The Distancing of Blackness in Miami

By Anne Price, President

Photo Credit: City of Miami Collection, CM-2–00478 
Sir John Hotel, a night club in Overtown, taken on May 11, 1962

Last week in partnership with the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University and The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University, we released a groundbreaking report, The Color of Wealth in Miami. The report examines and compares the economic positions of U.S. descendant Blacks, Caribbean Blacks, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, South Americans and other Latinx groups with whites and Latinx people who identify as white in the greater Miami area. Oscar Londoño, a staff attorney at the Community Justice Project, notes that our report “shows how whiteness or proximity to whiteness has real life significance on who has political power and economic well-being.”

The research makes clear that people who identify as Black, regardless if they are Cuban, Colombian or from another Latinx group, fare worse across many economic indicators than white Americans and Latinx groups that identify as white.

Perhaps there is no other region that operates racially quite like greater Miami does with its diverse Latinx and Black populations. For example, it is home to the largest share of Colombian, Honduran, Peruvian, and Haitian populations in the country. In addition, the region includes one of the nation’s emergent Latinx demographic majority counties, Miami-Dade, with 65 percent of its population identifying as Latinx.

Most Latinx residents in Greater Miami self-classify as either racially white or “other” on the census, while a small fraction choose a racially Black identity. “There is an undercount of Blacks because Latinx people just don’t want to identify as Black,” notes one of the report’s authors Danielle Clealand, an Associate Professor who studies Afro-Latinx groups at Florida International University. About 40 percent of Latinx people self-identify as “other,” complicating how people see themselves and how they are racialized. This distancing from Blackness is happening because inherently, people understand that to be Black in America automatically puts you at a disadvantage.

Identifying as Black or white plays a larger role than ancestry or ethnicity when determining employment, income, and homeownership. For example, Cubans who self identify as white and Colombians who self identify as white have homeownership rates that are 40 and nearly 60 percent higher than Black self identified Cubans and Colombians. There is a stark pattern of racial disparity in home ownership rates both across and within groups, with U.S. Black Miamians experiencing the worst outcomes.

Afro-Caribbeans — primarily Haitians, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, and Tobagonians — and Black Latinx people often encounter discrimination similar to that of U.S. Blacks, and are more economically similar to each other than with Latinx groups who identify as white.

This present day reality was orchestrated by policies of Miami’s past. Our research shows that underneath the global diversity, waterfronts and beaches, and arts and celebrities, within Miami lurks an often unspoken truth about how government and the private sector colluded to shape economic outcomes among various groups of color — marginalizing and excluding those who were not white. And amid the gloss of Miami’s growth throughout the 20th century, the violent reality of Jim Crow segregation yielded disproportionate intergroup wealth with visible effects today.

Historian N.D.B Connolly notes that local lynch laws in the early century turned into more “benign tools of segregation.” Racist zoning and land expropriation through eminent domain in the 1950s and 1960s resulted in the loss of property and businesses and displaced 40,000 Black Americans, Bahamians, and other Black Miamians. Also during this period, the first wave of Cuban professionals, often called the “Golden Exiles,” arrived in Miami. The U.S. government channeled unprecedented amounts of funds into fomenting the group’s success, investing nearly $1 billion to assist these immigrants with resettlement, job training, housing and education programs, and up to $3 billion more was invested up until 1996. Cubans were not only able to attend well-resourced, “white-only” schools, but the community would be granted access and benefit from the “set-aside” and “affirmative action” policies.

This level of concerted support would later stand in contrast to the treatment of Haitian immigrants, who, while also arriving as a result of political and economic vitality, did not receive the same level of government assistance.

As a result of these policy decisions, today, Cubans in Miami have more wealth than other racial ethnic groups, and white Americans are at the top with 5 times the wealth of Cubans, 10 times the wealth of Caribbean Blacks, and 28 times the wealth of U.S. Blacks and 89 times the wealth of South Americans (largely Colombians).

These disparities demonstrate the persistence of wealth inequality and raise fundamental questions for our policymakers on issues of race and colorism in Miami. We need policies that take into account the racist and bias policies of the past, and provide opportunities for wealth building, safe housing, fair paying jobs, and quality education to ensure financial security and opportunities for future generations of American families both in Miami and across the nation.