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Jewish World Review May 25, 2001 / 3 Sivan, 5761

Stanley Crouch

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Consumer Reports

Third World Unity?
Sorry, It's Just a Dream -- THERE is a lot of talk about immigration in New York these days. Because of growing Latin and Asian populations, the ethnic texture of this city -- already so much richer than any other in the nation -- is being modified.

On one level -- that of ongoing vitality -- this is good for the city, just as it is good for the nation. But black Americans needn't be as reverent about immigration as are people of European descent whose presence in this country goes back no more than, say, 150 years. Research shows that black Americans have advanced most when there was little or no immigration. So the Negro should look at this phenomenon both rationally and strategically.

I say this because Afro-Americans in positions of leadership too often succumb to the sentimental dream of Third World unity. The dream, which has evolved over the decades, is that people who are either not white or who come from places outside of Europe will merge to work against the barriers of bigotry.

What happens, however, is that groups that make it economically and socially abandon the Third World for the white world. So long, solidarity. And black people usually end up holding the bag.

Much of this results from confusion in the wake of the civil rights movement and the emergence of excessive identification with foreign nations on the basis of color. Some refer to this as "the black consciousness movement." The problem with this Pan-African concept is that the history of black Americans is quite different from that of the people who were colonized in Africa or the Caribbean. None of those people had the same fundamental impact on their colonizers as did black Americans on this nation's development.

The forward motion of black people in this land often has to do with coalitions forged with the broad majority of the country. The dream of forging some other alliance has not served black American political interests particularly well.

Take, for example, the way the Third World game played itself out in the affirmative action arena. Affirmative action was originally intended to help blacks compete in the American system after being handicapped by 300 years of slavery and oppression. But it wound up so that anybody who wasn't white could stick out a hand and demand admission to a university -- or a contract or some other benefit. Women got into the affirmative action game, too, and as things have gone, white women have gained more from it than anybody else.

None of this is meant to encourage ethnic hostility or paranoia. What I think is that black leaders should realize that celebrating the long history of black and white Americans together -- while still criticizing that history's faults -- might be the best protection against blacks' getting shoved out of the picture as other ethnic groups grow in size.

Never be so naive as to expect those who have no long history with you to feel responsible to you on the basis of a "common" enemy.

JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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