Tag: discrimination


I’m a big fan of ideas that are supported by hard data. In fact, if you’ve read a few of my posts, you’ve seen that I don’t just assert that climate change is real, vaccines are safe and effective, and that immigration is down. I back up these claims with facts.

So it’s no surprise that I listen to the Freakonomics podcast, where a couple of academics analyze and verify and quantify all kinds of concepts that are supposedly unquantifiable.

That’s where I found out that free parking is a scourge, tipping is racially motivated, and learning Spanish is a waste of time.

Wait, what was that last one? It’s a shocker.


Well, the researchers at Freakonomics discovered that learning Spanish increases your income by less than 2 percent. They concluded that the effort you put into learning how to conjugate “decir” doesn’t justify a measly 2 percent income boost. It constitutes poor ROI (that’s “return on investment” for you non-economist types).

Now, it’s depressing to think that nativists have a fact-based argument for dissing Spanish. So you’ll be relieved to hear that there is more to the story.

Additional research has shown that learning a second language (it doesn’t have to be Spanish) has advantages that go beyond income.

For example, bilingual people have more nimble brains and seem to ward off Alzheimer’s more effectively. And Americans who speak another language appear to display greater awareness and empathy for other cultures.

So it just might be worth it to learn Spanish, after all. But the key is to learn is while you are young, so that the process is quicker and less labor-intensive, thereby leading to greater ROI.

OK, that last sentence has convinced that maybe I have been listening to far too many economists lately.


WTF, Indeed

Yes, that was me driving down Sunset Boulevard while listening to a podcast on grammar. I was keepin’ it real.

Although I’m usually blaring an audio book, I’ve recently gotten into listening to podcasts, which I know puts me behind the curve, but who’s keeping track of such things?

In any case, I tuned into a few episodes of Marc Maron’s WTF. I listened to the much-hyped interview with President Obama (very cool to hear the leader of the free world in a relaxed setting) and also tuned into the Robert Rodriguez interview (that guy is a one-man Latino empire).

But for me, the most intense moment of my WTF crash course was Maron’s interview with Sir Ian McKellen.


I’m a big fan, of course. In fact, if I had to have my life narrated, I would choose his voice to do the honors.

McKellen ended his interview by performing a Shakespearan monologue. And he didn’t go with an old favorite like Richard III’s opening speech or King Lear’s crazy talk.

No, he picked an obscure passage from Thomas More (not really a Shakespeare play) that was all about… wait for it… immigration.

I have to believe that someone has socially conscious as McKellen did not pick this speech by accident.

As others have pointed out, McKellen “managed to make a strong moral point, important to the current social and political situation… merely by doing what he is most famous for, reciting Shakespeare beautifully.”

Here is the beginning of McKellen’s monologue:

Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,

Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,

And that you sit as kings in your desires,

Authority quite silent by your brawl.


It goes on, asking the listener what he would do if he had to leave his country:

As but to banish you, whether would you go?

What country, by the nature of your error,

Should give you harbor?


And it ends in breathtakingly powerful fashion:

Would you be pleased

To find a nation of such barbarous temper,

That, breaking out in hideous violence,

Would not afford you an abode on earth,

Whet their detested knives against your throats,

Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God

Owed not nor made not you, nor that the elements

Were not all appropriate to your comforts,

But chartered unto them, what would you think

To be thus used? This is the stranger’s case;

And this is your mountanish inhumanity.


The Paranoia Cha Cha

Recently, I wrote about the fear and loathing that many Americans have for immigrants in general and for Latino immigrants in particular.


Hispanic immigrants are, to hear some people talk, hell-bent on bringing death and destruction across the border. Well, as we all know (or should know), immigration — both legal and undocumented — is way down over the past few years. So that surge at the border is greatly exaggerated.

Furthermore, numerous studies have found that “immigrants—regardless of nationality or legal status—are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes or to be incarcerated.”

The nativist ignores that part about “regardless of nationality or legal status,” and says, “Well, sure. Those good immigrants from Europe and maybe India aren’t committing crimes. It’s the illegals!”

Sorry, but the data shows that while the undocumented population more than tripled between 1990 and 2013, the violent crime rate declined 48 percent. And violent crime continues to go down across America.

In addition, a separate paper explains that it’s not “well-behaved, high-skilled immigrants from India and China offsetting misdeeds of Latin American newcomers.” The study shows that “for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants.” And in a stat sure to annoy conservative alarmists, this “holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population.”

Digging deeper into the data, we find that immigrant adolescents — often portrayed in the media as a swarm of Latin King gangbangers — are in fact, “statistically less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors, such as fighting, selling drugs, binge drinking, carrying guns, or using marijuana and other illegal drugs” than their peers.

So if immigrants — even the undocumented Hispanic ones — aren’t committing all these crimes, who is? Or to paraphrase a not-so-wise man, “Who is doing all the raping?”

The answer seems to be, “Americans.” The immigrant boogeyman is no match for born-and-bred craziness.

Now, if we eliminate the immigrant subcategory and look at crime rates among Hispanics, we get a more nuanced picture.

A study shows that Latinos made up about 16.6 percent of all arrests, comparable to our percentage of the US population. We are sadly overrepresented in some categories (e.g., motor vehicle theft) and underrepresented in others (e.g., there are few Latino embezzlers). One stat I found interesting is that Hispanics have a very low rate of offenses against family members and children (6.2 percent of all arrests). Clearly, the legendary emphasis that Latinos place on family isn’t just talk.

In any case, one of the more disturbing aspects of the study is the following: For all the fears that white people have about being victims of crime (often at the hands of some swarthy minority), it is Hispanics who should be concerned.

For example, the homicide rate for Latinos is double the rate for white people.

And Latinos experience a higher rate of hate crime than whites or blacks. The data shows that the rate of hate crime incidents against Latinos is slightly higher than the rate for blacks. And the Hispanic rate is more than triple that of whites.

So perhaps it is we Latinos who should be saying, “Crime is out of control” and locking ourselves up in gated communities.

Hey, don’t rule it out.



A New Wave

A subtle shift is taking place. I’m referring, of course, to the news that Asians will eventually overtake Latinos as the largest source of immigration.

Yes, recent data shows that fifty years from now, “Hispanics are expected to make up 31% of immigrants. Asians, on the other hand, will outnumber Hispanics and make up 38% of immigrants.”

Wow, this is news. After all, the words “immigrant” and “Hispanic” have been interchangeable for decades now, at least in the minds of many Americans. And to be clear, Latinos are still the largest immigrant group, making up almost half (47 percent) of all immigrants in the United States.

But as we all know, immigration from Latin America has slowed in recent years. In fact, a steep decline began in 2007, mostly because the Great Recession had kicked in, and El Norte looked a lot less appealing that it had previously.

What this all means is that the percentage of new arrivals who are Hispanic is actually smaller than it was 50 years ago. Yes, despite all you’ve heard about the border being overrun, the fact is that immigration — both documented and undocumented — is down over the last decade. And in a shocker, “the percentage of the total U.S. population born outside this country was higher in 1890 than it is today.”

So what does this mean for Asians, who are the new face of immigration? Well, they appear to be in pretty good shape.

A recent poll found that “immigrants from Asia fare best when it comes to how Americans view them, with 47% seeing them in a positive light. Only 11% see Asians negatively.”

In stark contrast, “immigrants from Latin America are viewed positively by only 26% of those surveyed and are seen negatively by 37%.”

A natural question, of course, is why are Latino immigrants the object of so much loathing?

Well, there are the usual strands of xenophobia based on skin color, language, and cultural differences. But if I had to pick the biggest reason for the disgust many Americans feel for Hispanics, it is the perception, fueled by certain presidential candidates and professional buffoons, that Latinos are a pack of bloodthirsty, sociopathic criminals.

It’s what marketing pros call a branding issue.

And how bad, and ultimately misguided, is this perception?

Well, that’s a whole other post (yes, coming soon).


Recently, the good people at Simmons College asked me to take part in their blog carnival.


Well, how could I say no to anything with the word “carnival” in it? Will there be rides? Will there be virtual cotton candy? Can I get my picture taken next to the bearded lady? (Note: it is no longer socially acceptable to make fun of women with facial hair, so please mentally delete that last sentence).

In any case, it turns out that the blog carnival is part of the #MoreThanALabel campaign to shine a positive light on immigrant communities, defy labels, and combat the stigmas of being an immigrant.

Now, I am not an immigrant. I was born in New York City, which many conservatives will tell you is not part of the “real America,” but alas for them, it technically counts as the USA.

As I’ve stated many times, being born here is not an accomplishment. It is pure luck.

However, my mother is an immigrant. She came here from El Salvador in the late 1960s, and she has now been an American citizen for longer than she was a resident of her native land.

Many of my cousins are immigrants. They came here as kids and have become citizens, started careers, and raised their own children.

One of my cousins has done multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, really, how patriotic can you get?

But ultimately, it doesn’t matter how successful the immigrants in my family have been. Nor does it matter that immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Americans. And it doesn’t even count that immigrants pay plenty of taxes and have a net positive impact on the economy.

That’s because a huge percentage of Americans are convinced that their lives suck because of all those people who were born south of Texas. And those Americans cannot be reasoned with.

So while it’s great that the #MoreThanALabel campaign is working to improve the image of immigrant communities, I’m just too cynical to contribute much of an uplifting narrative.

You see, I’m through with trying to convince xenophobes that immigrants belong in America. That is backward logic. It is the racists who represent the worst of the USA, and they always have.

And before everybody gets crazy, let me issue an obvious disclaimer: I’m not saying that everyone who has issues with immigration reform or is a conservative is a racist. Again, I’m not saying that. It would be absurd.

But the racial element is there, winding around the debate. It makes movements like #MoreThanALabel a necessity. No other group has to take such great efforts to convince a segment of the American population that they are human beings.

Still, the good news is that immigrants will persevere. Each new generation of arrivals struggles to its feet and establishes itself as part of American culture. It is an inevitable process, and it will go on and on.

So, if you need me, I’ll be hitting this blog carnival’s Tilt-a-Whirl. See you there.


Wishing and Waiting

I’ve edited over 100 books, from thriller novels to dense histories to self-help diatribes. Only a few of those books have lodged in my memory.

Among them was a manual written by a prepper. If you don’t know this term, it refers to someone who makes active plans to survive a catastrophic disaster, typically by stockpiling food, ammunition, and other supplies, and/or by creating some kind of well-protected shelter.

Preppers anticipate calamities ranging from a worldwide economic collapse to a military coup d’état to a Katrina-style cataclysm to, well, just about anything big and scary.

The book was well-written, and the author was intelligent and polite. And even if I found his worldview to be a bit, shall we say, paranoid, it would be incorrect to write him and his peers off as lunatics.

After all, if there’s ever an extinction-level asteroid impact or a zombie attack, then preppers will have the last laugh.



But what struck me about the author’s mindset wasn’t his fear-based attention to detail and insistence that sooner or later, all the shit will hit all the fans.

No, it was my realization that at a certain point, he was no longer preparing for a worst-case disaster. He was actively hoping for it.

You see, if his doomsday predictions never materialize, he has wasted a great deal of time, money, and effort for absolutely nothing. Indeed, he will have squandered a solid chunk of his life, while pinning his very self-identity on nonsense.

So a lot of preppers aren’t just waiting for end times. They are counting on catastrophe to justify their life’s work, even if this wish is subconscious.

How does this relate to the current political climate?

Well, look no further than the renewed demonization of immigrants and, by extension, all Latinos.

We have major political candidates (who shall not be named) who imply hordes of Hispanics are swarming into this country for the express purpose of raping and murdering Americans — that is, when they’re not pumping out “anchor babies” and stealing jobs.

Of course, fear-based campaigning — especially among conservatives — has a long and effective history.


And it’s tempting to dismiss GOP shrieking as a side effect of the party’s reliance on religious fervor and apocalyptic thinking. Keep in mind that about 20 percent of Republicans honestly believe that Obama is the antichrist.

But while building upon those ignoble foundations, this new conservative mindset amounts to something else.

You see, those on the right wing who despise Latinos (and there are many) aren’t just motivated by personal gain. They are true believers, who sincerely think America is doomed if Hispanics continue to increase their political, cultural, and demographic influence. To this contingent, the “browning” of America is the beginning of its end.


But what if this never happens? What if recent Latino immigrants become an integral and beneficial part of American society, just as so many other immigrant classes have?


In that case, a lot of conservative leaders have wasted a great deal of energy on nothing. Their predictions have failed to come true. And all that screaming and ranting and raving added up to nada.

Nobody wants to see his or her life’s work rendered irrelevant, or worse, dismissed as histrionic, wrong-headed idiocy.

To prevent that, many conservatives have morphed into extreme preppers, warning everyone of the coming Armageddon, while secretly hoping that it will arrive right on time to prove them correct.

The good news for right-wing preppers is that they have an inexplicable degree of influence in this country. So instead of working to prevent the coming apocalypse, they can help to usher it in, via self-fulfilling prophecies and overt policy decisions.

For example, Latinos have lower graduation rates than other ethnicities, so rather than improve public education, right-wing preppers try to gut it.


Hispanics have higher rates of poverty, so rather than balance the playing field, right-wing preppers reinforce an economic system that is rigged for the upper classes.


Latinos have limited socioeconomic power, so rather then look at institutional barriers, right-wing preppers deny that racism even exists.

Yes, there’s lots of ways to ensure that we get the America that some conservatives envision — the future that they supposedly fear but are weirdly attracted to at the same time.

Fortunately for me, I’ve made back-up plans. You see, I’ve recently built this secret bunker stocked with guns and water, and when the time comes…

Never mind, I’ve said too much.

All Waffles Come With a Side of Hatred

I think we can all agree that stopping the growing Nazi scourge that is taking over pancake houses across America should be our nation’s top priority.

Wait… you don’t know what I’m taking about?

Then clearly you haven’t seen this video, in which a brave patriot stands up to a Latina who committed the grievous sin of speaking Spanish in public.

The woman, Norma Vazquez, was at an IHOP here in Los Angeles with her son, Carlos Steven. They were apparently letting all those trilled R’s and double L’s fly around the place during their private conversation. And hey, let’s face it, even whispering Spanish is a clear affront to God’s favorite language — English.

So a woman approached the Vazquezes, and in the spirit of neighborliness, promptly snapped, “We speak English in America.” She also offered the helpful suggestion that the mother and son should “go back to Spain,” even though Ms. Vasquez is from El Salvador.

Now, you might ask what all this has to do with Nazis. Well, that’s where things go from ignorant and hateful to completely weird.

The confrontational lady equated speaking English with freedom, telling the Vazquez family, “Do you want the Russians over here telling you what to do? Do you want the Nazis telling you what to do?”

Indeed, I’m sure all red-blooded Americans agree that saying anything in Spanish is the gateway to fascism. Perhaps the wrong combination of Spanish phrases — like el sombrero or la fiesta or sin verguenza — acts as some sort of incantation, causing Hitler and his minions to rise from the grave and feast upon the brains of English-speaking, freedom-loving Americans everywhere.

And yes, that does sound like a kick-ass sequel to Dead Snow.

dead snow


In any case, it turns out that Norma Vazquez does speak English, but her preferred language is Spanish. It also turns out that her son, Carlos Steven, knows how to use a camera phone. He videotaped the English-only lady and her bizarre tirade, and he posted it to Facebook, where it has since garnered 15 million views and almost 500,000 shares.

So what do we make of this situation? Well, it’s clear that the fear of foreign languages and hatred of bilingualism — which are concepts fairly unique to America — aren’t fading away soon. It’s also clear that individuals who really, really hate Spanish will continue to insist that it is their right, even their duty, to accost people and let ‘em have it if so much as an hola slips out.

Remember, just a few months ago, another upstanding patriot screamed, “USA, English only,” at terrified schoolchildren.

As for the English-only woman prowling around IHOPs, ready to pounce on Spanish speakers at the first sign of trouble, well, I’m tempted to call her a xenophobe.

But she would probably just say that’s a made-up word and to speak English, damn it.


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.



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.


The Distant Past

We are all descended from losers.

Take me, for instance. My family came from El Salvador, a charter member of the Third-World Nation Hall of Fame that is best known for crippling poverty, psychotic gangs, bloody civil wars, murdered priests, and raped nuns.


I’m also part Italian, which lends itself to stereotypes of Mafia hit men and the original unwashed horde of immigrants. In addition, Italy is currently on its 982nd post-WWII government (not exactly a source of pride).

And I’m a touch Irish as well. So here comes the drunken, brawling Irishman, everybody.

No, I’m not self-loathing. In truth, I’m grateful for my mélange of ancestry. I regularly sing the praises of Latino culture, and it’s not bad having a connection (however distant) to Da Vinci and James Joyce.

However, everyone’s culture has black spots, and our efforts to honor our ancestors should not extend to overt denial and large-scale myopia. But they regularly do.

To continue reading this post, please click here.


Like a Burst Piñata

Say you open a small business. You run it for a few years, do pretty well, and always pay your debts (especially the rent) on time.

Then you arrive at work one morning to find a bulldozer parked in the pile of rubble that used to be your store.

pinata wreckage

You might get the impression that something was slightly amiss.

Well, recently, a piñata store in Austin was demolished, without the storeowners’ knowledge and with their possessions still inside. The storeowners, who are Latino, say that the greedy landlords bulldozed the store because they could get more money from the tech companies that are moving into the area.

The storeowners had a lease through 2017 and had just paid the rent for the upcoming month. When confronted about their reckless destruction of the store, one of the landlords (yes, a rich white guy) used the term “roaches” to describe the storeowners. Remember that the storeowners are Hispanic. Clearly, the term “roaches” was not an accident.

The incident shows how Latino neighborhoods are literally and figuratively being displaced for upscale residents. There have been numerous flare-ups in Austin over gentrification, with many Latino leaders claiming that rich newcomers are driving out long-time residents. And there have been similar disputes in New York, Los Angeles and other cities, often in Hispanic neighborhoods that are changing rapidly.

And here’s where it gets conspiratorial.

A recent study implied that Latino neighborhoods are more likely to be gentrified than African American neighborhoods.

Harvard researchers analyzed patterns across Chicago and found that gentrifying neighborhoods tended to be predominantly Latino or white working class, with fewer African Americans.

The study implied that Latino neighborhoods are more likely to be gentrified in the traditional sense (i.e., young white newcomers moving into the area). And they are also more likely to receive the theoretical benefits of gentrification (e.g., urban renewal and municipal investment). No word, however, on what happens to Hispanic residents when the bulldozers get revved up.

Keep in mind that the same study also implied that there is a tipping point, where the percentage of African Americans in a neighborhood either makes gentrification likely or unlikely.

Basically, too many black people keep the white people away.

Why are Latino neighborhoods more attractive to white gentrifiers? Well, there is no hard data on that, and it’s unlikely that a future study will include the question, “Why are you ok moving in next to brown people, but not black people?” Although the answers would be illuminating, to say the least.

The researchers said that in addition to their statistical proof, there is anecdotal evidence that Latino neighborhoods are viewed as more desirable to gentrifiers than African American areas.

For example, the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn — often pointed to as the prime example of gentrification — previously had a large Latino population. That’s not the case anymore, as the cliché of the young hipster inevitably features a white guy (usually with some bizarre nineteenth-century facial hair, but that’s another story).

In response to this dark side of gentrification, some Latino community leaders in Los Angeles launched the “gente-fication” movement (“gente” is Spanish for “people,” but you already knew that).

The idea is that upscale Latinos will stay — or in some cases, move into — Latino neighborhoods and revitalize the area themselves rather than rely on newcomers. The trend has slowly caught on in other cities, such as New York, Houston and Phoenix.

Although results are difficult to quantify, the LA neighborhood of Boyle Heights may be in the midst of a Latino renaissance, due in part to the gente-fication movement. And community activists are attempting to duplicate the neighborhood’s success in other Los Angeles areas.

But the movement has drawn fire for what some claim is an exclusionary, or even racist attitude. After all, if you’re saying that you want a specific racial or ethnic group to move in — whether it’s white, black, Latino, or other — things quickly get uncomfortable.

Where all this will lead is a mystery. Perhaps gentrification will wipe us all out. Or maybe we’ll achieve some kind of balance where newcomers enrich neighborhoods while long-time residents maintain the area’s culture.

In any case, hopefully no more piñata stores will get bulldozed.

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