Voices: Black and Latino Youth Can Make An Impact Together

by TJ Henry /  / Updated 

I grew up in a place where African-Americans and Latinos not only shared a common place, but an interactive space, as well. Flemington, NJ was a place of significant racial gaps - less than 4 percent of residents were African-Americans and over a quarter were Latino. The rest of its residents were white, and the culture was representative of that.

In high school, Latinos and Blacks were grouped together, especially when it came to social circles and interactions. This community of dark-skinned adolescents became the foundation and the framework on which I based my college experience. Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus was the school I chose in part because of its diversity; the undergraduate enrollment diversity statistics cited that white students made up 43 percent of the school, Asians were 26 percent, Latinos 12 percent and Blacks 8 percent. It was named the country’s most diverse college by U.S. News.

“We’re fighting the same fight. It’s not even a different way,” says one student.

When I began to study race and communication for my independent study on Digital Segregation, I looked at digital access, which was the ability to get on the Internet; I began to notice a pattern between the historical context of segregation and the digital descriptions of segregation.

And when it comes to digital access, the African-American narrative runs parallel to the Latino narrative, as well as when it comes to other themes like social movements, voting, education, and the criminal justice system.

Yet America has socially constructed the idea of the single story when it comes to race, so it separates groups and races instead of promoting unity.

National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality in Los Angeles
A protest in Los Angeles, October 22, 2014.Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

“We’re fighting the same fight. It’s not even a different way,” said Nakea Jeffers, a Rutgers University senior with a double major in Psychology and Social Work.

“I think Blacks and Hispanics are definitely singled out. A lot of us have been pushed into urban communities or sectioned into these closed off spaces where the education is crappy, the housing is crappy, so it makes it hard for you to get out,” she said. Economically, the communities are at a disadvantage; the overall net worth for Blacks and Hispanics is lower than for other groups.

Related: Blacks, Latinos Face “Crisis” on Wealth, Jobs: New Report

When it comes to the criminal justice system, Blacks and Hispanics frequently experience similar conditions. According to Sentencing Project, “although blacks and Latinos together comprise just 30 percent of the general population, they account for 58 percent of the prison population.”

Yet despite shared experiences, there is still a lack of unity between Blacks and Latinos.

“There’s a serious divide in the city of Newark, even in the school system. I remember being in high school, and I don’t think it was a violent or tense environment between Blacks and Latinos, but it was definitely divided, like Blacks did their things and Hispanics did their own thing," said Jeffers. "It was a strong divide between the two groups even in high school.” Jeffers said she began to look at the stories like pieces to a puzzle when connecting the Black and Latino narratives.

The drive to support each other’s experiences becomes important when focusing on social movements. We can see this in the Black Lives Matter movement, one of the largest movements to usurp media attention in years.

Aswan Carbonell, a dark Cuban Rutgers student who identifies socially as a Latino, described his supportive yet skeptical views with the Black Lives Matter movement. “Black Lives Matter," yeah, but at the same time, I’m for All Lives Matter. Not to be biased but the Black Lives Matter movement pertains to the African-American community,” said Carbonell.

Related: Ben Carson: ‘Of Course All Lives Matter’

Carbonell thinks there is greater unity among the Black community than among Latinos. “The African-American community is very intertwined with one another, and they are very united. They stand together very well. Being a Latino, it’s more of a culture thing, like the way that I was brought up," explained Carbonell. "It’s very family oriented, and we do what we can for ours and not necessarily for our community as a whole, and I think that’s where we stray away from being as one as Latinos.”

Los Angeles School Tries To Fight Campus Violence
File photo of students praying in the aftermath of two apparent racially motivated student brawls at Thomas Jefferson High School April 21, 2005 in Los Angeles, California.Getty Images

Carbonell is telling his single story, which derives from a surplus of innate experience, however his experiences, as well as Jeffers, cannot be the defining examples for the two races.

As the author Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie said in a speech, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

With issues like climate change, police brutality and social and economic inequalities, the Black and Hispanic narratives are following similar trends. We have to understand the commonalities between us; the barriers that separate us only weaken our chances to congregate and make impact in the world.

As we look towards the 2016 election, it is important to note that 44 percent of the newest potential voters are Latino millennials, and Black millennials make 35 percent of all Black voters. If we are looking to gather support for issues that affect both racial groups, it may be wise to invest the time in learning about the 2016 candidates and placing emphasis on voting and participating in this election. That's one thing we can all do as a group.

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