Racial Assimilation of Latinos through Race Policy

by Raúl Quiñones Rosado, Ph.D.
Latinos and Race Policy in the US (Part Three)

The racial assimilation of People of Color has always been a concern in efforts to end racial oppression, to mitigate its negative impacts, and to create racial equity in US society. In contrast to integration, a group’s process of gaining admission into and occupying a legitimate place within society while maintaining their own group identity, assimilation is the process by which People of Color psychologically internalize patterns of thought and behavior of white culture while largely replacing their own cultural and racial identity. In a racist society such as ours, assimilation, whether that of individuals or of entire groups, requires that the distinct identity of those previously racialized as non-white is absorbed into whiteness. At the individual level, a Person of Color who assimilates passes for white. At the collective level, a People of Color who assimilate lose their distinct identity: their unique existence as a group dissolves into the white collective.

The assimilation of Latino/a individuals, and potentially our various collectivities, is another negative outcome of living within a culture of racial oppression and yet another challenge for antiracism and racial equity efforts. As a manifestation of internalized racial oppression, assimilation functions as a disruption within the process of racial identity development. This disruption can occur to a person born and raised within a Latino-identified family or, as is increasingly the case, to a child of mixed Latino and white parents. Assimilation is a psychosocial phenomenon that occurs mostly beyond the conscious awareness of the individual, someone who is, to some degree, distanced from their cultural heritage, unaware of their people’s history, disconnected from family roots, or disassociated from community.

At this individual level, assimilation may be mitigated or prevented through any number of liberating and transformative psycho-educational strategies—a topic beyond the scope of this writing. Yet, beyond efforts to mitigate or avoid the negative impact of assimilation on Latinos individually, it is fundamentally important and urgently necessary that we examine the impact, if not question the purpose, of race policy on a larger scale and its role in assimilating many Latinos into the white collective, rather than integrating all Latinos into US society.

As antiracism organizers and racial equity advocates work in Latino communities and build multiracial alliances to transform institutional practices and change race policy, there are multiple layers of cultural complexity to consider. Many involve how dynamics of internalized racial oppression of Latinos in the US may interact with historical patterns of structural racism in Latin American contexts—cultural, sociological and psychological backdrops of Latino identity. For example, the cultural legacy of Spain’s racist caste system[1] throughout Latin America, which like the historical racial paradigm of the US, also privileges people deemed to be white, is an issue that needs to be acknowledged and examined among Latinos. Addressing light-skin privilege, colorism, eurocentrism and their intersections with classism, sexism and nationalism within our Latin American cultures of origin and, then, how these in turn may relate to Latino assimilation and collusion with white supremacy in the US, remains a primary task of antiracism. Meanwhile, we must also examine the extent to which race policy supports or undermines efforts toward racial equity and the potential for true integration without racial assimilation into whiteness of all Peoples of Color.

Undoubtedly, an ambivalent national race policy that insists on dividing Latinos among multiple races and, then, re-racializing more than half of this segment of the population as white would surely appear to foster the process of Latino assimilation. On the one hand, current race policy ensures that Latinos are counted as a specific demographic separate from whites, African Americans and other racial groups, for the purpose of monitoring shifts in economic, political, cultural and social patterns of this group relative to other groups and toward establishing other relevant public policy. Implemented through institutions’ use of “Hispanic” and “Non-Hispanic” labels, this policy simultaneously tracks persons by the official “races”: White, Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. Census reports, for example, typically show complex population tables with three data sets: (1) total population; (2) Non-Hispanic population, and; (3) Hispanic population. An additional layer of complexity, and difficulty in using the information, is that numbers for people of “two or more races” also appear in each set. Yet, on the other hand, when presenting total population by race in simplified form, the Census Bureau aggregates much of the “Hispanic” population to the “white” totals. Such application of current race policy, intentionally or unintentionally, would maintain a numerically white majority well beyond 2042 when the demographic shift has been projected to occur. Besides ensuring that whites remain the racial majority and retain the “majority rules” rationale for their continued cultural dominance, privileged social status, and political-economic control,[2] the ambivalent nature of current race policy would certainly serve to perpetuate structural racism and its corollary racial inequities.

“Hispanics” as a Policy of Racial Assimilation

The term “Hispanic” was adopted in the 1980s, a time when Latinos were identified as the fastest growing segment of the population and were, within a mere two decades, projected to numerically surpass the African American population. The adoption of this term also followed on the heels of the US Census Bureau moving away from a door-to-door census-taking process to using, starting with the 1960 Census, the national postal service to collect the raw data. A term more politically convenient, if not also seemingly more culturally fitting, than those previously used (such as Spanish, Spanish-language, and Spanish-surnamed) was deemed necessary as household occupants themselves, and no longer Census enumerators, would be the ones to identify and report the race(s) of household members and return completed forms by mail.

G. Cristina Mora, in Making Hispanics, convincingly argues that government bureaucrats adopted the term “Hispanic” with the active involvement of Latino activists and corporate media. Each of these three sectors, Mora posits, needed a simple label that could potentially reconcile the many different national identities combined under it, distinct groups often at odds with one another. Each of them needed a term that could serve their particular interests: race policy in the case of government bureaucrats; regional and national politics for Latino activists; and demographically targeted marketing for the media and their corporate clients.

To be clear, the adoption of a term that sought to create a unifying identity for peoples of Latin American origin in the US, groups often at odds with each other, was indeed a political achievement. In large measure, it reflected a major shift of critical consciousness spurred by decades—from the mid-1950s into the early 1980s—of African American civil rights and Black Power movements, then expanding into the liberation struggles of women, of American Indians, and of Latinos: the United Farm Workers, the Brown Berets, the Young Lords, and the Puerto Rican pro-independence movements, among others.

While “Hispanic” ostensibly served to unify Latinos, or at least, generate a greater sense of shared identity across Latino groups, it also advertently or inadvertently had other results in the general public psyche. To many other US Americans, the term gave people an acceptable way to collectivize Latinos, as well as a way to avoid calling us “Mexican” or “Puerto Rican,” identifiers that, in the context of post-civil rights racial narratives and emerging multicultural sensitivities of the 1980s and ‘90s, could have been considered “politically incorrect.” To many of us, while still proudly Mexican, Puerto Rican, or, increasingly, Cuban, Dominican, Salvadoran and other Latin American heritages, widespread adoption of the term “Hispanic” in popular and official discourse meant we were finally acknowledged as part of the fabric of US American society.

Yet, in the thirty-plus years since its ubiquitous adoption by public, private and non-profit sectors alike, the term “Hispanic” has also, in effect, reoriented the shared language of race throughout the general public. “Hispanic” seems to have redefined ways in which Latino identity has historically been collectively perceived and conceived, both by Latinos and by other groups. Though still resisted or outright rejected by many Latinos, widespread acceptance of the “Hispanic” label has, for all intents and purposes, functioned as a sociolinguistic reframe that has shifted US Americans’ collective subjective referents of this social identity group away from our actual origin—Latin America—stereotypically characterized as economically poor, politically unstable, ethically questionable, culturally backward, racially hybrid, and thus, decidedly, non-white. Instead, “Hispanic” has redirected our collective thinking toward Spain: European, cultured and, ostensibly, white. In effect, the pervasive use of the term “Hispanic” has not only reoriented the racial narrative of US society; it has misled it, placing it at the service of white supremacy.

It is important to consider the role of the US government in advancing the misleading reframing of Latino identity.[3] For the Census 2000, the US Department of Commerce, through its Census Bureau, would remind us that, according to official race policy as established by the US Office of Management and Budget (1997), “Hispanic/Latino/Spanish” was not to be considered a race, but rather, an ethnicity.[4] In order to reduce the high percentage of Latinos that typically would choose “Some Other Race” in the absence of a Latino category, Census responders would first indicate if they were “Hispanic/Latino/Spanish,” and if they answered “Yes”, they would then specify their national origin: Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, etc. Clearly stating that “people who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race,” the next questionnaire item directed members of this ethnic group to identify their race based on one of five categories: White; Black/African American/Negro; American Indian/Alaska Native; Asian; and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

To be sure, in both the 2000 and 2010 Census processes, Latinos were, indeed, counted as a separate group, albeit not a racial one. Then, like today, the Federal government and its agencies needed data sets specific to this growing demographic sector, information that, in turn, can be used by policymakers and implementers in health, education, public welfare, housing, transportation, industry, retail, banking and finance, and every social, cultural, political and economic institution and system. This information is gathered presumably in order to track health, income, wealth and other indicators of well-being in our communities. And this data continues to be collected, in large measure, because of the activism of Latino advocacy groups and, more recently, the lobbying of Hispanic for-profit interest groups.

Yet, this counting and tracking of Hispanic/Latinos—still necessary because of the legacy and persistence of structural racism—is done in a way that invisibilizes the reality that Latinos have always been and still are a racialized ethnicity, a group perceived and conceived in the collective US consciousness as non-white, as People of Color. This data collection is done in a way that, in effect, steers many Latinos into being counted as white. By separating race from ethnicity as distinct categories, and asking Latinos to identify both their Latino ethnicity and their race, the percentage of Hispanic/Latinos who were counted as white by the Census increased from just under 48% in 2000 to 53% in 2010.[5]


 

[1]  Early in its colonization of The Americas, Spain created a system of castas that classified people, not only as Spanish, indio (indigenous) and negro (African), but also according to their “racial” mix: Spanish and indio, mestizo; Spanish and negro were mulato; negro and indio, sambo, etc. “Racial nomenclature was variable and dozens of labels existed,” according to Wade (2010:27).

[2] Clearly, the South African apartheid experience serves as a reminder that a numeric majority is not required for white cultural dominance, privileged socio-economic status and state control.

[3] In Making Hispanics (2014), Mora narrates how media and Latino advocacy organizations also played a key role in advancing this reframing process.

[4] I would argue that Hispanic/Latino/Spanish is a racialized pan-ethnic category, a sociopolitical construct, in effect, no different than white (racialized pan-ethnics of European origin), Black (racialized pan-ethnics of African origin), Native American (racialized pan-ethnics indigenous peoples), Asian, and other identity groups commonly referred to as races in US society.

[5] Please bear in mind that what I am saying is that many Latinos are being added to the “white population count,” not that Latinos count, matter or have value in the same way that whites do in order to actually be considered white in US society.


 

Adapted from Latinos and Multiracial AmericaRace Policy and Multiracial Americans. K. Odell Korgen (Ed.). The Policy Press, University of Bristol, UK. Forthcoming 2015

Racializing and Re-racializing Latinos

by Raul Quiñones-Rosado, Ph.D.
Latinos and Race Policy in the US (Part Two)

Until very recently, Latinos have been the fastest growing segment of the US population and, at over 53 million people, they now comprise the country’s largest so-called “minority” group. What may not be commonly known, except to US Commerce Department demographers and planners in both public and private sectors, is that Latinos are an economic force with purchasing power of over $1 trillion annually. Latinos are, and have always been, a vital part of the US labor force, as well as of the US military. Of particular interest to political operatives in both major parties, Latinos also help win elections. In 2012, there were over 23 million eligible Latino voters; with an additional 800,000 Latinos turning age 18 each year, Latinos are increasingly becoming a formidable political force.

As peoples of Latin American origin who live in the United States, Latinos are not members of any singular national, ethnic or racial group. We are pluri-national: we originate from the twenty different sovereign Latin American nations, plus Puerto Rico, an unincorporated US territory. We are pan-ethnic: even within these individual nations, there are often many ethnicities or cultural groups. We are multi-racial, but not only at a macro-level in terms of the racial diversity within each nation and across the continent; we are also what I refer to as multizo[1] in terms of the large number of persons who are racially-mixed.

Contrary to perceptions that Latinos constitute a body of voluntary immigrants to the US, much like Europeans, though markedly unlike kidnapped and enslaved Africans, the fact is that people of Latin American origin are here as a result of the United States’ centuries-long policies and strategies of territorial and economic expansion. The vast majority of Latinos are of Mexican origin and, as an oft-repeated statement reminds us: Mexicans did not cross the border; the border crossed Mexicans. The US War on Mexico (1846-1848) resulted in the transfer to antebellum United States and its slave-based economy of almost half of Mexico’s national territory. With the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States of America gained possession over the northern-most part of the United Mexican States: Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and California. And, of course, with possession of the lands, the US also gained control of its Mexican and Native American populations. In the case of Mexicans, the treaty granted US citizenship — a major concession to Mexico given that, as per the US Naturalization Act of 1790, citizenship was a status strictly reserved for whites, that is, people of European descent, which, clearly, Mexicans were not.

Like the northern Mexican territories, Puerto Rico is also land obtained through US military intervention in Latin America. In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, US armed forces invaded Cuba and Puerto Rico, Spain’s last remaining colonies in The Americas, taking both islands as treasure of war.[2] Nineteen years later, for geopolitical purposes and against the will of Puerto Rico’s local civilian legislative body, the US imposed its citizenship upon its new subjects, conveniently allowing Puerto Rican men to be drafted into active duty in the US armed forces in World War I. And while the former Mexican states were eventually incorporated as states of the Union, Puerto Rico to this day remains an unincorporated territory—a de facto colony—of the United States.[3]

Beyond the addition of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans to the country’s population over these past 160-plus years, millions of other Latin Americans have since immigrated to the US. Most significantly, the US Latino community has also come to include people from Cuba, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and other parts of Central America and South America’s Caribbean nations, the regions of Latin America closest to and, historically, of greatest economic and geopolitical interest to the US. This steady flow of political and economic refugees from Latin America has continued as a consequence of US policy toward Latin America.

After its wars on Mexico and Spain’s colonies in the Caribbean, the US government directed its military might towards supporting US American economic interests throughout Latin America. According to a 2005 Global Policy Forum report, there have been over seventy-six US military interventions and countless covert actions in the region. These interventions, together with US business and trade agreements with Latin American governments, have resulted in what journalist/historian Juan González refers to as the “harvest of empire”: on-going waves of immigrants, documented and otherwise, from Latin America to the US, forced out of their homelands by economic and political conditions created by US geopolitical and economic interests beyond its own national borders. These geopolitical strategies were implemented in addition to other specific immigration policies established by the US in cooperation with the Latin American governments and local business interests to actively recruit laborers to supplement labor shortages in US farms, factories and mines.

Of the 53 million Latinos in the US today, about 35 percent are foreign-born. The majority of Latinos are US citizens, born and raised in this country, most over multiple generations. Growth of the Latino population, currently driven more by births here than by immigration, is a trend that is expected to continue throughout the 21st century. Already having surpassed the African American population in 2000, the US Census Bureau projects that by 2060 Latinos will comprise just under 30% of the population. “By the end of this century, a majority of the people living in the United States will trace their origins, not to Europe, but to Latin America,” suggests Juan González in Harvest of Empire: The Untold Story of Latinos in America, a documentary based on his similarly titled book.

In considering race policy, what must remain clear is that throughout this entire history, from pre-Civil War times to the present, people of Latin American origin in the US, collectively, were neither perceived nor treated as whites. Latinos, as a group, even when officially counted as white by virtue of treaty, law or policy, have suffered discrimination based on their perceived non-white racial backgrounds.[4]

Three important legal cases provide evidence of this race policy in regards to Mexicans. In 1897, Ricardo Rodríguez, a Mexican citizen of indigenous ancestry, petitioned the US Federal Court in San Antonio, Texas to become a US citizen, which was granted “despite the court’s belief he was not White,” a legal prerequisite for becoming a naturalized citizen until 1952. This rare exception was granted on the basis of US treaties with Spain and Mexico conferring citizenship to Mexicans in territories now belonging to the US. In Hernández v. Texas (1954), the US Supreme Court found that Mexican Americans were “a class apart” or “other white,” while in Cisneros v. Corpus Christi Independent School District (1970) the US Federal Court found that “Mexican Americans, as an identifiable minority group based on physical, cultural, religious, and linguistic distinctions,” warranted protections against discrimination such as those extended to African Americans as per Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

The segregation of Mexican and Puerto Rican military personnel in the US Armed Forces from WWI through the Korean War, like that of Blacks and Asians, also stands as evidence of the de facto racialization of Latinos as People of Color. Moreover, the documented and undocumented stories of Latinos and Latinas segregated into urban barrios or bordertown colonias, exploited in factories, farm labor camps, hotel rooms or restaurants, mistreated and miseducated in English-only schools across the nation, stand as unimpeachable testimony to the daily reality of being identified as a racialized “other”: other than white.

Yet in spite of this long history of racialization, race policy of the past decades has sought to de-racialize Latinos: to assert that Latinos are not to be viewed as members of a distinct racial group, but rather, should be considered members of an ethnic group who can be of any race. That is, as “Hispanic/Latino/Spanish,” we can be: White; Black/African American/Negro; American Indian/Alaska Native; Asian; and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. Or, at least, we can be counted as one of these races.

[1] From mulato (Spanish/white and Black) and mestizo (Spanish/white and Indigenous), yet inferring our multiraciality—presence of multiple races and history of racial mixing—beyond white (Spanish, other Europeans and Mid-Easterners), Black (African) and Amerindian (Taíno, Azteca, Maya, etc.) of the early colonial period, to include more recent immigrations to Latin America of Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and others from around the globe.

[2] In this war, Spain’s colonies in the Pacific, Guam and The Philippines, were also invaded and occupied by US military forces, and transferred in the Treaty of Paris of 1898.

[3] The 3.6 million citizens living in the colony cannot vote for US President and do not have congressional representation other than a non-voting “Resident Commissioner.” Puerto Ricans that join their 4 million compatriots of the diaspora on the US “mainland” do gain these basic civil rights, though only while officially resident of one the fifty states or the District of Columbia.

[4] In each census since the Mexican-American War until 1980, except for the 1930 Census, people of Latin American origin were to be counted as white, unless deemed of another race by census enumerators during in-person interviews (Rodríguez, 2000).

Adapted from Latinos and Multiracial AmericaRace Policy and Multiracial Americans. K. Odell Korgen (Ed.). The Policy Press, University of Bristol, UK. Forthcoming 2015

Reframing Latino Identity for the 21st Century

by Raúl Quiñones Rosado, Ph.D.
Latinos and Race Policy in the US (Part One)

In my social justice education and antiracism organizing work, it’s quite a task to get people, whether in education, human services, law enforcement, the judicial system, religion, philanthropy, non-profits or government, to examine how they think about race and racism or to explore the powerful personal feelings and challenging social behaviors these ideas generate. It’s harder still to get these community and institutional leaders, policy makers and enforcers to consider how racism — race prejudice plus institutional power, or as journalist Bill Moyers more poignantly declares, “white supremacy enforced through state control” — continues to operate within their own organizations and institutions, disproportionately and negatively impacting the Latino and Black American communities being served. In these racially diverse educational and organizing contexts designed to promote fundamental changes in institutional practices to foster racial equity, the conversation about Latinos mostly revolves around how “Latino” (or “Hispanic”) needs to be considered a “race”, a distinct racialized ethnicity, counted separately from whites, Black Americans, Native Americans, Asians and others, in order to account for and counter persisting racial inequities.

Even when working solely with Latino and Latina leaders, the main emphasis of the work is on how we, as Latinos—that is, people of Latin American origin in the United States—have historically come to be collectively racialized as a separate and distinctly non-white racial group. This emphasis, deliberately aimed at challenging racism and creating racial equity, is focused on strengthening our collective identity as Latinos as a racial group in the context of the US.

Whatever the context, I find it increasingly appropriate, and quite opportune, to examine layers of greater complexity concerning Latinos and Latino racial identity in the United States as related to its race policy. This exploration is particularly opportune at a time when antiracism organizers, institutional leaders and policy makers alike may be wondering, or perhaps worrying, what will be the impact of the rate and scope of Latino population growth over the coming decades — especially given the anticipation that Latinos, together with other People of Color, will become a racial “majority” in the United States within the next thirty years.

Exploration of some of the many complexities regarding Latinos is also timely as this demographic shift coincides with a process, already decades long, of reframing racial categories or, more precisely, a redefining of who is white in the United States. Once again in its history, this country’s race policy is in a process of being re-crafted by policy makers and implemented by institutional gatekeepers. A process of racial realignment is already being entertained by the media, the workplace, the marketplace, the body politic and the general population, impacting perceptions, conceptions, and judgments about who Latinos are and, more importantly, what will be our (new?) place in this racially stratified society in the 21st century.

The pluri-national, pan-ethnic, and racially-mixed peoples of Latin American origin in the US, historically racialized as “non-whites,” are being redefined, reclassified and reconfigured, resulting in the re-racialization of a significant portion of the Latino population as “whites.” Facilitated by current race policy, this process, if left unchallenged, may well result in maintaining, if only on paper, a “white majority” throughout the century ahead. This racial reframing undermines on-going and hard-fought efforts to recognize and correct racial disparities in educational, health care, human services, law enforcement and criminal justice systems. It is a process that would help to maintain white supremacy—in our institutions and throughout our culture—for the foreseeable future.

As a social psychologist and member of the Latino community, I wonder—and often worry—not only how Latinos and Latinas will continue to collectively identify ourselves but, in some ways even more importantly, how we will be seen and related to by other racial groups in the US by mid-21st Century—particularly as driven by officially sanctioned, state controlled, race policy. More specifically, I wonder if Latinos, historically racialized as non-whites, will still be considered, referred to, and treated as “People of Color” in the decades ahead. Or, like other previously racialized ethnic groups—Irish, Italians, Jews and others—will Latinos, currently categorized by policymakers as Hispanic/Latino/Spanish ethnics of any race also be collectively reassigned out of the racial middle to a new place and status, within the historical binary of White and Black upon which race and racism have been constructed.

In subsequent posts, I will describe the current policy of re-racialization of Latinos and the effort to assimilate light-skinned Latinos into the white collective. I will also argue for a US national race policy that supports a collective Latino identity, one that can serve to strengthen cross-racial struggle against racism and toward racial equity.

Adapted from Latinos and Multiracial America. Race Policy and Multiracial Americans. K. Odell Korgen (Ed.). The Policy Press, University of Bristol, UK. Forthcoming 2015

Reflections on the Latino Challenges Workshop

by Antonieta Gimeno

IMG_2320As a Latina immigrant organizer with more than 30 years in the field, my own experience may be typical of other Latino immigrants when we arrive to the United States. Many, if not most, Latin@s don’t have much experience talking about race or how to address racism. This is not because there isn’t racism in our countries of origin. But different from Latin America and the Caribbean, here in the US, race, racism and discrimination is on the surface of many of our interactions, whether at work or in the community. And generally speaking, Latinos don’t come to the US with an analysis, tools and a language to understand what is happening to us. It is a very disconcerting experience as we are barraged with microaggressions and open racism, and find ourselves at a disadvantage to engage in difficult conversations with other People of Color and with white people.

Colorism, one of the legacies of slavery, is an example of internalized racism and one that, as Latin@s, we subscribe to almost unconsciously. Because some of us are light-skinned, even though our grandmothers or fathers are Black or Indigenous, and because of our history of mezcla or not understanding our racial past, some would rather call ouselves mestizo or indio or blanquito, rather than claim our blackness or indianess. Our skin, then, becomes the attribute that seemingly defines us, allowing those with light skin to be able “to pass” as whites. This is a dangerous practice because it puts us at odds with other People of Color, it erodes our cultural heritage and diminishes our political power and distribution of resources.

Some twenty years ago, when I met Latino anti-oppression organizers, María Reinat and Raúl Quiñones, I did not know any of this. My experience as part of their Institute of Latino Empowerment in Northampton (MA) was the foundation I needed and which has guided my racial justice work till this day. From their experiences and the vivencias of participants, Raúl and María facilitated an organic and holistic process, rooted in the richness of our Latin@ cultural histories and practices. Learning with other Latin@s in a cultural specific environment, gave me not only the strategies, tools and language to understand and organize, but it also provided a healing environment I needed to work on my broken identity.

Last year when I heard they would be facilitating the Latino Challenges workshop in Fitchburg (MA), I knew I had to be there. I witnessed and experienced the evolution of a work I felt proud being a part of. By the end of that two-day workshop, I knew right away I wanted to help bring them to Boston.

Latino Challenges Toward Racial Justice workshops:

May 21-22 and May 23-24, 2015, Austin TX. Contact Rockie González.

May 29-31 and June 2-3, 2015 in Boston MA. Contact Joana Dos Santos.

Afro-Mexicans Tell Their Story

Few people in the US, even among Black and Latino/a antiracism colleagues, are aware that more than 90% of all Africans kidnapped and enslaved by European colonizers were brought to what is now Latin America. And not only to Brazil and the Caribbean, but throughout these vast lands. Including Mexico.

Así Somos: Afro Identities in the Coast is an excellent short documentary of Black or Afro-descendant Mexicans sharing perspectives of what is to be Black in Mexico.

Latino Rebels | Solidarity: Brief Accounts of Black and Latino Unity from the Late 1800s to the Present

Latino Rebels | Solidarity: Brief Accounts of Black and Latino Unity from the Late 1800s to the Present.

“Giving Up” Privilege and the Nature of Change

In my antiracism and anti-oppression work I often hear people—dominant and subordinated folks alike—talk about the need for whites, men, heterosexuals, the wealthy and others similarly privileged groups to just “give up” their privilege.

I just have to say, though…

One cannot give up privilege, gender or racial or any other form. I cannot give up male privilege any more than I can give up being subordinated as a Latino in a racialized society.

The idea of “giving up” privilege is fundamentally flawed. Privilege is not an object than one possesses; it is not a thing that is earned or purchased; it is not something that can be given up or given away. Privilege is a condition of social power, a status that is granted by oppressive society. And as such, privilege can be used either to perpetuate oppression or to change it. But it cannot be “given up.”

The notion of “giving up” privilege is also flawed in how it conceives the process of change. Change, or human growth, is developmental: a psychosocial process. The notion of “giving up white privilege” speaks to the process of racial identity development. Yet social and racial identity development is not a linear process, moving from one stage to the next through which one drops or leaves behind all characteristics of the previous stages. Racial and social identity development involves an expansion of perspectives, the shifting of attitudes, and adopting new behaviors that are more appropriate and functional to that new perspective, meanwhile carrying all that came before in all previous stages.

But because one always carries the stuff—ideas, beliefs, values, feelings, attitudes, behaviors—of previous stages, it is quite easy to be triggered and “regress,” operating out of old patterns one may have thought to have outgrown. This is why, from our positions of privilege relative to others, we must always remain vigilant. [BTW: This principle also applies to internalized inferiority, the psychological counterpart to internalized superiority of privileged social identity groups.]

To be clear, though, one cannot give up privilege. Not only because its coding cannot be deleted or erased from our body-minds, but because the coding of oppression is also embedded and operates in the minds of others at various stages of in their own social identity and social behavior. Furthermore, racism, like sexism and class oppression, is fully operational and as alive as ever in our institutions and in the dominant collective consciousness we call culture. Privilege is a function of power, beyond personal identity, critical consciousness or even anti-oppression values or  intention.

Now, as individuals, or better yet, as organized groups of privileged folks, people can use their privilege responsibly, accountably, for the benefit of the oppressed and, ultimately, toward the development of all people and for the transformation of collective consciousness and culture.

However, the idea of “giving up privilege” is a false proposition: it is a mental set-up for failure. It does not actually further anti-racist anti-oppression work, but rather creates further obstacles in the form of personal and interpersonal frustration, a sense of impossibility, of futility. It is useless.

So, how about, instead, we give up the notion of “giving up” privilege. How about we use it. Responsibly. For the liberation of all beings. For the transformation of human culture.

Latino Challenges Toward Racial Equity

We’ve heard it a million times: that Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the US population (or were until just the other day) and that, together with African Americans, we are among the nation’s poorest and sickest, over-represented in prisons and unemployment lines, and under-represented in schools, business and politics.

We also know that Latinos are the largest of the so-called “minority” groups in the US today and that, together with African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and other People of Color, we will outnumber Whites to become the new “majority” within the next thirty years. That is, if we are still considered “People of Color” by then, since the definition of race has always been flexible and who is considered “White” is changing once again.

This fact, that the definitions of “race” and “whiteness” has actually changed throughout the history of this country, is something not too many people know about or understand. Nor do many people, Latinos and Latinas included, know how people of Latin American origin in the US have been racially defined—and re-defined—over the past 195 years since the US purchase of Florida, the Mexican-American and Spanish-American Wars, and its on-going relationships with Latin America and the Caribbean. Nor have many people, Latino and otherwise, closely examined the origin and implications of the term “Hispanic,” or its impact on our identity and, potentially, on our collective social, cultural, economic and political well-being.

In the Latino Challenges Toward Racial Equity, a two-day workshop hosted by the Racial Equity Institute in Greensboro NC this coming January 17-18, 2014, we examine the racialization of Latinos in the US. To shed some additional light on the complexities of racial identity of Latinos, we will also provide some historical and cultural context of race and racism in Latin America.

Moreover, we will explore how Latino identity is a source of strength for individuals and families of Latin American origin in the United States. Furthermore, we will propose that a critical understanding of the Latino experience of anyone that works in and with Latino communities is central to ending racial disparities in our institutions and to working together to create racial equity in our society.

Among the topics we will address are:

  • Race and Racism: from the Spanish colonial castas system to the racial construct in the US today
  • The Cyclone of Oppression: Dynamics and Impacts of Cultural, Institutional, Interpersonal and Internalized Racism
  • Latino? Hispanic? Identity and Demography in a Race-Based Society
  • Black, Brown and Light: Latinos and the Ever-Changing Political Nature of “Race”
  • La cultura cura: The Healing Power of Culture
  • Integral Transformative Organizing: Coming Together for [a] Change

So, if you work with or on behalf of Latinos and seek to deepen your effectiveness in creating racial equity in the Greensboro-Chapel Hill-Durham area, please come join María Reinat-Pumarejo and me for this workshop. [And if you live and work elsewhere, let’s talk about organizing a workshop in your area.]

Internalized Racial Inferiority: Videos

These video clips, used as part of a recent presentation I offered on the Psychosocial Aspects of Racial Identity, provide clear evidence of the psychological internalization of racial inferiority in Black and Latino children. Together, the three clips, filmed in different periods —from pre-Civil Rights Movement to more than 40 years after— clearly indicate the persistence of racism in the US and its continued transmission across generations.

Dr. Kenneth Clark (1939)

Kiri Davis (2006)

Racismo en México (2011)

Pause… Reflect… Realign… Respond!!!

At the end of each year and the beginning of the new one, for some time now, I have been doing what has become my annual ritual review and envisioning journaling process. More than ask myself, “So, what did I accomplish this past year?” or “What are my goals for the new one?”, I deeply consider: “Where have I been?”, “What have I learned?” and “Where do I intend to go this coming year?” The questions beneath the questions, though, are more like, “Am I still on course with my life purpose? Is the direction of my gaze and my vision aligned with my core values and my true heart, still, at this stage of my life? What in me or in my life must I tweak or, perhaps, change altogether, in the context of the events and realities unfolding before me?”

Typically, this process may take me a few days. Sometimes up to a whole week. For some reason, though, this year it’s taking me somewhat longer. Maybe it’s because of my emergent elder identity, especially given the implications of aging in the material(istic) world. Probably. Or perhaps it’s because of all the important issues and global challenges of the past year to consider, among them: the Arab Spring; the Occupy Movement (dare we say the US Autumn or, as some suggest, the beginning of the Fall of Capitalism as we know it?); fraking, tar sands and cross-continental pipelines; the US wars on Iraq and Afghanistan; Wikileaks controversies, Anonymous takedowns, and the increased use of information technologies and social media in the shaping of world events. These are piled on top of the historic, on-going and ever-increasing disparities between whites and People of Color, between the wealthy and the poor, particularly of the women and children of these disempowered social groups in the US and its colonies. Clearly, racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism and all forms of oppression are as alive and well as ever as we enter 2012.

I think my process is taking longer this year because I’m still trying to gauge the impact of current events on our present collective circumstance, and to understand their significance for our times. Might we actually be experiencing a shift in the nature and scope of social movement? Or, more significantly, might this moment represent a leap in our collective human consciousness? Either way, it seems to me to be a moment of tremendous potentiality for social justice and for cultural transformation; a moment requiring keen awareness and focused intentionality.

Every place I go, everywhere I turn my head, I see and hear people trying to make sense of the changes occurring before our eyes; trying to find their rightful place in a chaotic world; trying to redefine their role and contribution to a society that should serve us all better.

Sometime last September, my 19-year old son, who had just begun his first semester at UPR, observed, almost lamenting, that there seemed to be no worldwide social upheaval, cultural movement or political revolution happening like back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The lead singer in a thrash metal band (don’t ask!), a film buff and an avid reader, he’s quite knowledgeable about that time period and its on-going impact on world cultures. [Having a boomer father who is also into rock, movies and books doesn’t hurt, I guess.] I tried to remind him that, indeed, major events and changes were happening all over the world, though mostly beyond US mainstream/corporate media’s lenses, that seemed to indicate we were in the midst of a major transformation: the Arab popular uprisings; massive protests across Europe; radical shifts in social, economic, political and environmental policy throughout Latin America. Even at home in Puerto Rico, with the widespread adoption of anti-colonial language in public discourse, the growing environmental and food sovereignty movements, not to mention a new participatory democracy and leadership emerging among students at his university.

I shared with him attitudes that I, as well as his mother (an international anti-oppression organizer and cultural transformer), encounter on a regular basis in our work and travels: that ordinary people working with others—in schools and colleges, in social service agencies and institutions, in business, in media, in religious and spiritual houses of worship, in counseling and health centers—are eagerly, often times desperately, trying to grapple with the complexities created by the multiple, simultaneous and multi-layered oppressions we endure in this time. These are ordinary people trying to understand the historical context of today’s problems. People across institutional hierarchies trying to correct the disparate and disproportional impact of institutional policies. Ordinary people working to correct economic inequities and social injustice. Ordinary people bringing healing and well-being to the lives of others. And in the process, seeking to bring greater balance and harmony into their own lives.

One thing is for sure: it is not easy to connect the dots of all that’s going on, or to make sense of such great complexity, especially when we are caught up in its midst, just as it is occurring all around us… and inside us… all at once! As I said, I, too, am still trying to sort it out, particularly as it concerns the role and function of my work in support of people in social justice and cultural transformation movement.

What is clear to me is that indeed we are in the midst of an upheaval, a shift in consciousness. An exciting time of change and, as I said earlier, of great potentiality! A time and an opportunity to deeply examine our place and role in the processes that are unfolding within and before us.

And while there may not be definitive answers (are such answers even possible?), the consciousness-in-action approach offers an appropriate response: a framework and a process for deepening our development as leaders for these times.

As we enter 2012, at c-Integral we are gearing our programs to this end. In late Spring, Rose Sackey-Milligan and I will be holding our first Spiraling into Oneness weekend retreat, funded in part by Kalliopeia Foundation. Meanwhile, we continue to seek additional grants and donations for other retreats and workshops throughout the year in both the US and in Puerto Rico.

I invite you to come join us at c-Integral’s events, including the thematic talks and presentations we will be announcing as the year progresses. Let’s to get to know each other better: hear what’s on each other’s minds and hearts; see how we can work together toward integral change.