Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Brown Irish

[posted by Callimachus]

A white American anti-immigrant movement (directed at a specific ethnicity) so powerful it becomes a balance-tilter in national politics -- even as the ethnicity in question consolidates local power in the urban centers where its people live and work. A flood of new arrivals who pry from the black population -- which has been in place for a century -- the bulk of the jobs "Americans don't want to do." A set of fresh arrivals barely able to speak the language who within a generation have sent sons and daughters up into the middle class and beyond, mingling into the mainstream even as their cousins fight bitter turf wars with black Americans in the worst ghettos in the nation.

It's hard for a student of the early 19th century not to sense something drearily familiar in the current immigration troubles.

Last year Pew, a pollster, found that one-third of blacks believe immigrants take jobs from Americans—more than any other group. ... 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.

Fifteen years ago such prejudices hardly existed in Durham, for the simple reason that there were hardly any Latinos. Like much of the South, the city was biracial, with roughly equal numbers of blacks and whites. Then came a building boom that drew workers from Mexico, many of them illegal. By 2000 one in 12 residents of Durham was Latino—up from one in 80 a decade earlier. By 2005, one in eight was. ...

That storm has broken most heavily on the poorest parts of Durham, which happen to be black. It is in largely black neighbourhoods that wooden shacks have been converted into call centres and carnicerias (and it is, inevitably, often blacks who have robbed new arrivals of their weekly wages). In this, Durham is typical. By 2000 blacks in all ten of America's biggest metropolitan areas were more mixed in with Hispanics than with whites. In Los Angeles, former ghettos such as Watts are now biracial.

Change some names and dates and that passage could have described a Mid-Atlantic American city of the 1850s.