Race-work, Race-love

Latinos and Whiteness: On Being Sold An Empty White Privilege Knapsack

In Uncategorized on June 13, 2014 at 11:41 pm

Sophia (@sophiagurule) on May 30th replied to my tweet about White Supremacy and Latinidad:

‪@BlancaVNYC : and yep ‪#nuncamas. this [choosing White on the Census] has haunted/shaped my life, and used against me, and I’m just done with it.”

To read more of the conversation, click here*.

For many Latinos in the U.S., race is still an elusive and misunderstood concept. This is due to many reasons but primarily for this one: Latinos have been taught that we are not a race, that instead, we are an ethnicity, and therefore have the ability/privilege to dodge the race question altogether.

The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line – W.E.B. Du Bois

For Latinos, the race question on a Census is confused for the color question. For the 2000 Census, even Latinos who were unmistakably White, Black, Native, or Asian, could pick “Other”. In 2010, “Other” was no longer available for Latinos, thus, forcing them to choose (what many confuse) “Color” for “Race” – and there is a difference, one that is often never unpacked for Latinos.

So, if the problem is the color line, then where do Latinos, who are taught “they have no race” fit in this now 21st century problem?

I was on twitter a few weeks ago and I had a conversation with Sophia who decided to pick “White” on the census. A young Latina woman who admits to having socially constructed “White” features, regretted this decision after seeing the New York Times piece devoted to understanding less than a paragraph in a recent Pew Report about Latinos and race (to read more about this and other pieces written in response to Latinos and Whiteness, please click here). She stated that she felt that her decision to pick White as a race was used against her because in choosing “White” as a racial category, writers – specifically Nate Cohn – oversimplified the ways Latinos identify with U.S. constructions of race. And, in all honesty, Cohn is not the only one who oversimplifies race. Thus it is very clear – no one is educating Latinos about the ways race affects our lives and how we are constantly being racialized – despite being told that Latinos are only an ethnicity.

Let’s review this again: Despite being told that Latinos have “no race” that we are in fact an “ethnicity” we forget that Latinos are in the process of racialization. Why? Because the process of racialization is not at all spoken about in mainstream conversations. This was given more ammunition when the Hispanic label came about. Labeling people Hispanic by falsely identifying a Spanish language background as our unifying factor (that’s for another piece), despite our various skin colors, made Latinos become a part of an ethnicity not a race.**

Identifying with an ethnic group, however, does not stop a population from being racialized – the process/project of becoming a race or being identified via a human classification system that uses several characteristics in order to construct a race. Although some Latinos identify as AfroLatino, others as Mestizo, White, there are still conversations and discussions of never truly fitting in a “White” box or a “Black” box and so on. As such, many people have identified Latinos as “Brown” – even though some Latinos think they are White.

While there is much scholarship in this area, there is very little of that information being trickled to the masses about how Latinos are racialized, the effects that a de facto binary racial classification system has on Latinos, and how Latinidad is completely dumbfounding race bloggers, writers, and researchers who continue to grapple with the important work of understanding the role of race and racism in the U.S.

It is for that reason that I am using the conversation I had with Sophia to explain some things here in this blog about the ongoing debate about the effects of racialization on Latinos. Here is a revised version of that conversation:

In response to the question, do Latinos have White privilege, my opinion rests on “no”. Latinos who identify as White purely based on skin color, may have SOME privileges associated with Whiteness but that does not encompass the White privilege knapsack.

Choosing “White” on a Census is not about choosing a “color”. It is a political choice – often one that is already chosen for you but the U.S. Census falsely leads us to believe that we are actually the ones “choosing”. Latinos MUST understand that by choosing White, we choose to identify with White Supremacist constructions of who we are and who we are not. Many people of color are not formally educated on what White Supremacy is so we choose “race” based only on skin color on a census that does not just believe that race is a skin color!!! This is a dilemma some Latinos face about race because we are taught that race is only determined by skin color. That’s the biggest lie. I understand that Latinos who have lighter skin color may walk into structures and situations where they are treated better than others. And even after knowing what White Supremacy is and how race is constructed, some Latinos may still choose White. But Latin American and Latino history, ancestry, the way we speak, what we defend, where we live, who our friends are all dictate life chances that we do not readily see and that are shaped by racial constructs – which often means not being treated as White people.

By no means am I asking Latinos to IGNORE privileges associated with Whiteness. Still, choosing White just because of skin color is also false! The census NEVER said that race is JUST about skin color. Yet, no one teaches Latinos about race and how to choose race on the Census. Thus, we are all being miseducated about race. We must learn that race is not just about skin color in this country. Skin color has VERY real effects – but so does our immigration patterns; so does being bilingual as educational research demonstrates that this affects our ability to progress or be detained in school; so does our income which shapes our housing opportunities leading to schools leading to universities leading to professions; it is in the areas we live in and how we are treated by the police or by our teachers just because we have a Spanish, or Kichwa, or Nauhuatl surname. And of course, this is about how White Supremacy (and those who knowingly or unknowingly maintain White Supremacy) ultimately uses our skin color as proxy for good or bad.

Latinos should remember that while some of us have privileges associated with Whiteness, this is not White Privilege. However, the only way we can understand our own racialization is to identify those areas in which some of us benefit from White Supremacy and where we don’t – a category Eduardo Bonilla Silva calls “honorary white” – and attack those areas if we are truly in the business of killing White Supremacy. This provides a more nuanced understanding of Latinidad, Latinization of race, and the racialization of Latinos, more so than the frames we inherited.

We must ask ourselves: did the government implement more anti-LATINO policies in the last ten years? YES. Do they largely affect Black and Native Latinos.? YES. Can some of us dodge those racist policies? Perhaps. But what of our brother who gets stopped and frisked? What about our sister who gets identified as a Brown woman and gets followed around in a store? What of our children who cannot identify at all with White skin color and who are left behind a grade because they are assumed to not speak English well? What about those policies that continue to stop, frisk, detain, and deport our people? While individually, some of us may be able to hide from the “race” question, as a people, and if that doesn’t sway you — as a family (if you cant see beyond your own) we may not. In the end, can we all completely dodge the race question – not as a family or a community.

So we must begin unlearning how we understand race as it affects Latinos. We continue to see race through a White Supremacist lens – Black or White – without consciously thinking about the specific experiences that come along with the label Hispanic/Latino – whether you are White, Black, or Native. The proximity to Whiteness and the proximity to Blackness are real and must be understood because this is the current system we live in. But to fully engage in the racialization of Latinos, we must begin to engage in a process of unlearning what we are told Latinos are and begin exploring what the racialization of Latinos look like. In this new understanding, we may see how Latinos fit into the color line – and why the problem of the color line persists.

For centuries now, Latin Americans and Latinos have been trying to understand the race question as it pertains to Latinidad. This historical background can prove to be useful if we understand that the racialization theories of Latinidad have often been used as tools to maintain and reproduce White Supremacy. For example, theories such as “La Raza Cosmica” and “Mestizaje” are all ways to create more distance between Latinidad and Blackness. Thus, it is not surprising that these old structures are being revisited in the U.S. – by pieces like Nate Cohn’s that insist that Latinos are becoming White. Do we not see how history repeats itself? Do we not see how Latinos are now being used as racial pawns in the battle to maintain White Supremacy, a way to add more White people to the U.S. – being told that we are White without any of the benefits of White Supremacy?

Latinos are being sold an empty White privilege knapsack.

This reproduction of old mestizaje and raza cosmica theories must be avoided at all costs. It obliterates Blackness and Indigeneity. Researchers and scholars have documented and noted Latin America’s experiment with “racial democracies” that of there being no race which has only pushed Black and Native Latin Americans further into the margins. The racial category “Black” is therefore a powerful tool that continues to remind the government that they are not doing right by its people and an identity that can be used to politically mobilize a whole community to fight for liberation of an oppressive government. We must be careful that current theorization of Latinidad and race does not exclude Blackness but instead recognize its category in the Census as a political tool to fight for liberation and make us rethink and reshape White Supremacy. We must also teach Latinos about how the Census is used as a tool to maintain White Supremacy, and now using Latinos to reproduce it. It is important here to recognize that race is not the problem – racism is. But race COULD be the problem if we continue to ignore the ways Latinos are affected by racism. In other words, Jose Diaz-Balart – yes you should care how Latinos identify racially.

For example: How can a population who is taught that they are not a race, claim racial bias, harassment, or violence? If you identify as AfroLatino – what if you are attacked because you are Black not just Latino? Currently, bias against Latinos are categorized under “ethnic hate crimes”. But if Latinos were able to claim racial bias and violence – the case for racial discrimination would empower the oppressed – not appease the oppressors in making them feel that we now live in a post-racial society.

The flip side must also be recognized and explored: In George Zimmerman’s case, Latinidad was used as a proxy for not being racist? But yet – we cannot identify as a race? This deserves one big COME ON, SON.

We must feel indicted and empowered to delve into a new language associated with the racialization of Latinos. At the heart of the Census matter – basically it does not capture how we’re being treated, displaced, raped, miseducated, imprisoned, detained, deported, stopped, frisked. And if we return to what Sophia said – her feeling about choosing White as being used against her – more qualitative research must be done to fully understand what leads Latinos to choose White. And Black. And Asian. And Native. And Other.

Filling out the census is a hegemonic practice constructed to MAKE us identify ONE particular way. Filling out the Census, choosing White, sells Latinos an empty White Privilege knapsack.

Choose race wisely, mi gente.


* Much love to @sophiagurule and @BlackCanseco for sharing openly their thoughts about Latinidad, race and White Supremacy. It was an awesome conversation.

** Interestingly, this is a vestige of the popular “racial democracy” experiments in Latin America, where Black was erased, and mestizaje came about, regarding most Latin Americans as “colorless” which generally is a proxy for White.


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