I’ve wrestled seriously the past two weeks with whether to write about this issue.
Here goes. ‘You can’t make racist comments unless you’re part of a racial group.’
Although scientifically, there is only one race — the human race — and the first humans came out of Africa, using the now-debunked but very influential arrangement of Aryan (Caucasoid) — Negroid — Mongoloid peoples as the reference point, centuries of White conquerors have advocated the position that Whites are the highest form of the human race, and therefore, they belong in charge and deserve to be routinely lionized.
Taking control of the historical narrative, they have taught countless millions of people that White people are the ultimate and best human beings.
From many (but not all) of them we get their constant effort to deny the validity of Black humanity, and to include others in that orbit (Native Americans, for example). What is billed as American History, and taught in all the nation’s grade schools, is that Whites are in charge, they deserve being in charge, and they will continue being in charge. American society is replete with self-repeating structures to maintain that reality.
Blacks are regularly taught to hate themselves and to worship Whiteness. It is a part of life, fair or not. But Latinos are not White. Sure, many lighter skinned Latinos may want to be considered White and may try to act as they think Whites act. But they just are not and they won’t be.
They are a collection of various cultural groups united somewhat by a common language, and they are constantly in competition with Blacks and other non-Whites in society for political authority, access to social rewards and other benefits. Clearly, using ethnocentric slurs, social tropes and insults against Blacks in this society and others is a tried-and-true method of trying to act and be White. But they’re not. White racism sees Latinos(a) as less worthy people, too, and will continue to do so.
In other words, the vile comments made by former L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez and her cohorts have been rightly condemned as wrong. But they were not nor can they be racist. Latinos(a) are not a race, even a pretend one. Their comments were ethnocentric screeds. For us to approach Latinos as if they are substitute Whites is, in effect, self-confusion that can and will divert us from the real fight.
In grade school, when the high yellow fellow or girl insulted us or treated us unkindly because we were a darker hue, we did not resort to calling them racists. We knew they were maybe wanna-bees, but they did not have the societal power of White folks.
Remember the scene in Denzel Washington’s “The Great Debaters” when the ignorant and poor Whites (seemed to be dirt poor sharecroppers) insulted and made helpless the Black Ph.D father in his own automobile? That was unbridled racism. Those Whites knew their actions and insults would be supported by the prevailing White power structure in the southern town, and in the country. So calling a full grown, well-heeled Black professor a “boy” and treating him badly in front of his family was easy to do. That was the everyday display of racism Whites still know how to use and still benefit from using in this society.
Nothing Martinez or any of the others in that unfortunate not-so-closed session meeting said equals that. They don’t now, nor are they likely to gain, that kind of social-political power. Yes, they insulted us, just as they did in the recent federal labor cases won against Latino ethnocentrism in Los Angeles (See Our Weekly, this column, August 31, 2022).
But it wasn’t racism, and we should not take that bait. Fight cultural discrimination — ethnocentrism — on its own field, not the racist field occupied by Whites. If we can’t distinguish who we are fighting and why, we’ll never win.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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