Why Intergroup Resources?
United States history has long been characterized by immigrant arrivals seeking the romantic yet elusive promise of the proverbial “American dream.” While traditionally settling in a few “gateway” cities and regions of the country, newly arrived immigrants are increasingly making their homes in non-traditional destinations. Receiving communities, old and new, are grappling with the complexities of race, identity, migration, and the prospect of cross-racial coalition building that their increasing diversity brings.
This growing diversity adds a new dimension to the already-precarious dynamics of race, rights, and resources in the U.S. With many immigrants and refugees settling into African American and other communities of color, cross-racial encounters are increasingly commonplace in schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, and other venues. Many of these interactions are mundane; however, others are strained, plagued by hostility and tensions that, by dividing communities, serve to benefit those already in positions of power.
A generalized lack of understanding between the groups regarding the circumstances of the other often manifests itself through reliance on stereotypes and misperceptions. Frequent exclamations such as “they’re taking our jobs” or “we’re hard workers; they’re just lazy” reflect feelings of competition for scarce resources, particularly during times of economic hardship. Employment competition heightens tensions, and some employers pit immigrants against African Americans, thus furthering a sense of competition among low-wage workers.
Neoliberal policies have only furthered this sense of economic antagonism by consolidating wealth in the upper range of the socioeconomic hierarchy, thereby leaving few resources to be divided among those at the other end of the spectrum and further fueling feelings of intergroup struggle.
Operating within this complex and often contentious context, organizers and educators have been working to help newcomers and receiving communities navigate these encounters constructively. They recognize that fostering understanding and trust is vital to overcoming the concerns and challenges that resonate for both immigrant and African American communities, such as job creation, good schools, and safe neighborhoods. By emphasizing how collaborative mobilization and cooperative action on these issues is crucial, some organizers, community leaders, unions, and faith-based institutions encourage the construction of coalitions with an eye towards the tremendous ground that may be gained and policy goals that may be won by uniting across differences such as race, ethnicity, nationality, language, and immigration status.
Regardless of the focus of the coalition, learning experiences that increase understanding of each group’s culture, history, and worldview are critical. Without them, even well-intentioned efforts are likely to founder on the shoals of misunderstanding and mistrust. But with them, groups may begin to see one another in a new light, identifying commonalities of experience upon which to build the power necessary to realize transformative change.
Intergroup Resources responds to these needs by creating a platform for the sharing of resources for intergroup dialogue and political education—materials, activities, lessons learned, organizational contacts, “practices that work,” and directions for further study. It provides an opportunity for people and organizations with experience doing this work to share their wisdom gained, while allowing others to learn from and experiment with the work that has already been done. It allows us to avoid reinventing the wheel, spending time instead collectively building upon what we’ve learned about strengthening relationships between and power among African American and immigrant communities.