Archive for the 'Race' Category

17
Apr
10

Separate, Unequal, the Whole Thing

I don’t want to forget to thank Ankhesen, Michele, and Steven for their recent comments on my posts.

And speaking of forgetting, let’s take a second to reacquaint ourselves with an overlooked part of Latino history – indeed, an ignored part of American history.

Most of us remember learning about Brown vs. Board of Education, the case that ended racial segregation in public schools. It is justifiably remembered as a mighty blow against legal discrimination.

Like many Americans, I thought that Brown was the alpha and omega of school desegregation in America. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I only recently found out about Mendez v. Westminster School District. Why this case doesn’t even merit a passing mention in history classes is beyond me.

Because I assume most of you are as in the dark as I was, let me recap Mendez for you. Basically, in 1945, a few uppity Chicanos sued a California school district because their children were forced to attend separate “schools for Mexicans,” rather than the nice schools where white kids went.

To the shock of establishment types everywhere, the parents won. The school board appealed, and the parents won again. The disturbing aspect, however, is that the appeal relied on a technicality, which was that Latino kids weren’t specifically mentioned in the segregation laws of the time. Instead, the laws pinpointed “children of Chinese, Japanese or Mongolian parentage” (yikes!).

But a win is a win, and the case seemed destined for the Supreme Court. However, California saw how this was going, got wise, and abolished the law, thus ending the practice of legal segregation in the state.

It wasn’t until seven years later that the rest of the country caught up, in the Brown decision. I will leave it to a lawyer to assess how important the Mendez precedent was to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown. However, I think we can all agree that it certainly didn’t hurt.

In any case, the girl at the center of the Mendez case tells her story here. She may have been an unwilling pioneer, but future generations of Latinos can still thank her and her parents for standing up for civil rights.

And I would add that her place in history is secure, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.

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10
Apr
10

The New Majority

Let me thank Sanguinity for commenting on my post “It’s Not All About the Music.” I’m grateful whenever someone provides an intellectual, well-researched point to one of my flippant asides. Thanks as well to Juhem, who stumbled upon the site and is inexplicably coming back for more. And here’s some more thanks to Ankhesen for her always great comments.

As a supplement to my previous post about the U.S. Census, I have yet another demographic factoid to amaze and impress you… or alarm and disgust you, depending upon your impression of Latinos.

According to MSNBC, this year could be “the ‘tipping point’ when the number of babies born to minorities outnumbers that of babies born to whites. The numbers are growing because immigration to the U.S. has boosted the number of Hispanic women in their prime childbearing years.”

That’s right: childbearing Latinas are the biggest threat to white supremacy. If demographers are correct, 2015 will be the first kindergarten class in which white kids are outnumbered by Hispanic, black, and Asian children.

Leading the charge will be Latino babies. Well, strictly speaking, they can’t charge. Come on, they can’t even walk. But you know what I’m saying.

As we all know, whites are projected to become the minority circa 2050. For that projection to hold, it stands to reason that minority babies will become more numerous right around… now… actually, now. Yes, it just happened.

Mark your calendars.

13
Mar
10

Called out on Strikes

First, let me acknowledge Henna, Cold Spaghetti, Island Meri, and Steven for their recent comments. I appreciate your thoughts.

Second, let me segue from thanks to apologies. Specifically, I may owe one to Sammy Sosa.

In a recent post, I wrote about Sosa’s apparent use of a skin product designed to make him appear whiter. I wondered if the baseball great’s light skin was a capitulation to the colonizer mentality. This mindset holds that anything white is superior, and it has caused many black people to go to absurd lengths to seem whiter (both culturally and literally).

As we know, Hispanics can be of any race. Sosa, a Dominican, is obviously a dark-skinned Latino. Many people have wondered if he is trying to renounce his Hispanic and/or black status.

As it turns out, maybe Sosa isn’t to blame if he wants to be white. Apparently, some of the man’s fellow players think that he is not really black in the first place.

Specifically, Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, a great player and multiple All-Star, believes that black players from Latin America are “imposters.” Hunter said that he and his fellow African American players “have a theory that baseball can go get an imitator and pass them off as us. It’s like they had to get some kind of dark faces, so they go to the Dominican or Venezuela because you can get them cheaper. You can get a Dominican guy for a bag of chips.”

I must admit that I didn’t know the rates for Dominicans were so reasonable. Perhaps we should all get one.

Hunter goes on to pose the ultimate rhetorical question about a former MVP. Hunter asks, “Hey, what color is Vladimir Guerrero? Is he a black player? Come on, he’s Dominican. He’s not black.”

I have no idea if Guerrero considers himself black. Perhaps he answers, “Hispanic” or “Dominican” or “human” or “right-handed slugger” when asked about his status. But he’s certainly within his rights to say, “black” or “black Latino.”

In the picture below, Hunter is on the left. Guerrero is on the right. One of them is positively not black.

Perhaps Hunter meant that Guerrero and other players from Latin America are not African American. That’s a noncontroversial point. However, Hunter comes across as a cultural jingoist, reminiscent of people who said President Obama is not really black.

His comments bring up the whole messy topic of how we categorize race and ethnicity, and why. I’ve written before about this, and several readers have chastised me for (among other offenses) saying that Chicanos are Hispanic and Spaniards are not. I’d like to think, however, that I was a bit more diplomatic than Hunter.

Perhaps we are indeed all too hung up on race and who is one category and who is not. But to deny that these constructs – artificial as they are – actually exist is to deny their power. And that’s why, despite the earnest pleas of many Americans, we will go on talking about race and racial matters.

As for Hunter, he has claimed that his comments were taken out of context. If so, it lessens the creepiness of their content, but not the stupidity of their mere existence.

Hunter ended his racial-conspiracy rant by saying, “I’m telling you, it’s sad.”

Oh, it’s sad, alright. But not in the way that Hunter thinks. It’s sad that he said, “They’re not us” when referring to teammates like Guerrero.

As the baseball writer Craig Calcaterra points out, “the fact that more and more of baseball’s black players happen to come from a couple hundred miles south of an artificial political border doesn’t mean that there is no one around to receive the torch passed down from Jackie Robinson.”

In fact, many of those players who thrive under Robinson’s legacy are Hispanic. And yes, they may even be black too.

02
Mar
10

The Problem with a Faulty Spam Filter

I have a racist in-law. But then again, who doesn’t?

I don’t see a lot of this guy, because my wife only begrudgingly let him back into her life after a decade of exile. She has not exactly done cartwheels over the decision, but we’re stuck with him now.

Clearly, this man is not particularly close to his relative, my wife, or else he would have noticed that she disgraced the master race by marrying a Latino. My guess is that he thinks I just spend a lot of time in the tanning booth.

It’s important to note that my in-law is not overt about his bigotry. He either isn’t as virulent as, say, 1950s Strom Thurmond, or more likely, he doesn’t have the cojones to be upfront about it.

Of course, this brings up the uncomfortable truth that we now have degrees of racism. In the old days, a person was either a hate-filled redneck with a noose in one hand, or he was a progressive, love-thy-neighbor type who was incapable of seeing race, much less discriminating against someone.

But a more nuanced view has come into play in recent years. This viewpoint holds that everyone has some level of unconscious prejudice. At its lowest level, it may be the white woman who grips her purse a little tighter when a black man passes her on the street. From there, we ratchet up the intensity until we reach Klan level.

My in-law is somewhere between those poles. His dancing around the issue makes his prejudice less obnoxious in person and, on occasion, even unintentionally hilarious.

Recently, he sent us a forwarded email that slammed Obama’s immigration-reform plan. Perhaps I should have pointed out to him that there is no Obama immigration-reform plan, per se, but that would have prevented me from savoring the deeply astute political viewpoints that the email expressed.

  • There was a lot about English being under attack.
  • There was something about immigrants breeding out of control.
  • There were a few lines about Mexicans stealing our jobs.

Yes, I learned a lot from my quick glance at the missive. Most interestingly, the email detoured into how Anglo-Saxon culture was the only basis for American values. The email gave white people credit for ending slavery in America (neglecting the obvious fact that white people were responsible for slavery in the first place). I must admit that this was an interpretation of history that I had never considered.

The forward ended, rather ominously, with the declaration that white people can, at any point, take back everything they have generously given the rest of America.

I wasn’t sure what response my in-law wanted. Like I said, I barely know the guy.

Is it more proper to call him on his bullshit? Or would that just be a waste of time that does nothing but jack up everyone’s blood pressure? Is it standing up for oneself and La Raza to go on the counteroffensive? Or is it more dignified to dismiss idiocy with the split-second contempt that it deserves? Like many things in life, dealing with racists offers valid arguments for contradictory courses of action.

In the end, I just deleted the man’s rant and made a mental note to do the same whenever he sends us another email.

He’s since forwarded numerous other manifestos, but I’ve deleted them automatically, declining the opportunity to learn how Obama is a socialist who wasn’t even born in this country and wants to give all my money to gay, flag-burning immigrants.

All that can wait until my next face-to-face discussion with my in-law, whenever that is. I’m sure he’ll start the conversation with “I’m not racist, but…”

Yes, good times are coming.

24
Feb
10

One Big Dysfunctional Family

I’ve written before about our peculiar drive to separate the various races, ethnicities, and tribes that constitute the human kaleidoscope. I’m not talking about the cultural or social differences that make life interesting (indeed, that’s the whole point of this blog). I’m referring to the common perception that there is something fundamentally different, even wrong, with people who don’t share our skin color or eye shape or nose width or whatever.

Many people insist upon accenting these differences, as if they were truly meaningful. This is despite the fact that scientists say that any two humans have at least 99% of their DNA in common. That’s basic biology.

So I was intrigued to read about the “Faces of America” series on PBS. The creators of this show “used historical archives and cutting-edge genetic research to trace the ancestry of a dozen famous Americans.”

They found out, of course, that Americans are the ultimate immigrants, and that even random people of vastly different races have common ancestors. To drive home the point, the show profiles Americans of different ethnicities.

The Hispanic representative is actress Eva Longoria Parker. The show reveals that she is a distant cousin to cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Their relationship does more than link the Latino and Asian cultures. It also does more than provide a funky six-degrees-of-celebrity anecdote.

The fact that Longoria Parker and Ma are cousins provides our missing link between high art and pop culture. Yes, their common ancestor passed down the talent to perform beautiful, complex musical passages of incredible intricacy. But he/she also bequeathed the ability to look hot while lounging courtside at LA Lakers games. We’re talking about a truly fascinating individual.

In any case, perhaps the best summation of the “Faces of America” project is from Henry Louis Gates (of the infamous Beer Summit, which I wrote about previously). Gates says, that when it comes to Americans, “We are all mulattos.”

It’s a good observation. And it is perhaps appropriate that he used a Spanish word to make his point.

19
Jan
10

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Once again, I’ve been far too lax about thanking people for commenting on my recent posts. So let me give a shout out to Stephanie, Louis, Emma, and Pipil for their contributions to the site. Now that my rudeness has been addressed, let’s take a look at my cynicism.

Despite my frequently cynical viewpoint and occasional outbursts of rage (always justified, I assure you), I consider myself a fairly optimistic person. But I’ve just found out that my positive attitude has made me a psychological minority within an ethnic minority.

This is because my fellow Latinos are a little down on the world right now, especially regarding how well we all get along with each other. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that “one year after the election of President Barack Obama, black optimism about America has surged, while Hispanics have become more skeptical about race relations.”

Basically, African Americans are still feeling pretty good about their place in society, while Latinos are, as the headline to the story puts it, “wary” about our status in this country. It doesn’t appear to just be self-loathing or paranoia, either.

Among the interesting tidbits in the poll is the finding that “Hispanics, not blacks, now are seen as the ethnic group facing the most discrimination. Twenty-three percent of all respondents say Hispanics are discriminated against ‘a lot,’ compared with eighteen percent for blacks, ten percent for whites and eight percent for Asians.”

So what do we take away from this finding, besides the facts that black Americans are on the upswing and that everybody loves Asians? Well, it would appear that the unwanted title of most feared ethnic group in America – long held by blacks – is being passed to Latinos.

Clearly, the relentless media attacks – and occasional overt violence – directed toward immigrants has taken a toll, even upon perceptions of Hispanics who are legal residents. Indeed, the article states that “there have been a number of recent attacks on Latinos that advocates say are hate crimes fueled by anti-immigration rhetoric.”

So it’s not just that blacks are feeling better about their status. They’re also perceived better by the majority culture.

It may be that whites are more likely these days to scowl at Latinos than to clutch their purses when an African American walks by. As a result, according to the poll, “Hispanics are less optimistic than other groups about interracial relations. When whites and blacks were asked how well their group gets along with Hispanics, more than seventy percent say ‘very’ or ‘pretty’ well. In contrast, only about fifty percent of Hispanics feel the same way.”

Of course, another reason for the current depression among Latinos is our sky-high unemployment rate. While the overall percentage of Americans without jobs stands at 10 percent, for Hispanics it’s an even more impressive 12.9 percent. That doesn’t lead to cheery feelings.

In essence, we Latinos have backslid. We are now more likely both to be out of work and to be discriminated against than just a few years ago. As such, cartwheels may not exactly be called for.

In the face of this dismal pessimism, however, I remain optimistic. Things will get better for both Latinos and for all Americans. I can’t give you a concrete reason for my feelings. I guess I’m just audacious about hope… or has someone used that phrase already?

12
Jan
10

The Strange Case of Sammy Sosa’s Skin

I’m a big baseball fan, which I’ve mentioned before. As such, Mark McGwire’s admission this week that he was juicing is a depressing development, even if it’s the least surprising news since the observation that rain can get you wet.

McGwire will always be associated with his fellow power hitter (and probable steroid user) Sammy Sosa, who retired a few years ago. Like most pro athletes who hang it up, Sosa has more or less kept a low profile. Still, when he did pop up recently, it was in alarming fashion. Compare his complexion in the two photographs (try to ignore his wife’s cleavage):

Yes, the guy is several shades whiter. Sosa couldn’t just ignore the questions about his newfound albinism, so he claimed that he had undertaken a “skin-rejuvenation process” and exceeded the recommended dosage. Think of it as the movie “Soul Man” but in reverse.

However, many in the Hispanic and black communities don’t buy Sosa’s explanation, especially since he also started wearing green contact lenses. As such, the former Cubs great has been accused of trying to bleach his skin and make himself whiter, both figuratively and literally. He has, in essence, been labeled as a self-loathing Hispanic who has adopted the “colonizer mentality.”

Now, readers with naturally fair complexions may ask several questions. For example, what is a colonizer mentality? Also, why would a person want to appear whiter, especially if everyone knows that he’s actually dark-skinned? And finally, is the movie “Soul Man” available on Blu-Ray?

Well, I can answer some of these inquiries. First, the colonizer mentality refers to the fact that virtually all of Latin America, at some point in history, has been ruled by European or North American powers. These rulers – either by direct decree or social implication – told natives that fair-skinned people were better, smarter, hotter, and more respectable than the dark-skinned heathens. A person who has internalized this mentality will therefore do whatever he can to appear whiter, even if he comes out looking like a freak-show attraction.

Sosa is a native of the Dominican Republic, where people tend to be black (remember that Latinos can be of any race). According to the blogger Grio, “there is a profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination… against blacks within Dominican society.” This is the colonizer mentality in action.

So is Sosa guilty of caving in to this loathsome mindset? Or is he just a dumb jock who couldn’t follow medication instructions? Only Sosa knows, and he’s sticking to his original story.

Regardless, we can all be grateful that the colonizer mentality is just an issue in Latin America. In the United States, at least, we don’t judge people based on their skin color.

That could lead to problems.




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