"African Tsunami" political cartoon by Alfredo Sabat of Argentina- won first prize in the United Nations Correspondent’s Association Ranan Lurie Political Cartoon Award 2006.
Such definitions as African American, Latino, Native American, Mexican American, Asian American, Hispanic- all encompass the multi-layered, mega population of America’s minorities. I failed to include women and gays because I’ve often been corrected and told the politically appropriate phrasing is: “women, gays and minorities”.
However you choose to characterize those who are not of white and men, minorities are all underdogs.
We are not the majority.
We are not privileged.
Please understand, I do not agree with the aforementioned reasoning but there are many who invest quite heavily into identity victims especially when it concerns people who are ethnically diverse and the politicians who claim they want to rescue them.
This Arizona controversy has many African Americans in the state of flux. I am experiencing two responses. Some blacks are ready to fight against the alleged racial profiling contained in the Arizona immigration reform law. Others are unapologetic and rather apathetic concerning the fate of illegal immigrants.
“They are taking jobs from us,” said one African American acquaintance of mine. “They outnumber us now and really many of them are just as racists as whites.”
Should African Americans be concerned about the Arizona law which enforces our federal law to protect its borders and clamp down on illegal immigration?
From this article in the Black Agenda Report:
Revisiting the Immigration Reform Debate: An African American Perspective
by Dr. Ron Daniels
“Black Power will necessarily be affected by Brown Power.”
The anti-immigration law passed by the Arizona legislature, which essentially legalizes racial profiling of Latinos, has reignited the national debate over what to do about millions of undocumented people, the vast majority of whom entered through America’s porous southwestern borders. Despite the progressive stance of African American civil rights/human rights and political leaders on this issue, if you tune in to Black talk radio, one gets a sense that large numbers of Blacks are intensely opposed to granting legal status to the undocumented. This is an interesting phenomenon because in general Black people tend to advocate for the oppressed, particularly people of color. In this instance there appears to be a disconnect between Black leaders and a substantial segment of their constituency. I suspect this is because, in the legitimate quest to remain the “conscience of the nation” on matters of injustice to human beings, Black leaders reflexively and to a degree uncritically embrace a pro-legalization stance for the undocumented. The problem with this posture is that it does not take into account the serious concerns expressed by many Blacks on this complex issue.
For the record, I am absolutely in favor of fair, equitable and just immigration reform. And, as Africans in America, we certainly cannot accept the racial, ethnic or religious profiling of any group under any circumstances. So, I am totally opposed to the Arizona law – which should be rescinded or repealed immediately.
La Gran Tenochtitlán, 1945, Palacio Nacional, Mexico City by Diego Rivera
You see, I am not certain that I agree with Dr. Daniels. I do not have a problem with the Arizona law because it only enforces what is already allowed by federal law. If you are stopped for let’s say a traffic violation, even if you were a Caucasian, you would have to show some proof of identification. Arizona is having huge problems with the lack of border security, I find it reasonable that the state is asserting its right to alleviate the problem.
Also, what is this “brown power”? I assume that Dr. Daniels is referring to blacks and Latinos. Are Middle Easterners included in the “brown power” movement?
Dr. Daniels continues:
...Despite the successes of the Black freedom struggle, large numbers of Black people are still confined to the bottom rungs of the social-economic ladder. In large measure this is because racism is alive and well — and Blacks are the least preferred people of color minority in this country. “If you’re White, you’re alright, Yellow mellow, Brown stick around but Black get back” is still a reality when it comes to the struggle for opportunity in this country. Therefore, Blacks are understandably nervous about anything that threatens to undermine our fragile social-economic and political gains, particularly when vast numbers of our people are still locked out and left out. To suggest that somehow millions of undocumented people have no impact on the social-economic and political standing of African Americans runs counter to what millions of our people see and experience in their daily lives.
Hmmm, do African Americans feel threatened by Latinos?
Why should we be? Aren’t we all on Underdog Island, Brown Island, Minority Island?
Or are Americans feeling threatened by people who are not Americans exhausting our resources?
Liberals believe that minority status is tracked back to antecedents of any American wrong doing canonized as exploitation of those who are somehow lesser than. Images of slave ships, shackles, internment camps, women’s suffrage, five and dime counter sit-ins, migrant workers all follow the American cookie cutter of the downtrodden minority figure.
Michael Tropea/National Museum of Mexican Art
But does one size necessarily fit all when it comes the the liberal victim caste system?
At a fairly young age I learned the answer.
When I was nine-years old, I was living in the North Lawndale section of Chicago. My Catholic school was entirely African American as far as the students were concerned. Little fourth grade brown legs with knees barely covered by plaid skirts bought during the third grade.
The nuns and priests were all white. Old, wrinkled and white. We all made quite a meeting of the minds. Nubby pink hands twisting our black cheeks whenever we stepped out of line. At times the nuns could be sort of maternalistic; sparring the rod if they saw that your legs were covered in scabs from a whooping you received at home.
Those women in habits who swore there lives to God, were mostly of Czechoslovakian and Polish descent. Sister Mary Ann who had been at the convent since the neighborhood was predominantly a Jewish ghetto, and now since the mid 1950’s a black ghetto swayed back and forth from disdain to tolerance for her black students. But if you were of the lighter persuasion say like my classmate Paulina, then Sister Mary Ann liked you.
Paulina was Mexican and the only person in my class who was not black. All of the boys crushed on her. They would chase her around the school yard just to grab at her long thick ponytails. We, the common brown girls, were terribly jealous of her.
“Her face is not that pretty,” we would whisper during mass as Paulina giggled and squealed.
She passed notes back and forth with drooling little wolves like Thomas White that I had a terrible crush on. The nuns never caught Paulina. She could do no wrong. If it were one of us, we would be in the corner faster than you can say teacher’s pet.
I became obsessed with the transfer from Immaculate. This was my turf since the first grade. I was at the top of the class academically and Paulina was at the bottom. So why does Tommy like her? He once walked me home faithfully everyday. He would even take the long way when he could have chosen a shortcut through the vacant lots. Now he won’t save his seat for me during lunch and ignores me. What gives?
“She is not black.” See I could always count on my mother to give me a great biased answer. “Black boys like white women anytime they can get one.”
“But she is not white. She is Spanish and lives on 26th street,” I corrected mother. ” She is like us – not a white person.”
“But she will be treated like a white person before you will ever be.” she warned. ” The closer you look like a white person, the more you will be able to pretend to be one of them. “
"Portrait of Mrs. Natasha Gelman" by Diego Rivera, 1943
Great, I am doomed, I thought. My hair was not straight like Paulina’s. I had nothing going for myself except my good grades. That is the only reason why the nuns did not hit me as much as the others, because I did my best in school and won competitions. Despite my brains, I am still gonna be alone when I grow up with no man in the house like my mother. All because I am not light-skinned. Oh no.
“Just like Lena Horn,” Miss Mother lectured. ” If you are yellow skinned, whites love you. Back in the 50’s some could pass for white. They would work in jobs where no one knew they were black. At night they would take the train home long after everyone was gone…They did not want anyone to know that their family was black.”
“Can cousin Latrina pass for white?” I asked. Latrina was my mother’s sister’s youngest daughter. She was quite light complexioned, or “high yella” as grandmother would say. Latrina was a favorite among the family and like Paulina, could do no wrong. I was beginning to see a pattern here.
Mother shook her head. Latrina had light skin but Negro features. ” Her nose bridge is too wide,” she surmised. Latrina was not a good candidate for passing. “You must look like Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, be mixed with black and Puerto Rican.”
Certain that I was as black as a Hershey’s candy bar, I looked in the mirror. I was not too dark, sort of orange-ish brown. “Could I ever pass you think momma?” I asked as I pulled at to corners of my eyes to look Asian. “Even for a Mexican or Puerto Rican
Mother laughed out loud. “No, you are a nice tan color. You know when you were born, you were very light. So light that they mistook you for a Puerto Rican.”
“What happen to me?”
“You got darker and darker.”
From that point on, I decided to make Paulina my friend. Perhaps if she taught me Spanish, I could help her with her reading. Seems fair enough. I can help her get better grades. In return she can help me seem more exotic and not just plain ol’ African American.
But there was a problem that I did not anticipate. Something that mother hinted at but I did not understand or maybe I did not want to understand. In my attempt to establish a friendship with Paulina, she made it obvious to me that while we were both not white, there was a minority totem pole. Guess what my position was on the pole?
“Don’t put your hands on my book,” Paulina said slapping my hand. Our reading books all had numbers on the spine for identification. Paulina’s was #25. I was only handing it to her so she would not have to reach on the book cart for it. “You are all dirty and thieves.”
Immediate hurt and shock kept an emotionally bruised Afrocity standing in front of the book cart. Did she just say I was dirty? She is the one whose uniform collar had a black ring around it. Thieves? At least we don’t have as many kids as the Spanish people do. And they called them greasers like in West Side Story.
By afternoon, Paulina was my arch enemy. I told the others what she said to me, knowing that some of the larger girls were just itching to pick a fight with her.
“She ain’t white,” said one classmate. “Mexicans stink anyway and they have roaches.”
Comic book featuring Memín Pinguín a character from Mexico. Created by Yolanda Vargas Dulché, popular during the 1940's
“The nuns only like Mexicans because they have so many kids because you can’t take the pill if your are Catholic and Mexicans are the only ones who listen to them,” said another classmate.
“I will mess her pretty face up to look like a taco…I wish she would say some shit like that to me,”
“They swim in the water on their backs to get here. That is why they call them wetbacks.”
” She had better take her Chico and the Man ass back to Me-hee-ko”
For days, tensions were high. Paulina noticed that she was being stalked. Her lunch tray would suddenly end up on the floor. “Ooops, did I do that?” from a snickering black classmate.
Reading Book #25 went missing. “Maybe mi madre took it,” the students laughed. “Or her pet goat ate it like Julio’s on Sanford and Son.”
“CHILDREN!!!!” yelled Sister Mary Ann.
Knowing that my spilling the beans about Paulina’s remark to me caused all of this sudden Paulina-cott, I felt guilty. Now there was no stopping it. With the nuns in place, maybe it would die down. Paulina’s mother did not want to take that chance, especially after her daughter was shoved several times in the bathroom. They dared her to push back.
She did not.
Within a month. Paulina had been withdrawn and transferred back to a Catholic school in the Latino neighborhood near California Avenue.
None of us were white. None of us were privileged or rich. But that did not keep us from talking down to one another. Later, I would learn that Paulina ended up in our school because the parochial schools in the black neighborhoods were cheaper than the ones in her own. Her father had left her mother. It was difficult for the family to pay Paulina’s tuition. This may have explained why Paulina felt she was above us because at one time perhaps she was- at least financially. Now after the way we treated her, I can imagine the ways in which we affirmed her negative opinion of black people.
"Black Spanish Family" by Alice Neel
There was nothing I could do. It was over. The wicked princess from 26th Street was gone. My classroom was back to normal.
A sea of chocolate and caramel. Fudge and cinnamon. The boys began to chase us again. The white nun lorded over us as we learned about diphthongs and silent “e”. One day, I would take my allowance and purchase a hula hoop and small book from Wool-worth’s entitled “Say it in Spanish“. It contained pictures of fruits and vegetables, cars, people, and animals with the Spanish words for them in bold black letters.
Mother looked at the book with not so approving eyes ” Why would you want to buy that? They should be reading “Say it in English“
I shrugged my shoulders and sat at the bus stop reading the book, mouthing the words as we waited for the #52 Pulaski. I just simply wanted to understand what the Spanish people were saying- that’s all. There was no harm in that.
Autographed Letter Signed,