Let’s be honest.
We are terrified of the disease that is White Supremacy.
And let’s be even more honest: we are terrified of the bodies capable of spreading that disease.
The effects of White Supremacy – otherwise known as racism – are very real. The mortality rates of people of color are much shorter than that of Whites; the educational and employment opportunities are much less for people of color; mass incarceration of Black and Brown people are at an all time high; and the likelihood to be Stopped and Frisked or detained for looking Brown and Undocumented are much higher for people of color….need I go on?
Essentially, White Supremacy kills.
So I am not surprised that Latinos would be thrown in the debate about tipping the scales of White Supremacy. But this point keeps getting missed when we ask “Who is White?” in relation to Latinos as Jamelle Bouie attempted to answer in his piece Will Today’s Hispanics Be Tomorrow’s Whites? Bouie begins his piece by providing the very real example posed by the case of George Zimmerman who “chose” to be Latino-por-conveniencia – or Latino for convenience’s sake. Bouie writes:
For good reason, this debate—whether the half-Peruvian Zimmerman was “Hispanic” or “white”—was quickly overshadowed by the activism and acrimony around Martin’s killing. But it’s not unimportant, as it reflects the tension and confusion over race in a changing America and offers a 21st-century spin on one of the oldest questions in American life: Who is white?
Bouie then uses a Pew Report to provide evidence of the diminishing populace of White bodies as constructed by the U.S. by writing:
Come 2050, only 47 percent of Americans will call themselves white, while the majority will belong to a minority group. Blacks will remain steady at 13 percent of the population, while Asians will grow to 8 percent. Hispanics, on the other hand, will explode to 28 percent of all U.S. population, up from 19 percent in 2010.
He continues by discussing the effects of intermarriage and wonders what children of these marriages will choose (isn’t this question ironically familiar?). The crux of his article centers on the very important questions: “…will white Hispanics see themselves as part of a different race—light-skinned but distinct from whites—or will they see themselves as another kind of white?” Finally, he ends with what seems to be a contradictory message “Our hierarchies are a little flatter, and—in public life, at least—we aren’t as obsessed with racial boundaries.”
(Side note: In my opinion, this message is contradictory because if we weren’t so obsessed with race, we wouldn’t constantly use Latinos as the racial pawn or tipping point – so yes, Jamelle Bouie, we are totally obsessed with racial boundaries, including you.)
While the questions posed by Bouie are interesting, they miss good analysis because of the lack of authenticity that is presented in these questions. There is a dishonesty about fear of Whiteness that we are not willing to explore. However, if we honestly confront the fear, we can come up with better questions. What is this fear really about?
We are terrified of White Supremacy. We are terrified of the bodies that mobilize White Supremacy.
For this piece, I propose other questions that I believe are more constructive and can help us understand Latinidad a bit more: What are the effects of White Supremacy? Can Latinos consume the principles and values of White Supremacy and if so, will Latinos have the power to turn those principles and values into practices and policies? Finally, how does this threaten Black people and yes – even other Latinos?
(PS: Some of the answers are mentioned earlier in this piece when I wrote: “The effects of White Supremacy…”)
In other words, what is the real threat that Latinos who are not critical of the White Supremacist values pose to Black people? And while we are here, what is the real threat that Latinos who ARE critical of the White Supremacist values pose to White people – and more significantly – White Supremacy?
In his response to Bouie, Julio Varela suggests that part of the problem with Bouie’s piece is that Latinos are forced to choose between White and Black and that Latinos are only imagined in this racial binary. His last sentence so poignantly makes us further consider Latinidad outside of that binary – “That’s why ‘tomorrow’s whites’ will never be ‘tomorrow’s whites.’ They will be tomorrow’s Latinos.”
Indeed, what Bouie’s piece reminds me is that Latinos continue to be discussed, theorized, feared, and politicized, without Latinos. This is what I call “Latinidad without Latinos” – akin to ‘Racism without Racists” in the sense that had Bouie just done a Google search on Latinos and race he would have realized that Eduardo Bonilla Silva and others already thought about the question “Will Latinos be a different type of White?” In fact, Bonilla Silva calls this “Honorary White”. Bouie also would have found work by Dr. Clara Rodriguez and Dr. Hector Cordero or Dr. Marta Moreno Vega who wrote extensively about this very subject. If research is too difficult to access, then what about looking through twitter for public intellectuals who also discuss this such as Dash Harris, Sofia Quintero, Daniel Jose Older, Alex Trillo or Bad Dominicana? What about glancing through The AfroLatino Reader or Latino Education? In fact, with just one tweet I was able to access an article titled Latina/o Whitening: Which Latinas/or Self-Classify as White and Which Latinos Report Being Perceived as White by Other Americans by Dr. Nicholas Vargas. When we hear from Latinos, we actually see how they can turn White Supremacy on its head and read pieces like the one from Roque Planas who wrote 19 Reasons Latin Americans Come to the U.S. That Have Nothing To Do With The American Dream.
But y’all don’t want to hear me, though.
By no means am I suggesting that non-Latinos shouldn’t be a part of this ongoing discussion. What I am suggesting here is that we must ask better questions and we must begin by including Latino voices who are already engaged in these conversations and research to help us ask better questions about Latinos and race. What I am suggesting, most forcibly, is that when asking “What race will Latinos choose” it is necessary to stop thinking about Latinos as “Sleeping Giants”. Instead we MUST start thinking about Latinos as thinking, theorizing, writing, and active people. We have been studying the question about race and Latinidad for many, many years. The Latin American discourse on race is long and well-researched. Yet, think pieces from media outlets such as Slate continue to perpetuate the myth of Latinos as the Sleeping Giants and as a people whose voices are not necessary to include on all topics and even more ridiculously – about who we are, about our own Latinidad.
In essence, it is insignificant to ask how many White people there will be in 2050 and how Latinos will contribute to this number if we don’t consider that the values, beliefs, and practices that uphold White Supremacy are much stronger than our mortal bodies. Yes – we are all carriers of these values, beliefs, and practices. Thus, Latinos “choosing” White could only mean something when we consider what we are taught about Whiteness and the mechanisms that are still firmly in place that make people desire Whiteness and reject Latinidad.
Finally, Bouie’s analysis failed to provide insight on the idea that we have the ability to “choose” race. It is a lie that the American Dream is built on: the lie that suggests that individuals can CHOOSE their identity. We are all born into a structure. At birth, our identity is chosen for us. How we manage that identity is then confronted by how society sees us. We can either choose to resist or accept the conditions around us. Thus, racial identity for Latinos (for everyone) is an interactional process between the individual and society that was overly simplified by Bouie’s piece. Will Hispanics choose to be White? Or will White be chosen for us? These questions can only come out of discussions that don’t include racially and ethnically conscious Latinos. What people fail to realize is that Latino/Latin American voices have been contributing to this discussion for years now – so, for lack of a better way of saying it – y’all are just late to this party.
Returning to George Zimmerman – because Bouie started this discussion on race and Latinidad with him – we absolutely should consider Zimmerman as a good example of the perils of White Supremacist values living in a genetically White and Peruvian body. In a blog post I wrote earlier this year, I point out the racist sentiments that Zimmerman’s mother espoused which were passed on to her son which resulted in the death of a young Black man named Trayvon Martin. This is an effect of White Supremacist values – values that can survive and thrive in any body. For these reasons, it is more important to explore what values and beliefs Latinos hold about race in addition to what race we will choose — because as we saw in the Zimmerman trial – it is easy to now use our Brown bodies as proxies for anti-racism.
There is some hope though – there is evidence that the more Latinos engage race education via mechanisms such as ethnic studies, the more we learn to be racially conscious and racially complete and move further away from Whiteness. Sadly – despite the positive results of ethnic studies on Latino students, these programs are being dismantled and defunded. Coincidence?
There is so much more to be said about the racialization of Latinos, too much to be written in just one piece. Thus, I urge those of us who are more educated on this subject to begin writing and submitting to places like Slate – and if rejected – to publish on our own sites. I also encourage us to submit to places that are supposed to provide Latinos with a platform. Essentially, what I am asking is that Latinos make themselves visible and heard at this discussion table – and not just be a part of the Racial Binary menu.
Latinidad Without Latinos – No More.