24: Laura Pulido’s Black, Brown, Yellow and Left

Laura Pulido squeezes several agendas into this book.  As an LA activist who worked with an antiracist, anticapitalist group called the Labor/Community Strategy Center to organize a multiethnic left, she is interested in learning from the history and mechanics of previous multi-racial organizing attempts; she is also interested in fostering a class-based leftist politics among her readers.  As a scholar, she is fascinated by the sixties and frustrated that histories of radicalism in that period are either mostly white or centered around the Black Panther Party, so she wants to expand the history of racial/ethnic activism to incorporate more of LA’s racial and ethnic groups; and she wants to complicate racism by breaking down the black white binary and investigating racial hierarchies and collaborations (or not) in the people she is studying.
 
Therefore, Black, Brown, Yellow and Left is part history of the Third World Left, part empirical study of what she calls “differential racism,” and part analysis of the growth, development, and decline of a social movement.  Pulido accomplishes all of these goals via a comparative analysis of left-leaning activism among three racial/ethnic groups in LA in the late 1960s and early 1970s, using three organizations as stand-ins: the Black Panther Party for African Americans; East Wind, a Japanese American group, for Asian Americans; and CASA, a Chicano/a group, for Latino/as.

Although the details of each case make for good reading, her historical conclusions about the relationship between race/ethnicity, racism, and Left activism reveal the complexities of the Third World Left.  Her study of the Black Panther Party suggests that their two main concerns of self-defense and community service were directly related to African American racialization (as the ‘Other’ to whites, they were at the very bottom of the racial hierarchy and over-policed) and their class position as urban poor.  CASA, by contrast, focused on labor organizing and immigration issues reflected Chicano/as position as a ‘problem minority’: their racial status and particular historical experiences as immigrants and low-wage workers meant that they were a needed part of the economy, but only as subordinated and exploited workers.  And as a Japanese American group in a multiethnic, multi-class Asian American community, East Wind focused on issues of identity, community service, and solidarity work; their activities reflected their mixed economic position and their status as a ‘middle minority.’

Though Pulido found enough connections among groups to indicate a relatively coherent Third World Left, she quickly discovered that these connections were rather thin.  All three organizations were interested in the connection between their own identity as a racial or ethnic ‘nation’ and anticolonial struggles worldwide, and all three were fighting racism and economic exploitation at home, but they were unsure how to work with other communities in LA.  This uncertainty had a lot to do with the complex racial hierarchies in LA at the time: African Americans, for instance, were at the bottom of the social hierarchy, but through the millitancy and visibility of the Black Panther Party they were at the top of the social movement hierarchy. Uncertain positioning, as well as uncertainty regarding the status of one’s own group, made lasting coalitions difficult.

Pulido argues that despite a strong need for a multiethnic left today, the situation is much the same as it was in the 1960s and 1970s: strong ethnic groups with weak connections among them, and a weak Third World Left as a result.  Despite some issues with scope (using a single organization to stand in for all ethnic/racial organizing, for instance), Pulido’s book provides a thoughtful analysis of the intersections between race and class in LA that may well be a useful guidebook for folks trying to build political capital today.

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