Racism towards Latinos
I have spoken a lot about my experience in being complicit and participating in racism towards Blackness in the United States and abroad. However, I haven’t addressed racism that we harbor towards the Latino/x community.
In 2018, my family and I went to Washington D.C. for a week in the dead heat of summer. During my stay, I was shocked by the racial disparities in employment and in real estate. At grocery stores, I remarked upon how the crew staff was overwhelmingly Black, and the supervisors were almost always white. The same went for most establishments there.
As an outsider taking a glimpse into another society in America, I could quickly spot racial disparities. As someone who was accustomed to hearing about how “racist” people in the South are in comparison to how “liberal” we are on the West Coast, especially in California, I hadn’t thought of seeing racial disparities in my neighborhood or my city.
When I came home from that trip, I began to realize that someone visiting my city, San Jose, could easily see the racial disparity between Latinos and white people. I began to see how easily I accepted that most poor, working-class laborers are Latino.
Thinking in current times, we have an overwhelmingly Latino workforce in agriculture, meaning that they have been working in the fields amidst a pandemic and suffocating smoke from the fires that have ravaged the West Coast. It is interesting how I was blind to the inequalities in my society when Latinos are underserved and an incredibly vulnerable group here.
In California, we have a diverse population. Where I live in Silicon Valley, a lot of people point out that we have people from all over the world, so we can’t be racist. In a way, I thought that too. I used to think that the reason why I was racist towards Black people was that I did not have as much contact with them as I did with white people, Asians, and Latinos. That is faulty logic, however, since I have had a lot of contact with Asian people but still, I said racist things to them.
In a similar way, I don’t even notice that Latinos are the hard laborers, and I did not notice the disparities of our community, the divide between my mainly white and Asian suburban neighborhood and the mainly Latino low-income housing only 2 blocks away. It is easy to remain ignorant of the issues within my own community and society because I grew up in it and expected nothing different.
I want to note that I am well aware that Latinos are also racist towards Black people, the group I have focused on in most of my entries. In fact, it seems to me that everyone is racist towards Black people. I don’t want to pull attention from my own flaws, however. When it’s easy to call others racist to draw attention away from my flaws, I am slowly realizing that I need to watch myself before I blame others.
Discomfort and Antiracism
This summer, I was talking to a young family member about a friend of mine from South Korea. The family member, probably not thinking about his choice of words, proceeded to imitate the Korean language by saying, “Ching chang chong.”
It sounded offensive, but I knew that he did not mean to be that way. Instead of saying that what he was saying was racist and moving on, I told him about an older family member who just a few months ago was at a Vietnamese restaurant with the family (including me). To everyone’s chagrin, he began imitating what he thought sounded like the Vietnamese language.
To this, the younger family member was aghast. “He actually did that?”
“Yes, now think about this; what is the difference between him doing that in a Vietnamese restaurant and you doing it behind closed doors?”
The family member seemed to internalize my words, so it was a good interaction where I was able to stop and address a racist action without being too critical.
Well, here is another story that paints me in a less flattering light, a theme that is a little more common in my life.
Hanging out with a few friends, my boyfriend and I began to felt uncomfortable because they began to make racist jokes and show us racist memes. We said nothing, and we discussed that we both felt bad that we said nothing.
He then gave me an analogy for antiracism. Racism is a direction in a path that everybody walks. Lots of people walk in that direction, but some people simply stop and watch other people walk in that direction. Although you may not be saying or doing racist things (I thought I didn’t, but this project has helped me learn), not doing anything about others’ racist words and actions makes you complicit with the racism. It is the people who walk in the other direction to try to turn the tide who are actively trying to make a change and who are not complicit. It makes people uncomfortable, which is why many choose not to do it, and why many tell those who do it to not.
I was being complicit. The excuse I gave myself was it was very late, and I was tired, so I would deal with it if it weren’t past midnight. The idea of confronting my friends’ racism discomforted me, so I managed to talk myself out of it, choosing compliance.
I told this story to someone, to which they said, “Well, you have to pick your battles right? You can’t fight all the time.” That sounds very nice, but I thought about it, and if anyone is supposed to not rest, it would be me. Why should I make sure I feel comfortable when I know that the lives of black people are suppressed and endangered because of historical and current biases against them?
Of course, I can go ahead and pat myself on the back for telling a family member, with whom I am more comfortable, but where was I when my peers spoke and acted in ways that can become harmful if unchecked?
That was a personal experience that is important but on a small scale. Do we as a society stand up against injustices when it becomes difficult and uncomfortable? The protests that occurred this summer demonstrated a lot of solidarity; however, the solidarity was often surfaced.
In Los Gatos, a wealthy town located not far from where I live, people protested for BLM on multiple occasions. It was nice to see that their community was standing up against racism, but a friend pointed out to me that recently that the town voted against letting low-income families live there in subsidized housing because it would be “dangerous” to let such families live there. Protesting was trendy this summer, but action is uncomfortable.
As someone who has the privilege of not experiencing racial injustices, it seems nice and comfortable to protest because it’s symbolic. As soon as it causes discomfort, it’s easy to balk and become complicit in racism as I did with my peers. The idea is to work on that.
In the time I wrote these reflections, I learned more than I expected about my own racism. I hope that this was informative for anyone who is unfamiliar with race in America and that exposing my insufficiencies will make me more accountable for my thoughts and actions.
Cover photo by Brett Sayles via Pexels