Tag: wetback

What’s the 414?

I was a teenager a million years ago.

OK, it was the late 1980s.

In any case, once you cross 40, a lot of your teen memories start to fade, or get augmented in unintentional ways, or just get merged with John Hughes movies.

One truly unpleasant memory that I had not conjured up in years came back to me recently.

The catalyst for this flashback was an article by Sarah Hoye, who wrote about her childhood in Milwaukee, the city that recently suffered a fall-blown race riot and which CNN implied was the worst place in America for black people.

 

milwakee-riots

Hoye wrote that “more times than not, when I tell people that I am from Milwaukee, I get a sympathetic head tilt followed by, ‘I’m sorry.’ And that was before the recent protests.”

OK, I relate to that. Because I too am from Milwaukee. And it might pain my Wisconsin crew to know this, but I’ve often received that exact same “I’m sorry” reaction from people when I mention where I’m from. My hometown’s reputation is not a good one.

Now, I haven’t lived in Milwaukee since I graduated high school, but I go back often to visit friends and family.

I spent my childhood in the Latino section of town, an enclave on the South Side that is still heavily Hispanic to this day. Yes, I’ve written about this era and place more than once.

When I was a teenager, we moved to a quasi-suburban area (still within the city’s limits), where all of our neighbors had German or Polish or Serbian ancestry. Our house was all the diversity you were getting for many blocks in any direction.

To be clear, I have fond memories of this time. However, even then I knew that all was not right in my city. You see, Milwaukee has long been the most segregated municipality in America. Growing up, I assumed all cities had stark lines separating the ethnicities (and indeed, to some degree, they all do). But I had no idea Milwaukee was such an extreme case.

And this brings me back to the creepy memory that I had long ago shifted to my brain’s attic.

No, it’s not about the many times I was called spic or wetback or had someone “joke” that I had jumped the border. Hell, I remember those things just fine.

The memory I had forgotten was about my friend J.

I won’t use his full name out of respect for his privacy, even though we lost touch after high school, and it’s highly unlikely he’s reading this right now.

Just in case, however — hey J!

J and I were teammates on our high school football team. We weren’t close friends, but we got along well, and one day after practice, I invited him back to my house to play video games.

Later that evening, he walked to the bus stop for the long journey home. Yes, he was African American, and as such, he lived on the North Side — several miles away and a whole other world socioeconomically, politically, culturally, etc.

I kept him company at the bus stop. We were talking the usual teenage shit — girls, school, football — when we noticed a car slow down as it approached us.

I’m sure both of us considered the odds that the car’s driver was lost and needed directions, or that the vehicle was stuffed with hot cheerleaders just roaming the city looking for a couple of hunky football players to keep them company.

But come on, we both knew what it was.

As the car passed, a young white man leaned out of the window and yelled, “Fuck you, nigger!”

J rolled his eyes, like he had gone through this a million times already that day, and such bullshit no longer fazed him.

The car stopped at the corner, as if preparing to turn around. J and watched to see what the driver would do. After a moment, the car sped off, leaving us in peace.

J’s bus arrived a minute later, and we high-fived, and he left. On my walk home, I realized that I had never, not even for a moment, been afraid that some thugs would jump out of a car and take a swing at me just for being brown.

As I said, I had received my fair share of insults and vague threats. But the real potential of physical violence was alien to me.

After all, it’s not like I was black in Milwaukee.

Instinctively, J and I both knew, without discussing it, that a black kid couldn’t stand around in that neighborhood for more than a few minutes without someone yelling an epithet at him or the cops being called.

And we just accepted it as normal.

I doubt J even remembers this incident, because it was most likely among the milder forms of verbal abuse that he has received in his life.

Indeed, in Sarah Hoye’s article, she writes that “in the Milwaukee I know, I have been called nigger more times than I can count.”

Hoye ends her story with a burst of optimism, saying that “I truly believe, as idealistic as it may sound, that there is hope for a city in pain, and hope for a way forward.”

I share that hope.

 


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.


Quick on the Draw

Recently, I wrote how everyone (except for you and me) is prone to furious outbursts of racist invective at the slightest provocation.

That got me thinking about a related issue.

Namely, why are conservatives so quick to defend someone who spews racist, homophobic, or otherwise hateful speech?

After all, it wasn’t liberals who said, “Hey, that’s cool, Mr. Oldman. Tell us more about your sophisticated sociopolitical outlook.”

bram-stokers-dracula-gary-oldman1

Nope, it’s primarily conservatives who say it’s no big deal, or that the First Amendment protects such language, or that it’s time to take a bold stand against the insidious forces of political correctness.

Now, I’ve written entire posts about how pulling out the First Amendment or bashing PC is a loser’s lament, so I’m not going to repeat those points here. And to be clear, there are plenty of conservative libertarians who support the right to free speech. Just as there are plenty of liberals who would like to see Bill O’Reilly legally forced to shut up. However, these perspectives are not so closely aligned with the general philosophy of right wing and left wing.

What I’m talking about here is your basic social conservative, particularly when it comes to hate speech. It is a bit disturbing how swiftly these individuals rush to defend — or even praise — idiotic, racist bullshit.

I would like to think conservatives are earnest lovers of the concept of free expression. However, in many cases, these are the same people who threaten legal action if someone says, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” And remember back during the Iraq War, when up to 40 percent of conservatives believed that protests against the conflict should not be allowed (and that was constitutionally protected free speech, no less).

In fact, there is some evidence that this issue pops up in the ultimate justice-is-blind venue: the US Supreme Court. A recent study found that “liberal justices are (overall) more supportive of free speech claims than conservative justices,” and that “conservatives on the court are far more inclined to bias than their more liberal colleagues.”

Conservatives have historically shown little love for the idea of allowing people to speak their mind, and in truth, live and let live is not traditionally associated with the conservative movement. Whether it is gays getting married, or a mosque being built down the block, or some anarchist burning an American flag, there are usually conservatives there denouncing and demanding and denigrating. Rarely do you hear a Fox news anchor defend such actions.

But if some washed-up action star says that Mexicans are wetbacks, then conservatives abruptly clutch the flag to their chests and say, “It’s his right, damn it.”

But once again, we have to ask, why is this?

Well, maybe it’s because defending morons gives conservatives the perfect opportunity to appear principled and astute. Or maybe it’s because so many of their heroes are actually, well, racists. Or maybe it’s because these comments reveal what so many of them are really thinking.

Damn, I hope it’s not that last one.

 


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.

 


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.

 


Some of My Best Friends Are…

Every time I write about the GOP’s image problem with Latino voters, some conservative sends me an angry missive insisting that it’s all the liberal media spreading lies. I discover that not only does the Republican Party respect Hispanics, but it has their best interests at heart. The missive usually ends by telling me that Republicans are actually the most open-minded and tolerant of Americans.

And then approximately fourteen minutes later, a GOP leader will say something like this:

“My father had a ranch. We used to have fifty to sixty wetbacks to pick tomatoes.

That’s Alaska Representative Don Young, a Republican, who recently said this during a radio interview. Honestly, I don’t know what point he was trying to make, because I can’t get past the casual use of the term “wetback.”

Of course, Young’s fellow Republicans were quick to distance themselves from his offhanded bigotry, while stressing, “Hey, hey, we’re crazy about Latinos.” But this was not some risqué joke or harmless gaffe. This was an elected official resorting to slurs when referring to the fastest-growing ethnicity in America.

Now, I’m not saying that the Democratic Party is immune to racism, but honestly, when was the last time you heard of a Democrat saying something so prima facie bigoted? Yes, I know all about Biden’s “back in chains” comment — something that is not even in the same universe as far as offensive language.

So I have to wonder why wildly derogatory and/or lunatic statements seem to spring solely from the mouths of Republicans.

Sure, such comments are not as egregious as the GOP tendency — even eagerness — to excuse rape. As such, perhaps misogyny is still the Republicans’ number-one issue. But you would think a political movement that, by its own admission, has an image problem with ethnic minorities would take just the smallest care not to fling around racial epithets like its 1950.

So let’s go ahead and accept the congressman’s apology that “there was no malice in my heart or intent to offend,” while dismissing his slur as a simple “poor choice of words.”

But just this once, will you conservatives spare me the corrective email insisting that I have it all wrong? Can you just drop the denial about the white-hot strain of racism in your party that you have allowed to fester and grow? Instead, spend that energy by actually trying to drag your GOP brethren into the twenty-first century.

Or just keep doing what you’re doing. Then sit back and wait from that big group hug from Latinos, because deep down we know that you really, really love us.

 


The End is Here

There’s a new horrifying sign that America is on the decline.

I’m not talking about the chaotic state of our politics, or the struggling economy, or even the fact that half of us refuse to acknowledge basic scientific facts.

I’m referring to the recent implication that white conservative guys can’t casually throw around racial slurs anymore. Truly, it’s a sign of the apocalypse.

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


Hipsters on the Loose

So I was thinking it would be hilarious to put on blackface and… what’s that? It’s racist? No, you don’t understand! I was being ironic. Fine, I guess next you’ll tell me that my white friends can’t put on sombreros and call each other “wetback” to be, you know, funny and stuff.

Clearly, you don’t understand that young, hip, artistic people are just being naughty if they dance on the edge of racist behavior. Yes, everyone from writers for hit TV shows to Ashton Kutcher has recently drawn fire for indulging in racial stereotypes and/or offensive statements.

What they have in common, besides denying that they’re bigots, is that they’re showcasing behavior that has been around for awhile but is only now becoming a full-fledged trend: hipster racism.

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


And I Don’t Mean That in a Bad Way

Apparently, a bunch of sluts were running around my city recently.

I’m talking, of course, about the SlutWalk movement, which began earlier this year when a Toronto cop implied that women who dressed like “sluts” deserved to get raped. Outraged at the cop’s statement, women all over North America hit the streets both to protest the Neanderthal mindset that afflicts so many males, and to repurpose the word “slut.”

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