Posts Tagged ‘race relations

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.

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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?




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