“African American” has a peculiar application. If we were to take the literal meaning of the term, it would not only include the 41-42 million people of African descent born in the U.S., but the 100-150 million people born in Central and South America. Not to mention the Canadians of African descent.
But we don’t say it with literal intentions. We say it referring specifically to people of African (sometimes mixed with European) descent born in the U.S. It speaks more to a phenotype than genotype, and modern publications aimed toward African Americans (as the term is commonly used) have picked up this racial football and run with it.
One look at a magazine shelf presents part of the picture. Two listens to a conversation with a Guyanese or Dominican gives another parcel. Three issues of Essence or Ebony present a fuller picture: Businesses rarely cater to both African Americans and African-Latinos. The partnership between the two cultures is sparse.
This is odd, considering the similarities of both groups. There’s no need to rehash it all here; one would have to be a part of four generations of Rip Van Winkles to not be aware of the shared origins. However, both groups share more than similar roots these days. Latinos and African Americans accounted for more than half of home foreclosures in California between 2006-2009. Both groups have been hit the hardest by the recession. Even before the recession, Blacks and Latinos felt similar pains in the workplace. Between 1999 and 2005, the work force in Silicon Valley’s largest 10 companies (which includes Hewlet-Packard, Intel and eBay) grew 16 percent. During this span, Hispanic workers declined by 11 percent while Black workers fell by 16 percent.
Perhaps this current shared plight stems more from professional experience than overt discrimination. Minority groups in America are the last to develop a footing in Corporate America, therefore their standing is more tenuous. Combine that with the economic meltdown and there is potential for a full-fledged catastrophe.
In a scriptwriter’s world, these minority groups would join forces and become a conglomerate in a similar manner to European immigrants before them. They would devise a plan and take control of the 30 percent market share potential to create a pool of wealth untapped in the current system.
But that scriptwriter, if he or she is good, would acknowledge the inherent conflicts and nuances in both cultures that would make partnership difficult. Take the story of Evelio Grillo, the Black Cuban who was acculturated into the Tampa, Florida African American community in the 1930s. Grillo realized that U.S. Blacks didn’t care much for the preservation of speaking Spanish or Catholicism—two staples of Latin culture.
The English-Spanish divide isn’t insignificant. Many Afro-Latinos acknowledge the same African ancestry as their North American counterparts, but qualify their culture by citing manners of communication (Spanish) and aesthetic tastes (hair type, skin type, facial features). Considering the fact that Latin America and the United States have not had the friendliest relationship over the years, it’s easy to see why “African Americans” and Black Latino Americans don’t readily embrace each other.
But for Grillo, those differences didn’t override the social ills (Jim Crow, xenophobia, lack of representation in the corporate and political world) that both groups faced. He actively represented both groups and had a “hybrid identity that can’t be torn apart.”
If there was a better time to shed our American exceptionalism (monopolizing the term “African American”), now is that time. But before unity ensues, both groups need to fortify a sense of pride in their African heritage.
There’s no reason not to mix Mary J. Blidge and Soledad O’Brien and Malcolm Gladwell together in our media musings. Catering to the “other” Americans of African descent could do wonders for the financial coffers of Black-ran business publications. It’s simple math: Add the spending power of Black consumers to Afro-Latino consumers and there is over $1 trillion of revenue on the table. That kind of earning power would change the corporate landscape and how businesses deal with our communities.
If we can’t be bound by similar histories, then surely the greenback can bridge that divide.