Thursday, March 12, 2009

COMMENTARY:Navarrette: What America is becoming + Comment

COMMENTARY:Navarrette: What America is becoming

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Laura Gomez has a funny, and yet terribly perceptive, term to describe the sort of racial holding pattern in which America's largest minority finds itself.

"Latinos have been in this limbo between white and nonwhite — or what I call 'off-white' — for more than 165 years," Gomez told me. Off-white works for me.

Gomez, a professor of law and American studies at the University of New Mexico, might be onto something here. Latinos are neither black nor white, and yet there are black Latinos and white Latinos. There is no Latino race, yet what many Latinos were subjected to in the 20th century — including being barred from hotels, restaurants, and public swimming pools — and continue to be subjected to today in subtler forms would have to be called racism. Still, in America's great racial debate, Latinos have been consigned to the sidelines.

There is a lot that Gomez, who holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Stanford, could teach Attorney General Eric Holder. The attorney general isn't a sociologist, but he played one during Black History Month. Spelling out how far we still have to go to achieve racial nirvana, Holder called the United States "a nation of cowards" who are reluctant to talk about race.

President Barack Obama recently critiqued the nation's top law enforcement officer for his choice of words.

"I think it's fair to say that if I had been advising my attorney general, we would have used different language," Obama told a reporter. "I think the point that he was making is that we're oftentimes uncomfortable with talking about race until there's some sort of racial flare-up or conflict."

As an Obama supporter, Gomez didn't have a problem with the main thrust of Holder's comments. What bothered her was that his narrative was so incomplete as to be irrelevant.

"Holder's speech is very much in black-and-white terms," she said. "Almost everywhere he mentions specifics, he's talking about blacks and whites."

Like when Holder said: "The study of black history is important to everyone — black or white," or when he rattled off a list of African American civil rights figures as "people to whom all of us, black and white, owe such a debt of gratitude."

It wasn't exactly the inclusive and multiracial tone that Obama struck in his poetic speech on race in Philadelphia during the presidential campaign.

Gomez understands the context of Holder's remarks.

"Granted, this (was) Black History Month," she said, "and there's an important reason to talk in those terms ... but I think it does raise a question: Where are Latinos in this?"

For Gomez, it's a familiar story.

"We're presumed invisible from the racial past of the United States," she said.

Gomez mined that past in her book, "Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race," which traces the origins of Mexican-Americans as a racial group in this country.

Today, stuck somewhere in between whites and nonwhites, Latinos are often ignored — in entertainment, politics, media, business, etc. Television networks will do a series on race or ethnicity in America, and still sketch out the storyboard in black and white. When Latinos are noticed, they're usually a footnote, an afterthought, or an accessory — as when a well-meaning politician is talking about race relations, equal opportunity or civil rights, and mentions "blacks and whites ... and browns."

Another concern for Gomez is that, even when other Americans do see Latinos, a lot of people aren't always sure what they're seeing. Consider the immigration debate.

"There's this almost hyper-visibility of Latinos," she said. "But it's a narrow and often wrong kind of hyper-visibility because it is the 'illegal alien.' Every Latino is presumed to be an immigrant and secondly to be an undocumented Mexican."

Ah yes. There is nothing like people whose ancestors have been here for six generations being told to "go back to Mexico" by those whose ancestors are relative newcomers.

Granted, it's not easy to turn a blind eye to an ethnic group that, according to Census estimates, could represent one in four Americans by the year 2030. But some people — like our attorney general — manage to pull it off.

And in doing so, they describe America as it used to be, not what it is, let alone what it is becoming.


Comment: It is hard to hide a 500-pound brown gorilla in the room of racial politics inside the United States. Latinos/as are the huge racial group that is usually invisible and kept invisible by the corporate controlled media still control-freaked by many people with a subconscious racist mentality. Americans can see the major impact that Black African-Americans have had on the whole country, especially since President Obama's election into the Presidency. Some racists may think, "Oh oh... here comes the Mexicans now!"

Historians should note that as a rule Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (Chicanos, Latinos etc.) have not conducted major 'race riots', but there have been bloody attempts at all out revolution! Amerikans tend to have a black-white mind-set that is not inclusive of Latinos and let us not forget the original indigenous peoples of these lands who did suffer from true genocide!!!!!

Surely Latinos need to get politically organized towards the creation of a strong Latino Liberation Movement that is connected up in working alliances with others groups who seek democracy, justice and liberation from oppression. Mexicans are smart and do not even want the racial stigma that black-skinned African-Americans have been subjected to over the centuries. We need to be all inclusive, multi-racial and comprehend the multi-dimensional objective facts of connected reality.

Latinos are a complex multi-faceted people who are not a singular group of people but are a colorful collage of different kinds of people with diverse specific historical-cultural  backgrounds. We cannot be put into one bag for easy analysis.

The term 'La Raza Cosmica' comes close to a general label but there will always be a vaqueness in any label for those who we can loosely label as Latinos. How many pure blood Native Americans are there? We should know that many Mexicans are actually Mestizos of indigenous origins.

The fact remains that we are human beings with basic human survival needs that need to be met in terms of food, clothing, shelter, medical care and basic education (including widespread literacy programs). We struggle daily to meet our basic survival needs in these troubled economic times.

We should unite together on the basis of our basic humaneness as human beings and not let racial-ethnic labels keep us divided from the masses of the people in Latin America, Africa and Asia!

Education for Liberation! Join Up!
Peter S. Lopez aka: Peta

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