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Black-Brown Relations and Stereotypes

Black-Brown Relations and Stereotypes

Offering some of the first in-depth analyses of how African Americans and Hispanics perceive and interact with each other, this pathfinding study looks at black-brown relations in Houston, Texas, one of the largest U.S. cities with a majority ethnic population and one in which Hispanics outnumber African Americans.

January 2002
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165 pages | 6 x 9 | 17 tables |

Race relations in twenty-first-century America will not be just a black-and-white issue. The 2000 census revealed that Hispanics already slightly outnumber African Americans as the largest ethnic group, while together Blacks and Hispanics constitute the majority population in the five largest U.S. cities. Given these facts, black-brown relations could be a more significant racial issue in the decades to come than relations between minority groups and Whites.

Offering some of the first in-depth analyses of how African Americans and Hispanics perceive and interact with each other, this pathfinding study looks at black-brown relations in Houston, Texas, one of the largest U.S. cities with a majority ethnic population and one in which Hispanics outnumber African Americans. Drawing on the results of several sociological studies, the authors focus on four key issues: how each group forms and maintains stereotypes of the other, areas in which the two groups conflict and disagree, the crucial role of women in shaping their communities' racial attitudes, and areas in which Hispanics and African Americans agree and can cooperate to achieve greater political power and social justice.

  • List of Tables
  • Preface
  • Chapter One. Emerging Relations between African Americans and Hispanics
  • Chapter Two. Stereotypes and Their Implications for Intergroup Relations
  • Chapter Three. Areas of Disagreement
  • Chapter Four. Women's Perceptions of Black-Brown Relations: A Contextual Approach
  • Chapter Five. Areas of Agreement
  • Chapter Six. Prospects for Black-Brown Relations
  • References
  • Index

Tatcho Mindiola Jr. is Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston. Yolanda Flores Niemann is Associate Professor of Comparative Cultures and Director of Latina/o Outreach at Washington State University. Nestor Rodriguez is Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Immigration Research at the University of Houston.


The 2000 U.S. Census documented what those who live in urban areas across the United States already know—that the color of America is rapidly changing. One of the most significant forces underlying this change is the dramatic increase in the country's immigrant population, especially Hispanics, over the past three decades, coupled with a moderate increase in the African American population and a much slower increase in the White population.

In the past decade, newspapers and other media predicted that Hispanics would soon become the nation's largest minority group. A prevalent message seemed to be that African American issues would be replaced by those of Hispanics once the latter became the nation's largest minority. Of course, this has not occurred: even as Hispanics have begun to surpass African Americans in numbers, African Americans and their issues remain very much in front of the public. We felt that the constant media attention has contributed to tension between the two groups. In several regions of the United States, this tension is already evident: Hispanics are the majority in some school districts; and African Americans and Hispanics vie for political offices previously occupied by Whites. The tension seems to be exacerbated by the growing numbers of Hispanic immigrants, most of whom have little direct knowledge of or contact with African Americans. As our students and members of the media questioned us about these demographic changes and their implications for Black-Brown relations, we turned to the social science literature for answers.

We found, however, that the study of race relations in the United States is dominated by concern with Black-White relations and that the literature on minority-minority relations, especially Black-Brown relations, is scant at best. We believe that relations among peoples of color will be a central concern in the twenty-first century. We also believe that because African Americans and Hispanics are the two largest racial-ethnic groups and live in proximity in urban areas, they are destined to receive much of the attention from the media, politicians, corporate America, and researchers. Our observations also indicate that conflict, cooperation, and accommodation characterize relations between Hispanics and African Americans, depending on the context.

Relations vary as well according to the specific situation and locale and according to whether interaction is at the group or individual level. At the national level, for example, several prominent civil rights organizations, such as the Rainbow Coalition and the League of United Latin American Citizens, have issued a statement of collaboration in pursuit of a common agenda. At the individual level, however, issues such as competition for resources and status, stereotypes, and cultural differences influence the perceptions and behaviors of Hispanics and African Americans. Our understanding of these intergroup phenomena is hampered by the lack of research on the topic of minority-minority relations. Thus our goal here is to begin to fill the large gap in our knowledge of group relations as they pertain to African Americans and Hispanics. In our analyses, we consider several dimensions of Black-Brown relations.

The demographic dimension speaks to the rapid growth in the Hispanic population. Hispanic immigrants are important actors in this scenario because they are perceived as an economic threat, especially to persons in the lower classes.

The second dimension relates to intergroup perceptions and attitudes. Hispanics and African Americans have preconceived notions about each other. These stereotypes, many of which are negative, seem most prevalent among Hispanic immigrants and females. The role of women in facilitating intergroup relations is a prime focus of our analyses. Thus this work contributes to group relations literature in focusing on an area that has been largely ignored.

Consensus and conflict are yet another dimension of intergroup relations. Our examination of the various issues on which there is agreement and disagreement among African Americans and Hispanics shows that conflict and consensus have important implications for Black-Brown relations.

Cultural differences also have a major impact on the dynamics of intergroup relations in that they are a source of friction and misunderstanding, especially as they relate to language. Spanish is now heard over the airwaves, in the workplace, and on the streets. The spread of the Spanish language has created a backlash among some groups, including African Americans.

Race is also implicated in the dynamics of Black-Brown relations. Although Hispanics and Blacks are referred to as "people of color," thereby setting both groups apart from Whites, they are physically different from each other. There is substantial variation within the Hispanic population, and some Hispanics consider themselves White. However, few African Americans would consider Hispanics White. This difference in perception has implications for Black-Brown relations and for each group's relations with Anglo-Americans.

The final dimension we consider is political efficacy. Hispanics and African Americans are not only competing against Whites for elected and appointed positions, but against each other as well. Hispanics lag behind African Americans in voting power and in the number of elected positions they hold. Yet it seems clear that Hispanics are destined to become the third major political force in the United States, after Whites and African Americans.


The analyses presented in this book reflect our varied interests and scholarship. Each of us is interested in the issues that emanate from race relations, but each of us also has specific interests as they pertain to relations between Hispanics and African Americans. Nestor Rodriguez is interested in immigration from Mexico and other Latin American countries and how this affects relations between Hispanics and African Americans. Yolanda Flores Niemann is interested in stereotypes, women's experiences, and social location and the role they play in Black-Brown relations. Tatcho Mindiola Jr. is interested in the issues that divide African Americans and Hispanics and that foster consensus between them. We consider this work a first effort. Much more needs to be done. We hope it will motivate others to consider how minority-minority relations are changing the dynamics of race relations in the United States.


One of the first issues we confronted in writing this volume was how to refer to the groups in question. Both African Americans and Hispanics have a history of using different labels to refer to their own group. "Negro," "Colored," "Afro-American," "African American," and "Black" have been some of the terms used by people of African origin. "Latin American," "Spanish American," "Hispanic," and "Latino" have been used by Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and others who have a common heritage and culture. Among Mexican-origin people, the terms "Mexican American" and "Chicano" have also been used. We are sensitive to the ideological underpinnings of each term and the controversy that surrounds many of them. We use "Hispanic" in this book not because we approve of or identify with the term but because it is preferred at this time in Houston, Texas. The same reasoning explains our use of the terms "African American," "Black," "Anglo," and "White."

A Note of Thanks

We wish to express our appreciation to the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston for sponsoring the survey that serves as the foundation of this book. We are also grateful to Adolfo Santos and Luis Salinas of the University of Houston for their statistical advice and assistance. Special thanks are due Maria Gonzales and Ada Vaglienty of the Center for Mexican American Studies for their assistance in constructing the tables and formatting the chapters. We also thank our editor at the University of Texas Press, Theresa May, and the anonymous reviewers who gave us invaluable comments on the manuscript.



“This is a very important book, in that it looks to the [racial] issues that are facing and will continue to face this nation over the next several years.... No book could be more timely in this regard.”
Joe R. Feagin, author of Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations