The Privilege of White Hispanic II: Facts, Stats, and Cognitive Dissonance
Perhaps I should’ve written this piece before the other one. Which turned out to be extremely polarizing, and controversial to some (really?), but that was my intention. I expected the outrage from a lot of people. I even wrote it in my original piece. My point was more than proven and I’m glad it received the reaction that helped give exposure to this piece that’s more thorough.
So intense was the cognitive dissonance experienced by those who received and opposed my message that it unintentionally made it go viral due to the Streisand effect. I was not the least shocked by the responses. There were many derailing and even downright ridiculous comments made about it: I was accused of being divisive, nonsensical, sexist, marxist, a bad writer (perhaps the only legitimate indictment), and a terrorist. They should’ve added Nazi while they were at it so I could’ve at least invoked Godwin’s law. Maybe I should’ve paid heed to Oscar Wilde and made you all laugh with the truth instead. A truth that is based on undeniable facts.
First, let’s get the concept of Latino privilege and struggle out of the way. There are a ton of stories of white Latina struggles taking up precious space in the media. Do you know what’s the biggest struggle white Latinos face according to these articles/blogs? Being confused for white and having to prove to other Latinos their Latinoness. Seriously, if that is your biggest struggle then it would behoove you to reconsider your entire existence and why you think that that should supersede any other issue we’re facing today. Oh, and the day indigenous and Afro-Latinas have the same amount of access to the media (not just blogs or Twitter) to speak about their experience, then we can talk. Until then, single experiences (good or bad) about being a white Latino should not be given the same level of credence, space, and time as legitimate gripes or studies about racial discrimination that affects people en masse.
The truth of the matter is that white Latinos enjoy way more privileges and more opportunities for upward mobility. That is a fact. A fact backed up by studies. The reason why you don’t think (just like a lot of white Americans, trust me) being or identifying as a white Latino has rained down benefits on you is because you don’t see the privileges you enjoy that are practically taken away from others. You have, again, blind spots.
I am an able-bodied man. That’s two privileges right there. Living in the United States is a huge privilege. That’s three (add numerous more to that, actually). I am lighter than most Afro-Latinos. People don’t confuse me for Black. Most people think I’m Mexican and I’m completely fine with that. That affords me the privilege of speaking about Latino issues and no one will question me about it. That’s four. I had the privilege to get a college education. Something millions of Latinos don’t have the privilege of attaining. That’s five. I have the privilege to have my opinion published in several news outlets. That’s six. I could go on. My point is that I use those privileges to bring attention to something that’s bigger than my own struggles, and trust me, a lot of people have it worse. Lots of us have the opportunity to speak for the less fortunate and some do (that includes some of you), and others don’t. But don’t sit here and pretend you don’t enjoy any privileges. Because we all do to different degrees and those degrees have a lot to do with our skin color, too.
I know you’re annoyed, angry even, but your first reaction shouldn’t be so reactionary and extreme. You should first try to at least understand the points I’m presenting. Then do your own research on the matter. There are numerous sources you can tap into. Several things you should’ve done and taken from this besides that: 1) It’s not the Oppression Olympics and to bring up your struggles as a “white Latina(o)” (compare them to what darker Latinos face) tells me that you’re self-absorbed. 2) Admitted white Latinos do enjoy more privileges. 3) Admitted that that is a huge problem. 4) Admitted that you are ill-equipped to be the sole representative of the majority of us when you are not part of the majority of the racial Latino makeup even though you are shown the most. 5) Don’t get all incriminatingly defensive and froth at the mouth because someone brought all this up. 6) Acknowledge and rectify.
The struggle lighter Latinos face is, again, being confused for a white American so a lot of them go out of their way to prove to other Latinos that they are down. Or let white folks know that they’re Latino. Yes, white Latinos receive some shunning. Yes, that will ultimately lead them to a slight identity crisis (don’t we all?), but that’s as far as it goes since they don’t suffer real discrimination with employment or anything else. Darker Latinos do. Indigenous and Afro-Latinos receive the same level of discrimination as African Americans do. Those are facts. Facts corroborated by Dr. Margaret Hunter in The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status, and Inequality:
Light-skinned or white Latinos have clear significant advantages in income and wealth relative to their darker or black-identified counterparts (Telles and Murguia 1990). Richard Alba, John Logan, and Brian Stults studied housing access, ownership, and segregation. They found that, ‘Hispanics who describe themselves as black are in substantially poorer and less white neighborhoods than their compatriots who describe themselves as white. The penalty they absorb in neighborhood affluence varies between $3500 and $6000 and thus places them in neighborhoods comparable to those occupied by African Americans’ (2000, 9). Alba, Logan, and Stults’ study of the immigrant adaptation and spatial-assimilation theory reveals that despite their immigrant status and identity as Latinos, black Latinos’ housing experience more resembles that of native-born African Americans than that of other Latinos. That is, black Latinos live in more racially segregated neighborhoods with less exposure to non-Hispanic whites and lower property values (Relethford et al. 1983; South et al. 2005). This not only socially isolates, but also stunts the opportunity for accumulation of wealth through home ownership (Oliver and Shapiro 1995).
All these things must be taken into account. Yes, there is a pipeline issue. Meaning, sometimes it is difficult to recruit talent of color that’s qualified for a job, but that falls on you if you are representing (getting exposure or payment) to find that talent. Most places require a hiring or appointing of people of color, but those people of “color” who get in tend to be of privilege (or survivalists) and it appears others are screened out if they aren’t. They get in because they are also apt pupils and champions of the myth of the politics of respectability. Which only facilitates the perpetuation of the vicious cycle of discrimination. It all starts from the minute we are old enough to be indoctrinated by labels and stereotypes that turn into self-fulfilling prophesies. Add limited resources along with a school system that’s been ravaged by well-intentioned bureaucracy to that, and you’ve got a recipe for failure. A failure that many teachers see as a herculean task (because they have their hands tied behind their backs) to prevent on their own.
However, if you are teaching Black and Latino kids, it falls on you to recognize that they are as capable as anyone else to succeed. It falls on you to help them see that through positive encouragement instead of the destructive criticism and apathy they are constantly shown by society. There are nuances (be it racial, economic, or cultural) that you might not understand because you weren’t raised in an environment that has been compared to a war-zone. Again, your privileges have given you blind-spots to represent, educate, or work with. That is why it is extremely important to not only take cultural and racial sensitivity classes, but most importantly, also refer or hire indigenous folks and Afro-Latinos to whatever it is you are involved with. Especially if it’s representation of a people in any field.
Take the show business field, for instance. If your biggest struggle in Hollywood is that you aren’t getting gigs (typecast, really) because you don’t look “Mexican” or Latino enough then consider yourself lucky. You won’t play a stereotype for the rest of your career. God knows we don’t need more of those roles perpetuating narratives that hurt us. By the way, white Latinos do enjoy way more privileges in Hollywood. Yes, there are Afro-Latinos who are famous and “over-indexing” (I hate that the study used that term because it will undoubtedly be used against them) in Hollywood, but their Latinoness is usually erased. They play mostly African American roles. If they did play a Latino, then the reaction will be as you would image. Zoe Saldana caught a lot of flak for playing a Colombian in Colombiana. Some people did have legitimate concerns about the premise of the film, but most were angry that an Afro-Latina played a Colombian. There are Black folks in Colombia. Many of them, actually, but the media in both the Americas rarely recognizes them.
One of the main reasons why I love comedian Louis C.K. is that he admits he has enjoyed way more privileges than most people coming out of Mexico because of his looks. He talks about how easy it has been for him to assimilate into the American way of life exactly because people didn’t think he was an outsider in the first place. In contrast, he uses Carlos Mencia as an example of an “otherness” darker Latinos experience in the States even though Carlos was born here. I wish more white Latinos followed Louis C.K.’s footsteps and admitted the privileges they’ve enjoyed instead of Columbusing the struggle. Louis C.K. is brilliant. He’s insightful and compassionate enough to recognize that he has had it good because he’s a white guy. He does something about it by including it in his act and casting Latinos as well as African Americans on his show.
If you are a successful Afro or indigenous Latino, it would behoove you not to use your single experience to make sweeping generalizations about the Latino condition and how to fix it. It’s nothing more than rugged individualism. A rugged individualism that some unscrupulous entities push. One, no one makes it without the help of others. No one. No matter how hard they’re working to get ahead. To say otherwise would make it a myth. The bootstraps myth. To perpetuate that myth would make you a conduit of suffering and pain. Instead, use your success to give a break to another one of your kind. Yes, it is your responsibility because someone else gave you the opportunity to succeed. You didn’t do it alone. We live in an interconnected world. Don’t close the door behind you after someone else helped you get in. Two, one single experience doesn’t equal a trend. It’s unfortunate that the few successful Latinos that we have are used as examples to shame those who’ve had it rough for not being successful or successful enough without considering the real factors why they’re not. Instead of being an inspiration for success by simply being successful, why not really make a difference by being hands-on instead of solely enjoying the glory? Some people are and I commend them for their compassion and generosity.
Hands-on doesn’t even have to mean donating money. It also means dispelling myths, acknowledging publicly that there is a disparity, and rectifying that with actions or a call to action. Not regurgitating self-serving feel good platitudes because most people will appeal to authority by referring to you and your false narratives as the preacher and gospel for success. Even though most likely you got incredibly lucky by being born healthy at the right race, right place, right time, right sex, right gender, right ethnicity, right creed, right sexual orientation, and around the right people to enrich your social capital. Therefore, increasing your odds for upward mobility for each privilege you accumulate. If you’re not already there, that is. Those are unearned privileges that might make you oblivious of how you became successful. This happens to most wildly successful people. Even to those who did not inherit monetary wealth. That includes “self-made” CEOs that believe they came up from the bottom without any privilege. Trust me. You are sitting at that throne because you had a road paved for you before you started to walk it and that road was most likely built through the exploitation of a people who now want to rightfully walk through it, too. Since you are the only one allowed to go through it, you have a greater chance to succeed even if you encounter a rock or two. We all do, but others a lot more. So many more obstacles that it takes some longer to reach their goal. Latinos of color don’t even have a road to walk on and to insinuate we don’t want to walk that road because it’s hard work simply makes you a bigot. An oblivious bigot that’s unable to represent us.
If you are sitting at a panel or board comprised of white Latinos that dizque represent the diverse Latino landscape: 1) You are not an accurate representation of it. 2) You are not doing enough to be as diverse as you say you are. 3) You’re not speaking up about it. Which makes you complicit in robbing the Latino name to benefit you solely. A name that is now making and giving networks, brands, agencies, politicians, and orgs a lot of money and power. A money and power that is not trickling down to brown Latinos because white Latinos are hijacking and exploiting that. Either through obliviousness or downright maliciousness. Acknowledge and rectify. That should be your mantra as a white Latino representative. It’s way easier for you to get these jobs, positions of power, investors, and grants for the obvious reasons mentioned here. So you can’t really tell a people who have little access to opportunities to do it themselves. It is your responsibility if you put on that cape and took the money. Don’t be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Look around you. If you don’t have a Latino of color among you, then say and do something about it.
You cannot represent the Latino landscape as a white Latino if you don’t admit to the fact that darker Latinos had and continue to have a harder time than you. Yes, all Latino groups experience some kind of discrimination, such as being passed over for a job if you have a Spanish surname, but ask any HR department if knowing someone inside doesn’t trump it all. It does. That includes having a Spanish surname. You can’t hijack the struggles of indigenous and Afro-Latinos and act like you are experiencing the same level of discrimination. According to studies, you’re not:
In 2003, social science researchers found that Latinos who identified as white earned about $5000 more per year than Latinos who identified as black, and about $2500 more per year than Latinos who identified as ‘some other race’ (Fears 2003). A clear hierarchy is evident among Latinos with white Latinos at the top, ‘others’ in the middle, and black Latinos at the bottom. White Latino also had lower unemployment rates and lower poverty rates than black Latinos (Fears 2003). Their findings are consistent with other work in this area (Montalvo 1987). Dark skin costs for Latinos, in terms of income (Telles and Murguia 1990) and occupational prestige (Espino and Franz 2002).
This is wrong and don’t even dare say that darker Latinos aren’t working as hard or don’t have what it takes. That is a myth. The myth of meritocracy. Which has been debunked. Any human being that starts with a clean slate (that includes prenatal and even their parents’ health prior to conception) has the ability to succeed if given the opportunity. That includes people of color. Of any ethnicity.
You can’t speak for us all if you don’t include us. Which you don’t. I never said that white Latinos can’t represent us. I never said you’re not a Latino. And I feel silly for even having to explain that Latino is an ethnicity and not a race. Which means that there are several races within the Latino ethnicity and that includes white Latinos. Don’t play dumb about it. You represent by acknowledging and rectifying. Not by just enjoying the benefits. You can’t wish discrimination away by not speaking about it. You can’t think that bringing to light only the good things we are and provide to this nation will magically erase racism. Those are terrible counterarguments concocted from a place of obliviousness and privilege, but I repeat myself. Those suggestions have been proven to be myths. Myths that the African American intelligentsia as well as white and Latino scholars as very familiar with. You ought to be ashamed of yourself for repeating them. Especially publicly. Let white America know that there’s internal strife. Maybe like that it’ll pay more attention to indigenous and Afro-Latinos because you’ve become a distraction and a gatekeeper to the very people you’re supposed to represent and advance.
My biggest detractor is an Afro-Latino himself. I’m not surprised by that either. It’s expected of our own. They’ve been fed the same false narratives. What I am concerned with the most is that he says he’s a cryptographer who’s worked in the Department of State and Department of Defense for both the Bush and Obama administration and still misunderstood my point. In fact, he had to do a lot of mental flips to write his rebuttal and he still didn’t refute my assertions. He just accused me of writing things I did not write. Then proceeded to attack my character. Which smells a lot like libel, if you asked me. [I’m surprised the HuffPost Latino Voices even published it and I question the integrity of the editor who gave it the green-light while passing up this one]. If that is the kind of incompetent people the government hires then we are doomed.
I did not intend to divide Latinos by pointing out discrimination within our own. That is ridiculous. I want nothing more than for Latinos to unite. I did not create any divisions. Ask indigenous and Afro Latinos if they feel included. Ask them. The divisions are already there. If they tell you they don’t feel excluded from telenovelas or the Latino landscape here then they are in denial, oblivious, or afraid to speak up for obvious reasons. If you are a white Latino and deny this, then that’s just treasonous. You can’t solve a problem without recognizing it exists. The problem is there and talking about it hardly makes it worse. To the contrary. It can and will make people uncomfortable to bring it to light, but there is no progress in comfort. The real consequences of discrimination supersede your feelings.
I do know that what people are hating the most is that they think I’m dismissing their individual struggles. Which is hardly the case. The same way white Americans feel about their privileges. They think they don’t exist because they take things taken away from others for granted. We are all struggling, but some more than others. Again, that has a lot to do with race and skin tones. Being Black or indigenous and having limited resources in any part of the world comes with innumerable challenges. Take poverty, for instance, poor people’s brains are literally changed by the constant bombardment of stressors. Stressors that lead to making decisions that might be counterproductive in the long run, but seem the obvious choices to make at the time in order to survive no matter how counterintuitive they might seem to those in positions of privilege. Because even poor people of color have blind spots, but for different reasons. You can’t speak about poverty without speaking of race, by the way. The two are irrevocably intertwined in today’s world. Those are irrefutable facts. You would really have to be self-absorbed, willfully ignorant, and callous to deny them. The dark triad of privilege.
Let’s stop denying that there isn’t colorism and racism within the American Latino landscape. A colorism and racism that have real consequences. Our biases did not stop at the border. They came with us (and formed with those of us born here, too) and we are all guilty of perpetuating and exacerbating them if we don’t acknowledge and rectify them. Then and only then can you say that you’re a Latino representative. Because real representatives lift their brothers and sisters up regardless of how they look. Studies are saying that white Latinos are not doing much of that. Don’t be that guy. Be a catalyst of change for the betterment of all Latino peoples. Not just of those who look exactly like you. Otherwise you’re just holding us back.
If you ask me what am I doing to help white Latinos, I’ll tell you more than enough. I’ve included you in my efforts to uplift the community when you are doing a lot better than darker Latinos. What are you doing for ‘others’?
César Vargas is a producer, writer, director, and diversity activist. He founded UPLIFTT (United People for Latinos in Film TV and Theater) and is president of Burning Ones Productions. You can reach him on Twitter at@CesarVargas365 and Facebook at facebook.com/vargas365