Tag: racial identity

White Heat

The intersection of race and privilege is an ominous crossroads.

It pops up whenever a white person says something like, “People have made jokes about my Irish ancestry, and I never get offended. So what’s with all these Latinos getting upset about wetback jokes?”

If you’ve said something like this and fail to see the problem, I’m not sure I can help you. But let me just point out that the inability — indeed, the outright refusal — to see the world though anyone else’s eyes is a hallmark of privilege.

white-privilege

In America, the concept of privilege is closely related to race. White privilege is even its own catchphrase and subset of cultural angst.

Recently, my friend Hector Luis Alamo wrote a piece for Latino Rebels in which he stated that “resentment towards whites runs deep in Latino communities.” He went on to list the reasons for this resentment, including the fact that “Latinos in America aren’t granted nearly as many tools and opportunities as whites.”

This is all true, of course, but it doesn’t stop there.

Over at Huffington Post, César Vargas stated that white privilege seeps into the Latino community itself. He implied that Latinos who are lighter in skin (like me) receive benefits that darker-skinned Hispanics do not. Vargas wrote that the “Latino representation in the States seems to be a microcosm of the racial and social disparity in Latin America” and that “white Hispanics [are] ill-equipped to speak for the rest of us.”

About this time, we all start getting a bit uncomfortable with these ideas.

After all, we’re not talking about some Klan member shouting that whites are the master race. We’re referring to good, sincere white people — and even light-skinned Latinos — who enjoy an easier life by virtue of their skin tone, and who are repulsed at the very idea of bigotry.

But white privilege is a powerful and quite real thing. It sneaks up on its recipients in ways that they may not even recognize.

For example, many studies have shown that people are more likely to help individuals who resemble them. Ergo, whites in positions of power are more likely to mentor and guide their fellow whites, regardless of their actual talents or abilities.

And of course, if you’re a white cop who shoots an unarmed black kid under the most suspicious of circumstances, literally hundreds of thousands of people will rush to your defense. And they will most likely be white.

What does all this mean? Well, at the very least, it should mean that if you’ve benefitted from white privilege, give thanks for your lucky genes, and strive to make America a place where such randomness doesn’t prop up our entire social structure.

And if someone makes a joke about you being Irish, don’t think it lets you off the hook.

 


Parallel Lines

I have not written about the Ferguson situation to this point. It’s not because I am indifferent. It’s because I didn’t think I had much to add on the topic.

ferguson_day_6_picture_44

I mean, so many people have addressed the black-white racial divide, our flawed justice system, the increasing militarization of the police, the obliviousness of white conservatives regarding racial injustice, and the fact that an unarmed minority teenager is more likely to be demonized than a white teen who actually murders people.

That covers a lot of ground.

So let me just point out what few people have mentioned, which is that Latino teens have more in common with Michael Brown than a lot of Hispanic parents would like to admit.

You see, “the deaths of Hispanics at the hands of law enforcement officers literally stretch across the country — from California to Oklahoma to New York City.”

Yes, a majority of Latinos agree “that Brown’s killing raised important racial issues, [but] only 18% of Latinos said that they were following the Ferguson news closely.”

Perhaps Hispanics just find the parallels too disturbing to think about. Or maybe Latinos are exhausted from fighting for basic rights all the time, and want to let our African American brethren handle this issue, under the assumption that it’s more of their problem anyway.

But of course, it’s everyone’s problem.

As we all know, “being Latino in some places is enough to be pulled over under the guise of a minor traffic stop and be asked to prove American citizenship.”

And that should be enough — along with the appeal of basic human decency — to pay more attention to the turmoil in Missouri.


The Big Picture

As I am fond of mentioning, I live in beautiful Southern California, where I frequently soak up the sun, hike in the hills, hit the beach, and hobnob with celebrities.

Well, in truth, I have rarely hobnobbed in general, and even fewer times with anyone who could remotely be called a celebrity. But we LA residents do see A-listers out and about on occasion.

Very few of those stars are Hispanic, as I’ve pointed out before. But now we have statistical evidence that Latinos are not getting their shot at the silver screen.

A new study shows that over the last six years, there has been “no meaningful difference in the representation of characters from underrepresented backgrounds.”

Since 2008, the number of Hispanics onscreen rose from 3.3 percent to 4.9 percent. Latinos are about 17% of the American population, so Hispanic representation in film would have to triple to even be close to reflecting reality.

In fact, another study found that there are actually “fewer Latino lead actors in the entertainment industry today than there were seventy years ago.” Ouch…

Now is a good time to point out that Hispanics (including me) are avid fans of the cinema. In fact, Latinos bought more than one-quarter of the tickets to movies last year. And we don’t even want to get into how much we support certain genres (e.g., horror movies) more than most people.

But there was one positive note in the report. Surprisingly, Hispanic females were more likely to be featured in popular films than were white females or Asian females.

Still, even that comes with a caveat. You see, “Hispanic females were also more likely to be shown either partially or totally nude onscreen than any other race [and] seem to be more hypersexualized than their female counterparts from other groups.”

Yes, when it comes to American movies, Latinas are both underrepresented and underdressed.

Of course, the idea that the entertainment industry would objectify a Latina is ludicrous.

sofia

Yup, just plain crazy.

 


Everybody Does It

Think about the many times a celebrity has been caught muttering — or in some cases, shouting — racist comments.

mad_gibson

Or ponder how often somebody in the public eye has issued a bigoted tweet or did something else that made his or her fans say, “Give them a break. They didn’t mean it. They’re not really prejudiced.”

The list of excuses always the following accusation: People who object to such behavior are hypocrites because, after all, “everybody has used those words.”

But is this even remotely true?

 

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


Hard Times

The recession has been over for some time now, and the economy is booming… wait. You say, it’s not booming unless you’re rich?

Well, if you’re still feeling pinched, maybe it’s the fault of individuals heavy on the melanin. The odds are pretty good that you blame them anyway.

pointing

You see, a new study has shown that Americans “become subconsciously more prejudiced against dark-skinned people when times are tight.”

That’s right. On top of devastating the country, wiping out many people’s savings, and increasing the obscene gap between the wealthy and the rest of us, the Great Recession may have had the side effect of increasing racial tension.

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


Black is the New Black

In my previous two posts, I wrote about Latinos who view themselves as white. Well, it may be coincidental, but I recently ran into a disturbing news item that illustrates how some Hispanics have adopted a traditionally white viewpoint about one topic.

And that viewpoint is a hatred of black people.

Now of course, the vast majority of white people in this country do not hate black people. Nor is bigotry toward black people an unknown concept in Latino society (just look at George Zimmerman for proof of this).

zimm

Still, as we all know, only white people can be truly racist (ha, let’s start that debate again).

But some Latinos in Florida are doing their best to prove that, damn it, we can be racist too if we just try hard enough.

You see, the owners of a Miami apartment complex allegedly turned away prospective tenants who were black, saying that there were no units available. However, when Latino prospective tenants showed up (in some cases, mere hours later), they were quickly shown apartments.

It doesn’t get much more blatant, and the owners, who are Hispanic, are now being sued.

So why would Hispanics, no strangers to prejudice and racial animosity, be so overt about discriminating against black people?

Perhaps it is because ever since the colonization of Latin America, white skin has been portrayed as more desirable in Hispanic culture. Even today, there are Hispanics who, subconsciously or intentionally, see it as their duty to “mejorar la raza,” which means, “to improve the race.” This means “marrying whites only (including white Latinos) — and specifically staying away from indigenous, black, Asian, or mixed potential mates.”

By the way, I’m not saying that Hispanics who marry white people are self-loathing or bigoted against black people.

But it is clear that in some quarters, the message that Hispanics “are expected to internalize is that Latinos should literally become as white as possible over time.”

Such a goal is not only morally repugnant, it is foolhardy. After all, in the future, everybody is going to be so ethnically mixed that we’ll all be a pleasing shade of brown.

It will be enough to give a 22nd-century racist a conniption fit.

 


More on That White Thing

Recently, I wrote about the Pew Research Center’s finding that, over the last decade, 2.5 million Latinos changed their racial classification to white. Now this development has caused consternation, rejoicing, or befuddlement, depending upon your perspective.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the whole concept of race “is a construct. Its meaning throughout history has had no basis in biological reality but rather in social domination and political contention.”

As we all know, racial classifications have no anthropological basis. So the people who say there is only one race (the human race) are correct, strictly speaking.

one finger

However, for something so arbitrary and minor, race sure causes a lot of controversy. Exacerbating this issue is the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau has always perplexed people with its separation of race and ethnicity, particularly when it comes to Hispanics.

As such, many commentators have argued that a lot of those 2.5 Latinos who changed their race “may not consider themselves white. Many or even most might identify their race as ‘Hispanic’ if it were an explicit option.”

Indeed, we have to consider that “the confusion on the U.S. Census has little to do with evolving ideas about race among Latinos and a lot to do with the limited options available to Latinos.” As such, this is just “more evidence of Americans’ puzzlement about how the census asks separately about race and ethnicity.”

In essence, when it comes to the census, “Hispanics can be at once a race and not a race.”

It’s all very metaphysical, and possibly even a cool discussion if you’re high enough. But it also might say something very real about self-identity and cultural legacies.

You see, there is some debate over whether modern-day Hispanics are the sociological decedents of those huddled masses yearning to be free back in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Keep in mind that when Ellis Island was an immigration hotspot, “all sorts of immigrants, including Irish, Jews, and Italians, were once considered irredeemably alien, even racially inferior to ‘white’ Americans.”

This sounds intensely similar to how Latinos are described today in many sections of the country. And yet, the longer a Latino family has been in America, the more likely its members are “to check the ‘white’ box.”

Yes, those Latinos who identify as white are more likely “to be second- and third-generation Hispanics than foreign-born and noncitizen Hispanics.”

This lines up with the experience of earlier immigrants. After all, when it comes to the Irish, Italians, and Jews, their fifth-generation descendants don’t hesitate “over how to fill out the census. They check ‘white’ — because that is how the rest of America now sees them.”

Again, that may say something very uplifting or truly disturbing about the direction in which Latino culture is headed. Or maybe it’s both — or neither.

See how tricky this gets?

But to end on an optimistic note, note that the recent census data has also supplied another “strong sign that fears of a unique ‘Hispanic challenge,’ where Hispanics immigrants might remain as a permanent Spanish-speaking underclass, are overblown.”

In fact, there is mounting evidence that “Hispanics are succeeding in American society at a pace similar to that of prior waves of European immigrants.”

And that will continue to be true — whether Latinos are white or not.

 


The Unbearable Whiteness

You may be surprised to know that Latinos can change their race at will. Oh sure, for most people, race is a fixed attribute that was determined at the moment of conception. But Hispanics, unlike mere normal humans, can just go snap, and presto we’ve changed our race.

It’s kind of like Mystique, except we’re not naked all the time.

mystique

The proof of this superpower is in a recent New York Times article, which stated that between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, 2.5 million Americans who said they were Hispanic and “some other race” changed their minds and declared themselves to be Hispanic and white.

This was the largest shift in racial classification among Americans, and it provides, according to the Times, “new evidence consistent with the theory that Hispanics may assimilate as white Americans, like the Italians or Irish, who were not universally considered to be white.”

The data, supplied by the Pew Research Center, is “particularly significant” because “the shift toward white identification withstood a decade of debate over immigration and the country’s exploding Hispanic population, which might have been expected to inculcate or reinforce a sense of Hispanic identity, or draw attention to divisions that remain between Hispanics and non-Hispanic white Americans.”

Basically, it implies that many Latinos are saying, “Enough with the la raza talk. Consider me white.”

Now, some commentators have called shenanigans on this whole story. Indeed, it is quite a leap to glance at some raw numbers and make the sociopolitical conclusion that America may not be “destined to become a so-called minority-majority nation, where whites represent a minority of the nation’s population.” That’s because those predictions “assume that Hispanics aren’t white, but if Hispanics ultimately identify as white Americans, then whites will remain the majority for the foreseeable future.”

Let’s assume for the sake of argument, however, that the numbers reveal something profound about American culture and its future. Namely, that Latinos face “pressure — and the growing opportunity — to blend into society and to identify with the majority.”

Of course, this is a familiar phenomenon. Since this country’s founding, white people have held the vast majority of the political, economic, and cultural power. As such, it makes sense that Americans today “go on unthinkingly treating whiteness as the ideal and social baseline of American life.”

Indeed, there are very real advantages to being white — even if you’re not traditionally white. For example, Hispanics who see themselves as white tend to have higher levels of education and income, and they are less likely to have experienced discrimination.

Now, as we all know, Latinos can be of any race. There are your traditional brown-skinned Hispanics, black Brazilians, blue-eyed blond Argentineans, and just about every hue and texture in between.

As such, it’s no surprise that Hispanics have forged “a cross-cutting identity that can feel like a racial category (shorthanded as ‘brown’) that is sometimes set beside the other major blocs of America’s racial color grid.”

With our place on this mystical grid so amorphous, Latinos are often free to move outside the boundaries, which other ethnicities have trouble doing. Of course, this “fluidity may suggest a lot of things, including a pattern of Hispanic assimilation into whiteness.” And, according to the Times, “white identification may be an indicator of assimilation,” which is a potentially alarming statement.

After all, doesn’t that imply that real Americans are white?

I’ll have more on this in a subsequent post, but I will leave you to ponder that inflammatory question for now.

 


Small Screen Quartet

I live in Los Angeles, so updates about the entertainment industry count as local news. As such, I couldn’t help but notice the following item:

In a “first in U.S. English-language television history,” four Latinas are headlining their own series. Cristela Alonzo stars in Cristela, Callie Hernandez is in The Club (both on ABC), Gina Rodriguez is in the CW’s Jane the Virgin, and NBC’s Shades of Blue stars our old friend Jennifer Lopez.

Jennifer+Lopez1

Now, I have no idea what these shows are about, or if any of them are remotely good. For all I know, they will all be cancelled a month into the season.

Regardless of their fate or pedigree, however, it is unquestionably a positive development that Hispanics are getting more representation on television, and even better, that starring roles are becoming more plentiful. And yes, that’s true even if JLo is involved (just kidding, Ms, Lopez; you know we all love you).

I’ll try to check out these shows when they come on. In the meantime, I will continue pitching my own idea for a show, which is about a gritty, truth-seeking Latino blogger who is smart, sexy, and devilishly handsome.

What can I say? The idea just popped into my head.


The Big D

I once took a diversity assessment, which sought to gauge how I related to people of different ethnicities and creeds.

The assessment’s feedback stated that I had spent very little time with people who didn’t share my racial background. I found that hilarious, because by virtue of growing up Latino in the Midwest, and then working professional jobs around America, I’ve spent more time with white people than I have with my fellow Hispanics. The assessment, therefore, was very, very wrong.

And that is a big problem with measuring diversity. In essence, how do you do it?

statistics

The problem has stumped social scientists, educators, and government officials. Everybody wants more diversity, but as a recent study concluded, “no matter how you look at the numbers, it’s difficult to get a full picture of diversity.” In fact, we can’t even agree what diversity means, much less how to measure it.

After all, is diversity “a measure of equal representation among racial and ethnic groups? Is it a measure of how closely … racial makeup represents society writ large? Or is it something else entirely?”

Perhaps most intriguingly, there is a movement to use “qualitative research methods to try to measure diversity—or the level of inclusion or exclusion of minority groups.”

In other words, maybe we shouldn’t just count how many Latinos are in the city, or at the company, or enrolled on the campus. We should look at how well they fit into that given community. Are they really part of the culture? Or are they just window dressing that allows people to say, “Look at how damn diverse we are!”?

We will most likely never have a perfect level of diversity, but it is even less likely that we will ever have a perfect measurement of it.

But that doesn’t mean the concept isn’t worth chasing.

 


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