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William W. Sales, Jr., and Rod Bush

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The Political Awakening of Blacks and Latinos in New York City: Competition or Cooperation?

William W. Sales, Jr., and Rod Bush review the development of Black and Latino electoral power in New York City since World War II, assess its potential and limitations for meeting the needs of Blacks and Latinos, and document the development of social activism as an alternative to electoral strategies of empowerment. Faced with the double barriers of racism and classism, Blacks and Latinos in the United States have become the lowest status groups. The authors trace how the process of ethnicization/racialization of the US working class has consigned Blacks to the lower working class, resting on a historical dialectic between white people as the marker of free labor and Blacks as the marker of slave labor, a dynamic that has complicated the development of class solidarity. Traditional social and labor movements have only weakly supported liberal measures toward minority rights and have balked at measures that attack institutional racism. More recent demographic changes and the emergence of minority cities have given Blacks and Latinos a chance to achieve significant electoral power. Economic restructuring has generally left Blacks and Latinos behind, compelling them to turn to the state to redress inequalities. The article traces three decades of coalition building, as well as the impact of citizenship on electoral participation. The authors closely examine struggles in the schools (Blacks and Latinos make up the largest single bloc among high-school-aged youth in New York City) and around the issue of police brutality. They conclude that Black-Latino collaboration is central to challenging social inequality and institutional racism because these groups constitute the bulk of the subproletarian strata in the United States.

social movements; electoral politics — African Americans, Latinos; urban political power — African Americans, Latinos; African Americans — political activity; community organization — neighbor-to-neighbor; Latinos — political activity; local government — New York [city]; Puerto Rican Americans — political activity; race — politics; voting

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 27, No. 1 (2000): 19-42