April 19, 2012


As Americans simmer, hem and haw, debate about the fatal shooting last February 26th of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old Black American, by George Zimmerman, a 28 year old Hispanic American (specifically of Peruvian and White American parentage), what has been the blame largely is on White-Black racial tensions.

But Mr. Zimmerman is not white by cultural definition.

Is it the hoodie? This is in reference to TV commentator and Latino himself Geraldo Rivera claim that the young Martin wearing a hoodie aroused suspicion from Mr. Zimmerman. What if it was an obviously Latino teen covering his head with one, would Mr. Zimmerman have reacted with gunfire in self-defense as he so claimed?

Little is spoken about the largely unreported Hispanic-Black tensions and other inter-minority tension varieties such as Asians versus Blacks, Hispanics versus Asians, Cubans versus Haitians in Florida, Mexicans versus other Latinos, etc. Having lived and worked in Florida, the racial dynamics are very different from its next door states like Georgia and Alabama. In casual social gatherings among Hispanic Americans, and other immigrant groups: Asians, Pacific Islanders, Europeans – one hears now and then derisions of Black Americans. It doesn’t matter if the person talking is darker than a Black American. It is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Among Hispanic Americans, the reason can be traced back to the Latin social strata and worldview. In Mexico where there are very few Blacks and the image is largely obtained from American media, my fellow expatriate teacher, a Black American, was a source of open mockery as we walk in downtown Culiacan. In Brazil, the Black race is the majority in most favelas (slums).

You just have to watch Latin telenovelas (TV soaps), and in that world, one hardly sees native Indians (unless it’s a poor corner of the city or a trip to a remote locale) much less blacks (unless there is an element of violence involved). Majority are European which is not reflective of reality unless you live in Argentina or Costa Rica.

A more glaring example of Latin mindset, in 2008, then Honduran Foreign Minister Enrique Ortez Colindres called President Barack Obama “Ese negrito que no sabe nada de nada”in English “that little black man who knows nothing”.

In an interview with Honduran media Ortez Colindres added,

“He negociado con maricones, prostitutas, con ñángaras, negros, blancos. Ese es mi trabajo, yo estudié eso. No tengo prejuicios raciales, me gusta el negrito del batey que está presidiendo los Estados Unidos.”

“I have negotiated with queers, prostitutes, leftists, blacks, whites. This is my job, I studied for it.  I am not racially prejudiced.  I like the little black plantation worker who is President of the United States.”

Is 6’1” Barack Obama “little”?  Was Obama ever a plantation worker?

The Spanish term Negro or Negrito is used as a derogatory expression in Latin society, akin to Indio in reference to the indigenous Americans. Though some would claim the labels Negro or Indio are not racist.

A Duke University study in 2006 confirmed what has been empirical all along. The study found that “Latino immigrants in Durham, North Carolina, often hold negative views of African-Americans, which they most likely brought with them from their more-segregated Latin American countries.”

The study also found “that sharing neighborhoods with Blacks reinforced Latino’s negatives views, and reinforces their feelings that they have ‘more in common with Whites’ —although Whites did not feel the same connection towards the Latinos.”

The Duke study reiterated a similar conclusion out of Houston a decade earlier “that U.S.-born and foreign-born Latinos expressed a more negative view of African-Americans than Blacks expressed of Latinos. In both studies, it’s interesting to note, Blacks did not reciprocate the negative feelings.”

You would think that the Martin vs. Zimmermann case would evoke significant coverage in Hispanic American media. But an informal monitoring of the two largest Hispanic broadcasting groups in the U.S., Telemundo and Univision in the last month, showed business as usual: games, songs, romances, and anything Latin but …

Hispanic American groups have been very vocal about asserting their rights. Sales clerks in Miami will not speak to you in English even if they can, and even if they can tell you don’t understand Spanish.

It would help for Hispanic Americans and any minority group to look back at American history and realize that the Black-led civil rights movement opened the doors for many immigrants, and changed the levels of acceptance to the benefit of everyone, especially the Latinos.

And just like in most cases of racial discrimination, socialization can break down negative stereotypes and debunk misconceptions. Perhaps a telenovela on Latino and Black American relations would be a good start.


The author grew up in a Latino culture, has lived in Florida, and was Director of Strategic Communications for a Hispanic-American advertising agency and a Director of Public Relations for an African-American firm.

No comments:

Post a Comment