Posts Tagged ‘prejudice

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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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.

07
Oct
09

No Wonder They Cancelled That Show

First off, let me thank Carola for her comment on my last post.

As for the latest around here, I finally got around to reading “Freakonomics,” the bestseller from a few years ago. Like everyone else who read the book, I’m amazed at the bizarre factoids and surprising conclusions that it supplies. And it’s also convinced me never to buy a swimming pool for my backyard…

In any case, one of the sections in “Freakonomics” looks at a study done on that forgotten game show “The Weakest Link,” which is best known for supplying a short-lived catchphrase that I will refrain from repeating.

The “Freakonomics” authors were curious if data would uncover hidden racial prejudice or sexism among the contestants on the show. Their conclusion was that blacks and women were not discriminated against. They write, in a burst of set-you-up optimism, that “perhaps… discrimination was practically eradicated during the twentieth century, like polio.”

Wouldn’t that be most cool? Racism eradicated – with game shows like “The Weakest Link” serving as a mass-media, pop-culture Salk vaccine! How nifty keen is that?

Well, as you may have predicted, the story doesn’t end there. The authors point out that “the ‘Weakest Link’ voting data do indicate two kinds of contestants who are consistently discriminated against: the elderly and Hispanics.”

Somehow I knew this case study would end badly for us.

What the authors are saying is that my grandmother would have been eliminated from the show before the announcer finished his intro.

So why are Latinos and the elderly picked on? Well, the authors conclude that “all but the most insensitive people take pains to at least appear fair-minded, at least in public,” and that discrimination still pops up when aimed at “other groups that society doesn’t protect as well.”

In other words, white people will go out of their way to avoid looking like they’re picking on black people. But when it comes to, say, Hispanics, all bets are off.

The authors even pinpoint the form of bigotry aimed at Latinos. They say that “Hispanics suffer information-based discrimination,” which is when someone “believes that another type of person has poor skills, and acts accordingly.” The authors note that “other contestants seem to view the Hispanics as poor players, even when they are not.”

The prejudice against the elderly, in contrast, is “taste-based discrimination,” which is when someone “prefers to not interact with a particular type of other person.”

So the good news is that many Americans don’t get skived out at Hispanics the same way they do at, for example, old people. It’s just that they automatically think that we’re really, really stupid.

Well, that makes me feel better.

Regardless, the “Freakonomics” study creates a conundrum. It assumes that Latinos are a group that “society doesn’t protect as well.” This confuses me this because I have been told, repeatedly, that we live in a post-race society. Ergo, even the slightest suggestion that people are treated differently – or that some groups receive more societal protection or favoritism than others – is a roundhouse left to the legacy of MLK. At least, this is what I’ve heard from my conservative friends.

Another issue that the study raises is whether the parsing of bigotry is even possible or relevant. If we categorize prejudice, can we combat it more effectively? Or is it all just shop talk for academics?

Assuming that discrimination comes in different flavors, can we tackle it with more education? After all, the majority culture is not creeped out by Latinos (as opposed to the universal disgust aimed at those icky old people), which implies that this type of prejudice is more analytical than emotional. As such, can we convince others that we’re not total morons, or is it a doomed enterprise, because minds are already made up? And isn’t the very attempt to persuade the majority culture of our worth a degrading endeavor?

Obviously, I don’t know the answer to these questions. Maybe I’m not smart enough. But I do know that, henceforth, I’ll do my best to avoid verifying the majority culture’s perceptions of Latinos. I will take great pains to not appear like a total ignoramus.

From now on, I vow to be all, like, intellectual… and stuff… yup.




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