The danger of ignoring racially inflammatory rhetoric
This column was first published in 2006 in the Austin American Statesman and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other newspapers around the nation. In 2021, you can be sure it wouldn’t be now.
By Mark Cromer
Michael Richard’s frenzied meltdown on stage at the Laugh Factory; black firefighter Tennie Pierce’s charges of endemic racism in the Los Angeles Fire Department; NYPD unloading 50 rounds into three unarmed black men; 10 black teens and preteens on trial for hate crimes in Long Beach after a savage attack on three white women.
We may just be closing in on Christmas, but I’d say get ready for a long, hot summer come next year if the current climate prevails.
In the past two weeks, race-relations in America have taken center stage and once again the smoldering fault-lines have been highlighted as a predominantly black and white affair.
That old paradigm may provide a comfortably familiar dynamic for activists, elected officials and the media to play off, but it conceals the new reality—and the danger—of the deepening racial polarization on America’s streets.
And some of the most stridently racialist rhetoric these days is not being heard from blacks or whites, but rather Latinos.
From street activists to students to professionals, Latinos are stoking ethnic anger as they pander to crowds with blatant stereotypes and use racially charged language to motivate their supporters; and they are doing so with virtual impunity.
At a protest in Escondido this past October, organizer Fernando Suarez de Solar of a group called Aztec Warriors for Peace whipped a crowd of illegal immigrants into a frenzy outside of city hall after the council passed an ordinance that requires landlords to verify the legal residency of their tenants.
“Do not allow yourselves to be intimidated by any blue-eyed ‘whitey’ that comes to your house and asks you for ‘papers,’” de Solar shouted in Spanish. Moments later, when he was giving me an English translation of what he had just told the crowd, he forgot to include the reference to “blue-eyed whitey,” perhaps in deference to my green eyes.
Two teenage girls standing in the crowd casually dismissed white people as little more than a race of lazy bigots who have stolen everything they have acquired.
“Like, white people shouldn’t be trying to do that, like trying to take all of the Mexicans [away]. That’s why they have everything,” said 16-year-old Norma Sanchez.
Her friend Jeanette Rivera, 17, quickly interjected “Without us, [whites] are nothing.”
The uncomfortable truth of just how many immigrant and native Latinos perceive Anglo Americans through a hard prism of negative racial and cultural stereotypes has not been explored much in the media, though it is brazenly on display at rallies that draw swarms of television, radio and print reporters.
It is clear that many Latino activists feel the coast is clear and experience little trepidation for making outrageous and divisive claims calculated to further racially polarize their base of supporters for pure political gain.
In September, activist Emma Lozano stood on a stage in Los Angeles and proclaimed that the aging population—i.e. whites—is only able to survive as a result of the exploitation of illegal immigrant labor.
“It is because of the undocumented that the [white] people who are retiring today are able to retire. Because of the work, the sweat, the exploitation of the undocumented worker,” Lozano shouted at the crowd. “They are getting their hearing aides, their crutches and their pacemakers because of our work.”
Like the two teens in Escondido, Lozano merely gave a louder voice to the view now pervasive among Latinos: White Americans do not enjoy the fruits that spring from a heritage of their parents’ hard labor, a legacy of toil and sweat that stretches from Steinbeck’s fields in California’s Central Valley to the coal mines of West Virginia, but rather they are the sole inheritors of pillaged loot, beneficiaries after-the-fact of historical crimes against Latinos.
Analogies to slavery are tossed freely about by immigrant activists, with “white privilege” now the new code word for white plantation owner.
“What is happening now in America is the dehumanization and modern slavery of all the immigrants,” Jorge Luis Macias told students at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, CA, in September. Macias is an assignment editor at the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion.
At the same forum, Angelica Salas from the Coalition of Immigrant Rights Los Angeles told students that illegal immigrants were akin to runaway slaves. “So at present we do have an immigration law that many immigrants have to violate when they come to this country,” Salas said. “Slavery was a law.”
And those comments pale next to the anti-Anglo venom easily found in but a few keystrokes on the web, percolating forth from a wellspring of Latino and Mexican nationalist movements that depict whites as more akin to the Dutch Afrikaners of South Africa’s apartheid regime than Americans.
As the media convulses with the very real stresses and strains between blacks and whites in America, a virulent strain of Latino ethnocentrism is growing in the vacuum and, unless it is confronted honestly, it is setting the stage for even greater racial upheaval.
White Americans—and particularly the working middle class—are feeling more denigrated and under siege than perhaps at any time in recent history; and it is the strident debate over illegal immigration that is fueling this sense of isolation.
Pundits may chastise whites for their defensiveness and mockingly dismiss their angst over what is clearly a double standard in the public use of race-based appeals, but they will ignore this simmering anger at their peril.
What happens when Kramer’s name is Juan? Right now, nothing much at all.
If that doesn’t change soon, we’ll all be in for a very long, hot summer indeed.