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United We Stand, Divided We Fall : Pitting blacks against Latinos won’t get Los Angeles anywhere

Los Angeles has always prided itself on the fact that it has never had the hostile inter-ethnic conflicts that have racked cities such as Miami or New York. That’s why it’s distressing and alarming to see that some apparently want to play the “Them vs. Us” game in looking at alleged employment bias in the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in a confidential report obtained by The Times, accused the county of discriminating against Latinos in employment. The report singled out Martin Luther King Jr./Drew and County-USC medical centers for failing to hire and promote Latinos “on a basis equal to other ethnic or racial groups.”

The report went on to compare the 4% of Latino managers at King/Drew to the 74% black managers there; 12% Latino clerical workers compared to 82% blacks. Given that unfortunate framing of the issue, there is only one way to interpret those figures: Latinos aren’t getting their fair share, and African-Americans are getting “too much.”

A federal lawsuit has proven that the Board of Supervisors has discriminated against Latinos and kept them from exercising the full power of their vote. Latinos are clearly under-represented at various levels throughout county government. But even to suggest placing this responsibility at the feet of African-American employees who still struggle daily to break bonds of discrimination--particularly in housing and in private employment--is not only unfair, but potentially divisive.

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The taking from one disadvantaged group to give to another--while the larger pieces of the political and economic pie remain untouched--is an old tactic that has explosive implications. That’s a door that no responsible leader--whether elected, appointed or a union official--should want to open. Any doubts about the sheer futility and complete ugliness of inter-ethnic conflict? Ask a Korean grocer boycotted by African-Americans in New York, ask an embittered African-American in Miami about Cuban-Americans and ask the police who have to make order from the chaos. That’s not happening here. Yet. And it doesn’t have to.

The pueblo that came to be known as Los Angeles was founded by families who listed themselves as “Indians, Spaniards, Negroes, mestizos and mulattoes.” The multicolored history of this region suggests Latinos and African-Americans need not--and should not--be pitted against each other in finding solutions at King/Drew and County-USC. Effort wasted on fighting over jobs wouldn’t leave much energy to tackle the many problems that could unite the two groups. That lack of cohesion would only work to the detriment of all Los Angeles County.


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