority in the country. They’ve moved into our neighborhoods. They’ve taken over many of the low skilled jobs once held by Blacks. Where else can you walk in and do that?”

Lovell points to the fast food restaurant where his two sons worked summers while attending Cal State San Bernardino in the mid 90’s.

“It wasn’t that long ago that a teen or college student could bank on getting a summer job. Every year my sons would call the restaurant manager looking for work.

They’d say when can you start? Now there’s not a single Black working there. They won’t hire us. Today when you walk up in there looking for work you can feel the tension,” said Lovell.

In truth, tensions between Latino and Blacks have long lurked dangerously close to the surface, fueled by the surge in immigrant population in America, in the past decade.

Consider the well publicized photo-op with Jesse Jackson in May 2005 then Mexican president Vicente Fox apologized for his quip that Mexicans ‘will work jobs that Blacks won’t’.

Lovell believes such ‘untruths’ merely fuel animosity and ignorance while shielding employers who put profits over equality.

While few immigrants say it publically, some privately believe Blacks have failed to adapt to a changing reality because of lowself esteem, laziness, rampant drug use, alarming crime and incarceration rates and poor family values.

At the 1995 Million Man March, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, urged Blacks to read the hand writing on the wall. “They’re moving forward even if they came here illegally.”

The last decade has given way to a new reality. Massive immigration and the explosive Latino birth rate have displaced Blacks as the largest non-white minority in America. The U.S. Census Bureau made it official in 2002.

But it’s not just the numbers insists Lovell. “More of their kids are going to college, more of them are employed. They’re demanding that we learn Spanish. They want amnesty on their terms. But at what cost to the people who are here legally.”

“We’re all people of color. We are all God’s children,” said Lovell clutching the refrigerator magnet urging tolerance. “I’m not a bigot. But to see what’s happening before our eyes is worrisome.”

“Asked if he supports Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigration Lovell pauses and breathes deep. I do - but I’m worried about the consequences.”

Meanwhile the throng of Latino protesters carrying signs demanding immigration reform made their way toward the steps of City Hall.

They banged drums, and chanted “Si’, Se Puede” (Yes it can be done).

At the event marchers denounced the new Arizona law that requires law enforcement to question people about their immigration status if officers suspect the person is in the country illegally.

“Stop the profiling, we are Americans, immigration reform now,” said Amando Pineda of San Bernardino.

Rep Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, told marchers to boycott Arizona.

“This law is racist and unconstitutional. Don’t spend your money in Arizona until this law is overturned,” Baca said.

How the immigration issue plays out with the Obama administration’s agenda, the mood of Congress and the American public is anyone’s guess. Most Blacks and Latinos agree the two groups will interpret the hot button issue through the prism of their experiences.

“I’ve seen a lot of intolerance in my life,” said Lovell. “Intolerance has been the curse of every age. The new immigrants will have to learn that through experience