How black is black enough for CBC?
The Congressional Black Caucus is facing an existential quandary: to allow a Dominican-American to join or not to allow it? Is a Dominican-American black? Hispanic? Afro-Latino? Who decides? And what if that person tried to unseat Charlie Rangel (twice)?
We might think, based on the Rachael Dolezal case that one can just identify as whatever race one wants, just as progressives expect people to pick their gender from a long (long) list of choices. And we might be right. Or we might be wrong. Who knows? Certainly not the CBC.
Rep. Adriano Espaillat wants to join the Congressional Black Caucus. The question for the group’s members is whether he qualifies as African-American.
So far, the answer is no.
Espaillat, who in November became the first Dominican-American elected to Congress, identifies himself as a “Latino of African descent.” The CBC has a long-standing policy of limiting its caucus to African-American members, denying membership to white lawmakers in the past who have tried to join, even if they represent majority-minority districts.
The New York Democrat hasn’t formally asked to join but has been in discussions with CBC leadership. Espaillat has already joined the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Espaillat faces another problem in that he twice challenged Charlie Rangel for his seat prior to Rangel’s retirement and Espaillat’s subsequent victory.
Rangel, himself part Hispanic, founded the CBC, so some members are chafing at the idea of welcoming Espaillat into their ranks.
. . . . There’s also another problem for the freshman lawmaker. Some CBC members are angry that Espaillat challenged former Rep. Charles Rangel — a founding member of the black caucus and one of the most high-profile African-American members of the House for decades — in 2012 and 2014.
Now they’re not feeling particularly generous toward Espaillat, who won the seat after Rangel retired.
While Rangel disavowed his Puerto Rican father and rejected his Hispanic heritage, Espaillat has not and has already joined the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, another point of contention for the CBC.
. . . . Espaillat rankled some CBC members because he tried to join the caucus while simultaneously being a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, something members say has never happened before and could be politically motivated.
Espaillat’s district, while majority Latino, has a sizable African-American population and includes Harlem, long the intellectual and cultural center of black America.
“See that complicates matters. Even though our agendas are typically parallel, occasionally they are not. So it may be problematic if someone wants to belong to two ethnic caucuses,” said. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), a former chairman of the CBC. “If he’s considered an African-American then he’s certainly welcome in the caucus. But I can’t speak for the caucus.”
The problem is that many Hispanics do identify as more than one ethnicity, and Espaillat, who describes himself as a “Latino of African descent” falls into the identity “category” of Afro-Latino.
In the U.S., Latinos with Caribbean roots are more likely to identify as Afro-Latino or Afro-Caribbean than those with roots elsewhere (34% versus 22%, respectively). Those who identify as Afro-Latino are more concentrated on the East Coast and in the South than other Latinos (65% of Afro-Latinos live in these regions vs. 48% of other Latinos).
Ironically, this is a category into which Rangel himself would also fit . . . if he wanted. Which he doesn’t. So that brings us back to the original question facing the CBC: is Espaillat black? Is he black enough? Or is he Hispanic? Can he be both? Does he get to decide his own ethnic identity (as Rangel did)? Or does the CBC?
Watch this short compilation by NBC celebrating Espaillat as both the first former illegal alien and the first Dominican-American sworn into Congress:DONATE
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