Race

A Bad Term

Marketing is everything.

For example, witness the well-documented phenomenon of many Americans despising Obamacare while still liking the Affordable Care Act (fyi: they are the same damn thing).

Or consider the worst branding decision of all time: “global warming.” As we all know, climate deniers just scoff and say, “Then why was it so cold this winter?” Such idiotic assertions are easier to dismiss with a new and improved term (i.e., “climate change”).

We are seeing the same pushback, the same dismissal of reality with the phrase “white privilege.” Now, for those who are unclear about this concept, white privilege refers to societal privileges that benefit white people beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people. We can nitpick this definition, but that would be a whole other article.

The problem with white privilege is that the concept is painfully easy to refute. I’m not talking about right-wingers who insist that racism is dead or that white people are actually the disadvantaged class in America. There’s just no reaching those people.

No, I’m referring to white individuals who hear the word “privilege” thrown at them and interpret it as an individual attack rather than as a societal fact. Their reply is frequently, “There’s nothing privileged about my life.”

Indeed, as the wealth gap increases, plenty of white people are being left behind. And many of those struggling individuals come from ethnicities that endured their own struggles in the past (and occasionally, in the present). Under such circumstances, it’s galling — even ludicrous — to be told that you are privileged.

And what have good liberals done when confronted with this response? We stammer that privileges are often invisible, or that white people are less likely to be harassed by the cops, or that we’re not implying white people have had everything handed to them on a silver platter.

SilverPlatterSized-300x274

 

That’s all true of course. But it’s also true that if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

And that’s why we need to drop the whole thing — not the concept, mind you, which is crucial to our understanding of racial inequalities and American culture itself. We need to rebrand.

This has been pointed out before, but so far we have failed to come up with a good alternative.

So let’s begin the discussion in earnest. Let’s make it a real goal to replace the needlessly confrontational term “white privilege.”

I’ll get it started. How about “white advantage”? It’s still racially loaded, but the idea of “advantage” is much easier to accept than “privilege.”

Hey, just take it as a first draft. I’m sure working together, we can come up with something better.

Because we really need to.

 


How Very Droll

By now you’ve seen that infamous photo in a Florida high school’s yearbook. The shot pictured six students dressed in ponchos and sombreros and wearing fake mustaches, with one student wearing a shirt labeled, “border patrol.”

It’s offensive and idiotic, of course. But that’s not really the point.

Kids do dumb things, and rather than lambast the students in the photo, it would be better to point out to them that such behavior has no redeeming value. If that doesn’t convince them to be a little more aware of the culture in which they live, let them know that thanks to social media, such ill-conceived photos will haunt them for years to come.

No, the issue here is not the kids.

The problem is the adults. I’m taking about the parents who raised their kids to think it’s hilarious to embrace racial caricatures. And yes, I’m aware that some of the students in the photo are Latinos. If anything, that’s even worse.

And I’m talking about the yearbook advisors who saw nothing wrong with the photo. Hey, I was on my high school yearbook’s staff, and our advisor vetoed things left and right. I can’t imagine the teacher who looked at this and said, “Eh, a pointless and mean-spirited jab at Hispanics. Whatever.”

bored-professor

More than anything, I’m talking about the defenders of the picture, who are out in force on the internet. So let’s look at some of the adult excuses we’re hearing over what should be a pretty clear case of foolish, needlessly hurtful adolescent behavior. Here are some of my favorites:

It was only a joke. If you’ve ever said this to justify an insult, you have either never been on the receiving end of a verbal assault, or you are too dense to realize when someone was attacking you under the guise of humor. In either case, you were probably able to shrug it off because you are in a position of social power (racially, economically, etc). It’s a tribute to your lack of empathy that you figure everybody shares your charmed life.

Lighten up, it was funny. This is an amped-up version of the previous excuse. To any adult who actually thought the photo was hilarious, here are a few pointers about humor, before you really kill ‘em at your next stand-up routine. Humor tends to work when it’s directed at those in authority (rather than at a demonized underclass). It also works when it reveals profound truths or upends convention (rather than wallow in hackneyed, false stereotypes). In brief, the picture was about as witty as frat boys lighting their farts.

I’m German, and people have called me a kraut. I’m continually stunned that people believe all ethnic terms have the same resonance. No one hurls “kraut” as an insult in 2015 America. Now if you were bombarded with this term in, say, 1944, it might be different. In any case, terms that call out your European heritage bounce off a shield of cultural power, based on sheer numbers and societal influence. You can easily laugh them off. But don’t worry. In the future, when Hispanics are more than a quarter of the U.S. population, maybe we’ll smirk in smug condescension at “wetback.”

People are too sensitive. Yes, how great it was to live in the good old days, when offensive comments were met with forced laughs and seething hatred. Well, I have news for you. Society isn’t any more sensitive than it ever was. But people who gritted their teeth and let it go in the past are sick of your bullshit. So now you’re going to hear about it. And I can say—with a bit or irony—that if you don’t like it, tough.

Those kids shouldn’t apologize. It’s the illegal immigrants who should apologize. Hey, thanks for verifying that your issues with undocumented people have absolutely nothing to with race or ethnicity. Nope.

Soon we won’t be able to say anything out of fear of offending someone. If you mean that you can’t pull out tired racial stereotypes and rub them in people’s faces, well yes, I weep for your lost world.

Finally, there is the issue that the Latina student who called attention to the photograph, Jessica Morales, has been insulted, denigrated, and mocked for her decision to speak up about the picture. To the best of my knowledge, she didn’t scream that her fellow students were racists or demand a cash payment for pain and suffering or get all histrionic.

Her critics, however, are content to sit behind their keyboards and attack her, mostly under a cloak of anonymity of course.

Yes, kids being unintentionally offensive is bad. But adults being loudmouthed bullies is a hell of a lot worse.


Teen Angst

It’s not easy being a teenager. The zits, the hormones, the awkward encounters with the opposite (or same) sex — it’s all stressful. And you can’t even buy even buy a damn beer, at least not legally, until your teen years are long over.

But if it sucks to be an adolescent, it sucks more to be an immigrant teenager in a new country. Take all the angst that faces every teen, then add language barriers, cultural confusion, discrimination, and general discombobulation. It’s not pretty, is it?

However, in a surprising conclusion, a recent study says racist acts may affect the mental health of US-born Latino teens more than teens born in Latin America. The study, by the Society for Research in Child Development, showed that US-born Latinos who faced discrimination had higher levels of anxiety and depression.

How can this be? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that immigrant teens who face bigotry would feel more alone and alienated than a kid born here?

alienation

Well, the researchers said foreign-born teens might have stronger attachments to their Latino heritage, and thus may feel less stress when discriminated against. But native-born Hispanics, who are still trying to figure out how to balance their heritage and their American tastes, are more likely to feel ostracized and betrayed by the culture in which they grew up.

The researchers point out that discrimination has damaging effects on mental health, and stress has long-term health implications for Latino teens. In this way, it supports other findings that show second-generation Hispanics often perform worse than immigrants in a number of lifestyle areas, including mental health.

So is there any good news in this depressing study? Well, the research also implies that Latino immigrants, even children, often demonstrate high levels of psychological strength and resiliency.

Basically, you can’t shut ‘em down.

 


Cogito Ergo Sum

You may remember the big news that the winner of the last month’s Powerball lottery was a resident of Puerto Rico. When I found out, I glanced at my watch and said, “Offensive tweets starting… now!”

Yes, social media got a little more absurd, and a lot more bigoted, when patriotic Americans found out that a Latino had won the huge prize. We got the usual “I thought this was America!” and outrage that “an illegal” had won the lottery and just plain racist insults directed at the winner. Many of these thoughtful individuals were incised that some swarthy person in a foreign country — who doesn’t even pay taxes! — nabbed all those randomly chosen dollars.

But of course, as we all know, Puerto Rico is part of America. Residents are American citizens, and Puerto Ricans pay federal taxes including Social Security, payroll, import/export taxes, and Medicare.

However, those little facts are no match for ignorance, prejudice, and self-rightous rage.

Still, the idiocy displayed over the Puerto Rican Powerball winner was no match for an even more head-snapping display of stupidity, which occurred around the same time.

You see, the state of Vermont is considering adopting a Latin state motto. Plenty of states have one, and Latin flows freely through all kinds of US institutions.

oregon motto
But when the story broke, one news station was swamped with angry emails and comments from god-fearin’ Vermonters who “were mad not because of the change in motto, but because they believed that Latin was the language of Latinos.”

One truly doesn’t know where to begin.

Should we point out that Latin is not Spanish, but is actually the dead language spoken by the Romans? Or that English derives much of its vocabulary from Latin? Or that, despite their insistence, English is not our official language? Or that the motto “E pluribus unum” is…  oh, never mind, it’s all too overwhelming.

Linguistics, general knowledge, and common sense aside, the main point is that many Americans are prejudiced toward Hispanics to the point of absurdity. And they are more than willing to put that hatred and stupidity on display.

Well, I have one thing to say to this people: “Res ipsa loquitur.”

Basically, it speaks for itself.

 


The New Standard Response

When I started this blog, this website, this little outpost of sanity in the vast crazy wilderness of the internet, I posted articles about the latest slurs and offenses aimed at Latinos. I still do that, of course, but for the most part it has to be something truly egregious, preferably by someone in a position of authority and/or cultural power (eg., a senator, a high-profile CEO, the winner of Celebrity Apprentice, etc).

So when our friends at Latino Rebels posted this story, I was initially intrigued. Apparently, a bored rich woman has tried her hand at satire by populating a website with images of something she calls, “Illegal Immigrant Barbie,” which I’m not even going to show here. Instead, just gaze upon a standard-issue Barbie, and use your imagination.

barbie1

 

 

Now, it’s undeniably racist. Worse, it’s lazy and unfunny.

But we already know the woman’s excuses. We’ve heard them all before. Pick one of the following:

1. “I’m not prejudiced. I’m just telling the truth.”

2. “Well, excuse me for not being politically correct. Clearly, you can’t handle it.”

3. “Hey, I have Latino friends, and they thought it was hilarious. OK, my maid gave me a nervous laugh, but close enough.”

So I’m skipping the anger and substituting a sad shaking of the head and a lugubrious eye-roll. This woman’s pathetic affront deserves no more.

In fact, I only mention it at all because I intend to cut/paste my reaction to future instances of bored rich people mocking poor people, which never seems to go out of style with them.

On to the next outrage.

 


I’ve Seen All Good People

This is a response, of sorts, to Brit Bennett’s article “I Don’t Know What to do with Good White People.”

But it will not be a full-fledged attack of the type that made the internet infamous. That’s because in her article, Bennett makes some insightful points about white privilege.

She explains that “sometimes I think I’d prefer racist trolling to this grade of self-aggrandizement,” adding that there are many “good white people [who] expect to be rewarded for their decency.”

Yes, she pissed off a few readers, and made others uncomfortable, with her mocking of liberal condescension. Bennett points out that many white people practically shout, “See how enlightened and aware we are? See how we are good?”

halo

 

That’s all true of course. And the comfort level of white liberals is not high on the list of national priorities.

Despite this, however, we need good white people. For starters, every social movement needs as much assistance — as much cultural firepower — as it can get.

But more important is the fact that white privilege will continue to be a problem as long as people (primarily whites) deny it even exists. So we need white people to criticize their own privilege, and many will not do this if their efforts get thrown back into their faces.

For example, the recent CrimingWhileWhite hashtag came under fire for co-opting the pain and rage of the black community and redirecting it toward the white perspective. It’s a fair criticism.

Still, it seems to me that the point of the Ferguson/Gardner/ et al protests was to indict systematic racism in our nation’s police force. An effective way to do this is to draw contrasts with how white people interact with the cops. CrimingWhileWhite nailed this.

In essence, to dismiss good white people is to alienate one’s allies. And it’s clear that blacks and Latinos need all the help we can get.

 


A Revealing Anecdote

I recently wrote about the Ferguson/Gardner cases, and I mentioned that cops often treat ethnic minorities differently than they treat white people.

Well, I thought I would add my own personal observation to the #CrimingWhileWhite trend, but mine is in the third-person because, well, I’m Latino.

Anyway, years ago, when I still went to raucous house parties, the cops were called out to break up a fiesta I was attending. Yes, we were a little loud, and the neighbors were within their rights to call the police.

house_party

 

In any case, the cops showed up and knocked on the door. My group of friends and I decided now was a good time to leave, so we exited out the back. My girlfriend at the time, who happened to be white, opened the door. A cop was waving a flashlight around the darkened backyard, and he shined it directly into her face.

She was understandably pissed. And all of us were flummoxed about why a cop would be prowling around in the dark with a flashlight. What was he trying to find?

Regardless, when the light hit my girlfriend’s eyes, she shouted, “Get that fucking light out of my face, you asshole.”

The cop complied, and we all left, without further incident.

Now, if I had shouted this statement — or a tall, black male had yelled it — I’m pretty sure there would have been a very different outcome.

 


Pinpoint Accuracy

I’ve been asked by many white people if I have ever experienced discrimination. Their amazement when I say, “Yes,” is matched by my own surprise that they would even ask the question. Hey, ask just about any ethnic minority, and he will supply a time and place when he was slurred, dissed, or eyeballed funny because of his race and/or ethnicity.

The fact that so many white people believe this never happens is a constant stunner to me. But perhaps it shouldn’t be, because we have so many pundits proclaiming that bigotry is dead, and that there is more cholera in America than there is racism.

Cholera_395_1

 

Well, if you don’t believe my personal experiences, just look at the results of a recent survey of Hispanics, who were asked if they had ever suffered discrimination. A full 99% said yes, and “most respondents were able to name a location where discrimination occurred.” Personally, I’m curious about the 1% of Latinos who said “there was no discrimination against them.” They either live very charmed lives or are unbelievably dense.

In any case, the number-one choice for racist acts was disturbingly specific: “Arizona was the top answer for Latino discrimination with 21%.” To put that into perspective, “a collection of other U.S. states garnered 8%.” Yes, our friends in Arizona apparently discriminate at almost triple the rate of all the other states combined. Now that’s impressive.

By the way, 18% of Hispanics said they had been discriminated against at work. And 5% of Latinos are in a dystopian hell, in that they believe “discrimination has occurred everywhere.”

So from now on, whenever I am asked this naïve question, I will simply quote the results of this survey. That should end the discussion quickly.

 


And Another Thing…

I recently found out that I have distant in-laws who live in Ferguson. They are my wife’s extended family, and I met them once in passing about a decade ago. That is my only personal connection to the city that has joined the short list of places whose very name signifies tragedy and/or disaster (e.g., Newtown, Chernobyl, etc).

In any case, there is not much I can add to the national debate over police brutality and systemic racism. I have never claimed to speak for all Hispanics, and I certainly can’t claim to speak on behalf of blacks. Maybe Charles Barkley can handle that.

barkely

But I just want to reiterate a couple of points that many people seem to have forgotten during all the chaos in Ferguson and the outrage over Eric Gardner’s death.

First, claiming that Brown, Gardner, et al were no angels is irrelevant. It only implies that you think cops have the right to execute people in public, without a trail or even a charge. You should rethink this position. Really.

Second, changing the subject to black-on-black crime is also irrelevant. There’s also more white-on-white crime than interracial crime. What does any of that have to do with whether cops are out of control or not?

Third, claiming that racism doesn’t exist is just idiotic and/or self-serving. Similarly, claiming that you don’t see color is either a lie or a tremendous delusion. It’s been scientifically proven that you do see color, so just drop the above-it-all attitude.

Fourth, stop insisting that if ethnic minorities just behaved, they would not have issues with cops. This is not only insulting and condescending, but laughably naïve. There is a whole trending item about how the police perceive white people differently. Check it out.

Lastly, go ahead and condemn violence and the looters. But don’t let that distract you from the real issues here. And those issues are legion.

 


A-T-C-G and So On

You have to give credit where it’s due. Not many Americans still have the cojones, the chutzpah, the gall, if you will, to make blatantly racist statements in public settings and think they can get away with it.

But recently, a board member at San Jose State University’s philanthropy board had just enough gumption to blurt out the following: “Latina students do not have the DNA to be successful.”

dna stuff

Now, the woman didn’t dance around or mutter code words or qualify her beliefs. She said this during a meeting with other campus bigwigs, and she made it clear that, in her esteemed opinion, there is a genetic predisposition to failure, something encoded in the chromosomes and immutable, that makes Latinas dumber or lazier or whatever contributes to personal disaster. You have to admire the clarity of thought and confidence in her stand.

Or you could just say that she is a plain old racist with a very highly developed sense of entitlement.

In any case, she was forced to resign (i.e., they fired her ass) when the comments came out. Oh, and a vice president who was at the meeting and didn’t challenge her remarks also got canned.

But you have to forgive the woman. Maybe she has some bad genes that cause her to spew idiotic, bigoted statements in public.

Yes, it’s pretty sad.

 


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