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Can Black and Brown Ever Learn To Get Down?

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With somber news like the string of race-related murders in Highland Park, the battles being waged between black and Latino politicians and the recent prison race riots in Chino frequenting local headlines, it sometimes feels like the Latino and African American populations of Los Angeles are on the verge of a war. Depending on whom you ask, the black-brown race problem is either being blown way out of proportion by the media or it is just the harbinger of an even bigger looming crisis. One thing most national commentators agree upon is that the problem seems to be unique to largely Latino Southern California.

However, last week The Economist published an insightful and disturbing feature illustrating how this problem has spread far beyond California's borders, and how that conflict could even affect the 2008 Presidential race. On the heels of the recent arraignment of two Latino gang members accused of the racially-motivated slaying of 14-year-old African American girl Cheryl Green, The Economist headed east to Durham, North Carolina, where a similar racial fissure is festering despite the fact that the southern city is far from being a Latino hotbed.

Durham, which forms the well-known “Research Triangle” along with Raleigh and Chapel Hill, has historically been almost equally divided between blacks and whites. Things changed when a building boom a decade ago attracted a wealth of workers from Mexico, both legal and illegal. Apparently, the new arrivals brought pre-conceived notions about the existing black populace. The story said those views have turned out to be even more extreme than what many perceived were common feelings held by conservative Southern whites:

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Blacks are less likely than whites or even Hispanics to believe that immigrants end up on welfare or commit crimes. Latinos, on the other hand, appear to make no such concessions. One survey of Durham, in North Carolina, found that 59% of Latinos believed few or almost no blacks were hard-working, and a similar proportion reckoned few or almost none could be trusted. Fewer than one in ten whites felt the same way.

Photo by Nathan Gibbs via Flickr

The result has been a racial powder keg in North Carolina surprisingly similar to what we've been experiencing here in Southern California. Even more interesting is that those bitter feelings are likely to seep into the upcoming presidential race, which is great news if your name happens to be Hillary Clinton:

Such ethnic squabbles, which are almost inevitable in the zero-sum game of urban politics, can shape attitudes. And they may help to explain one of the most striking features of the 2008 presidential race: the lack of Latino support for Mr Obama. In June a Gallup poll showed that black Democrats were evenly divided between Mr Obama and Hillary Clinton, while whites gave Mrs Clinton a 16-point lead. Among Hispanics, however, the senator from New York led by a crushing 46 points--despite Mr Obama's impeccably liberal line on immigration.

Ouch. Apparently, closeness between Latinos and blacks has bred more contempt than anyone could have imagined. LAist wonders, is there something that can be done to mend fences between blacks and Latinos not just in Los Angeles, but across the country? Or henceforth, will the key to a politician winning the Latino vote simply be to run against a black person? We're thinking whoever ends up being the Republican candidate will now likely be praying for Obama to win his party's nomination.