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Minorities now urban majority, expert says

Justin Tardiff | Friday, November 18, 2005

Stanford professor Albert Camarillo said Thursday that due to demographic changes, racial populations generally considered minorities in the United States now make up the majority in urban areas.

In a lecture at McKenna Hall, Camarillo used U.S. Census statistics to show the dramatic increase of minorities in such areas. In 1970, the 20 largest United States cities were comprised of 38 percent minorities, but in 2000 the minority population grew to 60 percent, he said.

“It’s going to mean greater interaction between various minorities that now constitute the majorities of the country’s largest cities,” he said.

Camarillo demonstrated this new racial distribution through racial demographics in Compton, located in the metropolitan center of Los Angeles County. Born and raised in Compton, Camarillo said his interest in the sociology of the city began when he returned after 30 years away to find a different community.

In his travels to different areas of the country, Camarillo said most people perceive Compton in a negative light and connect the city with gangster rap, gangs and its reputation as the U.S. murder capital of the 1980s and 90s.

“We must look beyond these images and portrayals in the media to understand what is really going on in minority-majority populations,” Camarillo said.

Camarillo showed the migration of racial groups in Los Angeles County over the past five decades using distribution maps that showed areas of predominant race. Prior to the Civil Rights Act, real estate businesses in Los Angeles County dictated where African-Americans could or could not buy property. Consequently, African-Americans and Latinos lived in the most densely populated racial areas in the United States in the 1950s and 60s, he said.

Camarillo said African-Americans were prohibited from living in Compton, but liberal whites bought homes for their African-American friends in the city. In seven years, Compton became predominately black as whites left the city for fear that house values would decline with the presence of African-Americans. Camarillo described the flight of whites from the city as a “white exodus.”

As an extension of the white exodus, major banks left Compton and the infrastructure necessary to run the city began to collapse. Gangs emerged on the streets of Compton – as did crack cocaine.

“Now we have turf battles over who’s selling or profiting from the sale of drugs,” he said.

The city government was forced to put 60 to 70 percent of all revenue into policing the streets, and as a result the quality of schools declined.

The rush of Mexican migration into Los Angeles County also influenced the social structure of Compton. By the year 2000, the Latino population was at 50 percent.

Camarillo said the integration of Latino and African-American politicians caused political unrest because African-Americans retained a monopoly on city council positions, even as the Latino population comprised the majority.

“African-Americans are experiencing a sense of special belonging – this is their city,” Camarillo said. “They see Latinos as changing their neighborhoods, taking over their neighborhoods. This has a strong, reactive consequence for people.”

The schools in Compton present further breeding ground for conflict between the two groups. Schools run by African-Americans are not geared toward helping new immigrants learn English, so many Latinos are failing, he said.

Camarillo said the prospect for a more peaceful Compton lies with cooperation and understanding between African-Americans and Latinos.

“There is a young group of people – young Latinos and African Americans – that are forging ahead,” Camarillo said. “They have a different vision of a future for Compton of which they want to be a part.”

Camarillo is a professor of American history, the founding director of the Stanford Center for Chicano Research and the founding executive director of the Inter-University Program for Latino Research, headquartered at Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies.

The lecture, titled “The New Racial Frontier in America: Minority-Majority Cities, the Case of Compton,” was sponsored by the Institute for Latino Studies, the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts and the History, American Studies and Africana Studies departments.