Saturday, September 19, 2020

Latinovations Statement: Latinos must stand with Black Lives Matter

During these dark times that sweep our nation, Latinos cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening. We cannot turn a blind eye to what our black brothers and sisters are experiencing. We cannot pretend this is not our issue and that there is nothing for us to do.

Quite simply, it is the opposite. The senseless police brutality that has claimed yet again another African American life – George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in Minneapolis, is borne out of the institutional systemic racism, extreme police force, stereotypes, fear and power trips that plague all communities of color.  If we are dark skinned, have an accent, or in any way look foreign or ‘dangerous,’ we could be next.

What began after a deli employee called 911, accusing Mr. Floyd of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill, led to his death and to the image that is now stuck in all our heads. The image of a white police officer with his knee on the neck of a black man who was not fighting back, only fighting for his life saying, “I can’t breathe”.

Now the question is: How do we as Latinos play our part? How do we contribute and stand up for what is right? And what do we even say during these times?

It is important to recognize that this is not the time to compare our struggle; we suffer more than them or vice versa.  That is not productive. This is about doing the right thing, not keeping score – that’s not how coalitions are built. For things to change, we need to change and do more than we have ever done.  If we want this momentum to spread to other issues that also impact us – we must stand and speak out today.

Latinos and African Americans have had a long history of oppression in this country and at times, our struggle has been intertwined. Even now during the COVID pandemic, our communities are the ones that are disproportionately affected.

We have also had our own struggles facing stereotypes, bigotry, xenophobia, and a president who has weaponized hate speech that has all led to putting brown babies in cages and a deadly shooting of 22 Latinos in El Paso. The black community stood in solidarity with then. Today, we must stand with them.  We must understand their pain and anger, we must educate ourselves, and we must look at our own flaws and racism within our own community.

It is unacceptable for us to be tone deaf or insensitive. Karol G tweeting a picture of her black and white dog to show that harmony between “black and white” is possible was inappropriate and not helpful. We cannot simplify and minimize the struggle of black people. We must understand that in this country, this is a deeply rooted and more complicated issue than that.

What is happening is also forcing us to see this very issue within our community and how we have played a part. The Latino community is so incredibly diverse, we go from the lightest shades to the darkest ones and this is forcing us to look at the racism and colorism within our community as well as confronting our own beliefs on race.

We also cannot turn away because this affects our very own Afro-Latinos, who are sometimes seen as too black to be Latino, but too Latino to be considered black. They are the ones stuck in the middle because of the color of their skin and their heritage. They have been targets of the rampant racism that exists in our midst and will continue to be in the future.

This is the time to look at our beliefs and what shaped them. It is the time to see and recognize the prejudice within our community. Many of us claim that we do not see race the same or that we do not identify with a single race, but sometimes we tend to use labels tied to hair type, skin color, and facial features instead.

It is time to question the terms such as “pelo bueno” (good hair) and “pelo malo” (bad hair) and really look at the meaning behind it. These are the subtle things that many of us in the Latino community have grown up with and these have shaped our beliefs and attitudes to what is acceptable, what is beautiful and have defined our attitudes on race.

In our countries of origin in Latin America, racism may look different, but it is there, and it is as cancerous a growth on society as it is here.

We will not solve this issue easily or quickly. But we can bring it to light every chance we get, and we can challenge our own attitudes and beliefs and we can call out our own people when they exhibit flippancy, insensitivity or ignorance on the issue.

Latinos in the US have and will continue to find ourselves as targets of police officers – maybe for different reasons but as targets, nonetheless. We will be protestors getting arrested, or we will simply be going to a deli store speaking Spanish and looking “too Mexican.”  In those moments, our judgements, our attitudes, our belief systems and our values are the only thing that we have left.  In those moments, we yearn for allies who understand that our lives are not expendable.  Neither are theirs.

Who will we stand with now?  We must stand with our black brothers and sisters.  Amigos say it loud and say it often – BLACK LIVES MATTER.