There is one notable distinction between Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the Civil Rights Movement: its diversity. Young people showing up to BLM demonstrations are America’s most racially and ethnically diverse generation ever.
Millennials, half of whom are non-white in the U.S., are driving the change to a majority-minority nation. Already in California, no racial or ethnic group dominates numerically and a third of our state is immigrant. Only a third of California millennials are white, and Generation Z is ever more diverse.
The outpouring of cross-racial support has surprised some who feel there is a new awakening in American society. Yet the cross-racial coalition is no coincidence. Many on the streets are the young adult children of post-1965 immigrants — the bulk from Latin America and Asia, but many also from the Middle East and African nations.
It was in 1965 when the Immigration and Nationality Act eliminated discriminatory laws that gave preference to European immigrants. Some remain unfamiliar with this history of racial exclusion, including immigrants unaware that civil rights efforts helped open this nation to them.
Post-1965 immigrants placed all hope in this nation, making enormous sacrifices to get ahead only to confront a land of constrained opportunities for the select few. Some settled in long-neglected urban communities, including those predominantly Black. Many were shocked by the conditions in America’s segregated neighborhoods having arrived as urban violence peaked.
When the 1992 Los Angeles uprising occurred, the bulk were “recently arrived,” still coming to terms with America’s inequality. Latino immigrants quickly learned to turn inward as undocumented co-ethnics met increasingly open hostility, and they witnessed the militarization of police in their neighborhoods and at the border.
While many immigrants support Black Lives Matter, it is the children of immigrants born or raised in the United States — the second generation — that have a unique understanding of this country that allows them to much more easily grasp the plight, suffering and injustice of African Americans.
Some are Afro-descendants who confront the same racial animus as those who are Black and descendants from slaves in this country. Today, the colorism and internalized racism within ethnic communities, a product of colonization in their parents’ home countries, is being reckoned with in homes across America. Much work remains to address this internal divide but this generation is challenging old systems of beliefs that uphold white supremacy within their own communities.
What we are witnessing today is a generational shift in race consciousness. Many of these “diverse” allies are non-white, and as racial and ethnic minorities, more clearly recognize America’s system of racial oppression.
Those who have lived side-by-side African Americans in high poverty communities, with underfunded but heavily policed schools, have borne witness to the criminalization and violence against Black bodies. This same police criminalize Brown bodies as well, as the shooting of Andres Guardado in Los Angeles reminds us.
BLM allies of color, particularly the Latinx second generation, not only understand this country through the lens of their immigrant parents. Their worldviews and identity are shaped just as much by American conditions, its institutions and repeat interactions with those who marginalize and criminalize them. It only takes but one generation to see clearly the structural racism in everyday American life.
This new generation recognizes the institutional racism embedded in America’s law enforcement and criminal justice system is the same institutional racism that created and sustains unequal neighborhoods and schools that privilege whites and the affluent and disadvantage Blacks and Latinos. This same system of oppression relinquished natives of this land to the poorest pockets of our nation. It neglects the health and well being of Black and Brown communities where COVID-19 surges and denies human rights to asylum seekers knocking on America’s doors.
There is a reason why these diverse allies walk side-by-side with the Black community whose justice has been long coming. They have connected the dots to their broader history in this nation as a racialized people, also excluded and dehumanized.
María G. Rendón is associate professor in the Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of “Stagnant Dreamers: How the Inner City Shapes the Integration of Second-Generation Latinos.”