Why Slate’s Piece About Latinos Becoming The Next Whites Failed

Why Slate’s Piece About Latinos Becoming The Next Whites Failed

In a United States that is becoming more diverse every day, new questions about race, ethnicity and identity regularly appear in mainstream publications and discussions. Central to these debates is the country’s growing Latino population. These days, it seems every editorial outlet in the country has to write about Latinos (demographics! advertising!), even when those outlets’ Latino representation is grossly underrepresented or virtually non-existent.

Such is the case of Slate, a magazine that has been around since 1996. Now, I am not going to get into an analysis about how many Latinos have written for the magazine, but let’s be honest: Slate is not the publication that immediately comes to mind when you are looking for news content that accurately and authentically reflects what is it to be a US Latino today. Even when Slate has tried to address issues of Latino identity, it has always been from the perspective of the outsider looking in. It is safe to say that Slate has never been one to focus on drawing in more Latino readers, but apparently now that being Latino is “hot,” they seem to be trying.

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If yesterday’s “Will Today’s Hispanics Be Tomorrow’s Whites?” opinion piece by Jamelle Bouie is the editorial direction Slate chose, it has already failed.

In fairness, Bouie —who tweeted with me last night after I called the Slate piece perhaps the dumbest thing the magazine has ever published— did base his piece on a very interesting question: will the current concept of “whiteness” change as the US becomes more and more Latino? (Sidenote: Bouie and Slate kept using “Hispanic” in the piece, an early indication that the piece was already going to miss the mark.) That question has merit, and I applaud him for asking it. Still, how Bouie (and his Slate editors) executed his thesis is what troubled me the most.

Let’s begin:

Reason 1: The headline

I ask a simple question: if you are a Latino on Twitter or Facebook and you see a “Will Today’s Hispanics Be Tomorrow’s Whites?” headline, what would your reaction be?

Mine instantly took me here:

The headline —even though it successfully caused me to click on the link— quite frankly, was offensive. The use of “will” at the beginning of the question implied that this was a prediction that would eventually happen. Nothing could stop it. Following this logic, think about it: white = racist against Blacks, Hispanics could become the next whites, so therefore Hispanic = white, which means that Hispanic = racist against Blacks. Why such a sweeping generalization? Why not just say “will some Hispanics” and move along?

Did Bouie agree to such a headline? And before he makes the typical claim that a writer has no control over the headlines to the pieces he writes, as someone who has written for several national publications and also edited for major news organizations, I have always submitted a headline with my piece. If my editors don’t like the headlines, they let me know, and we try to come up with another one. So the Slate headline alone indicates that the piece was indeed “going there.” And I wasn’t liking it.

Reason 2: The photo

Now, if you get past the headline as well as the subhead, “How Hispanics perceive themselves may shape the future of race in America” (cue dramatic music), the next element you see is a photo:

slate

This is just editorial sloppiness.

A piece about how Hispanics will become the country’s future whites, and the first thing you see is that of four brown-skinned people at an immigration rally? I don’t know if the people in this picture are Latino or not (maybe that “white” lady on the left is Latina too), but these are “tomorrow’s whites?”

Tell that to people who have been racially profiled in Arizona or have been deported from their families. “Tomorrow’s whites” wouldn’t be fighting to fix an immigration system that disproportionately targets those from Central American and Latin American countries. For example, a enforcement-heavy system that removed in 2013 alone over 240,000 Mexicans, more than 47,000 Guatemalans, a little over 37,000 Hondurans and about 21,500 Salvadorans. And we now know that a majority of those removals weren’t even necessary. Juan Crow is alive and well in 21st century America.

Reason 3: George Zimmerman

zimmerman-and-martin-600x337

Yes, that’s Bouie’s intro. Not only is he asking if Hispanics will become “tomorrow’s whites,” but his writing implies that Latinos will just become a bunch of Zimmermans. Cue up the Gollum video.

I will say this once and only once: some Latinos are racist, and Latin America has perpetuated an institutionalized form of racism for centuries. That system is finally being exposed, slowly but surely. Latino Rebels even wrote a very detailed piece when the whole “white Hispanic” issue dominated the case.

But let me answer Bouie’s point directly. Here is how he began his piece about Hispanics and whiteness:

The Trayvon Martin shooting was hardly in the national consciousness before fault lines emerged around the case. Was Martin as innocent as he seemed? Did Zimmerman fear for his life? Did Martin provoke the incident? Was Zimmerman a racist?

Perhaps most controversial among all of these was the question of identity. Yes, Trayvon Martin was black, but is Zimmerman white? For Martin’s sympathizers, the answer was yes. For Zimmerman’s, the answers ranged from “it doesn’t matter” to he “is actually a Hispanic nonracist person who acted in self-defense.”

Remember: anti-blackness in Latin American countries is still pretty raw and has a long ugly history. When I heard that Zimmerman was half Peruvian, I didn’t even blink or think that Zimmerman’s initial reactions weren’t racially motivated. They were, and almost every Latino I know who saw the death of a young black boy as a national tragedy would say the same.

Bouie’s introduction suggested that Latinos wouldn’t be sympathetic to a Trayvon because in the end, we just all want to be white. Guess Bouie forgot to mention that when it comes to what two groups share most in common when it comes to securing better futures, those two groups are young black and Latino men. Or that when Univision has Zimmerman on TV earlier this year, there was pure outrage.

And for every Trayvon, there is also an Andy Lopez. Or a David Sal Silva. Or a Jesús Huerta. “Tomorrow’s whites” don’t die in police custody on a regular basis.

Reason 4: This Twitter thread

By the way, they also plan to write a rebuttal to Bouie’s piece.

Reason 5: Painting Latinos with a broad brush

By now, I am at the point where I should actively petition every editorial outlet in the country to sign the following: We promise to never ever portray US Latinos with broad sweeping generalizations without talking with actual Latinos who know the issues. I doubt that in this “Latino is the new white” debate, Bouie and other writers could even begin to fully understand that Latino identity means something different to different people. To some, it means celebration of a common culture, language and experience. To others, it means a complete rejection of a contrived government-created label (Hispanic, Latino) that ignores proud indigenous roots. Add the the fact that we’re talking over 20 countries here, and the conclusions about Latinos by non-Latino gets messy.

Reason 6: Louis CK IS Mexican

I guess Bouie never really knew that some of us Latinos think Louis CK is the greatest Mexican stand-up comic around, which would already refute the fact that Latinos are just striving for “whiteness.”

That video actually complements my final point, but first let me call up Bouie’s concluding lament:

Our hierarchies are a little flatter, and—in public life, at least—we aren’t as obsessed with racial boundaries. But both still exist, and they take a familiar form: whites at the top, blacks at the bottom. The future could make a collection of minorities the majority in America, or it could broaden our definition of white, leaving us with a remix of the black-and-white binary. A country where some white people are Asian, some are Hispanic, and the dark-skinned citizens of America—and blacks especially—is still a world apart.

I have greater faith in Latinos than Bouie does.

Too bad Slate (and Bouie) never took the time to bring in a more nuance to this debate. Having been in a room where I was the only Puerto Rican in a room of “whites,” the one with the foreign name who “speaks English so well,” the one whose family goes back to places as diverse as North Africa and the Canary Islands, the little spic from the Bronx, Latino identity is about pride for who you are and never forgetting where you come from. My family is literally a rainbow of races, but we also have a bond that culturally unites us. It is this bond that keeps growing as Latinos get more and more connected online. The Latinos I know refuse to be boxed into other’s paranoid paradigms.

So why did Bouie even ask the question about whether Hispanic will become “tomorrow’s whites”?

Sure, there are some Latinos who will be “tomorrow’s whites.” However, from where I stand, that number is insignificant, just like other people of color striving for “whiteness.”

Hopefully Bouie and Slate do start listening more to what Latinos are saying, and even reading some of the comments being posted on the piece:

My Hispanic colleague commented on this issue and said:

“How can we ever be white. Maybe a few of the light skin ones could ‘pass’, but we [hispanics] suffer the same prejudice on our looks. We are short and brown. When I walk into a room full of Whites of European descent, I and everyone in there knows I am not one of them.”

“Everyone in there knows I am not one of them.”

That’s why “tomorrow’s whites” will never be “tomorrow’s whites.” They will be tomorrow’s Latinos.

***

EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the NationNPR,  Univisionand The New York Times. Recently, he was a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream.

7 comments
IrishMexRebel
IrishMexRebel

My question is this; is it negative inherently to identify as a "white Latino"? While my background includes Tarahumara, Yaqui, Maya, Nahua and etc..., my Mexican background includes many mestizos, Jews, Irish and Germans and my mother is fully white. Therefore my experience is different from many other Latinos due to my racial categorization and my family's experience in Latin America and in the United States. At point point is it allegedly "grasping for whiteness" and at what point is it just being accurate and acknowledging some of our experiences, while shared, are just different? My experience is likely intensely different from someone who just recently immigrated or someone of primarily amerindio or afrolatino background yet we are both Latino.

BrianAcevedo1
BrianAcevedo1

Julio,


After reading both pieces, I don't think that Bouie's piece on Slate necessarily failed. It successfully generated, at least for me, questions concerning Latino identity. I agree with both of your articles, but let me be a devil's advocate here.

First, let's get real: As a light-skinned Puerto Rican with a bland New England accent and an Irish first name, I could easily "pass". It has certainly been a choice presented to me at different times in my life. Whiteness is a tempting concept for anyone close enough and weak enough to take it. Of course I have chosen not to because my sense of morality and pride in my roots forbids it. Furthermore, I feel I have and will forever have more of a sense of brotherhood with other people of color than White Americans. Choosing Whiteness would be akin to selling my soul and even the thought of it makes me nauseous. But the choice has been there.

BUT don't you think that other people, now or in the future, face that decision? 

Now imagine a generation or two or three from now. There will be young people who will be Puerto Rican mixed with Mexican mixed with white mixed with etc. They are far removed from Latin America, possibly light-skinned/pale, and don't speak Spanish. Don't you think that, presented with the shiny prospect of being White, that they won't even consider it? We have historical evidence of Italians, Irish, Jews, Native Americans and even very light-skinned African Americans making the decision to attain Whiteness. Why wouldn't Latinos do the same?

I think that as Puerto Ricans who grew up on the Mainland, we are bias about the concept of Whiteness. As children of the Diaspora, we know what colonialism has done to our country and people. As children of the Bronx, Chicago, Hartford, we know what segregation and racism has done to our communities. Other Latin Americans, though, perceive the achievement of Whiteness as something akin to the American Dream. Finally they will "belong." Finally they will leave the ways of the old countries behind and live in the United States in comfort. My husband is from Guatemala, and their concept of race and Whiteness is quite different from Puerto Ricans'. For example, "el indio" is beautiful, courageous and strong in Puerto Rico. "El indio" in Guatemala is ugly, ignorant and foolish (despite the fact that they built the most complex society in the Americas).

Blackness is even more complicated than that (watch the Henry Louis Gates documentary, if you haven't seen it already).

I think that the Slate piece should make us think and most importantly TALK about Latino identity. I think that many Latinos could choose Whiteness over Coloredness. That is why we must have a dialogue within our community/communities to reject that concept, and make sure our children and their descendants also reject it.

If you don't believe me, look at this video, that while humorous makes you think:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3e6ChgL1EC4

TanishaLove
TanishaLove

No words, just a standing ovation for Julio and his remarks. 

WizzyDizzymite
WizzyDizzymite

@BrianAcevedo1 Brian that was deep and enlightening. You should do some freelance writing, seriously. Very unique point of view I've never heard before.

JulioRVarela
JulioRVarela

@BrianAcevedo1  Hey, Brian, thanks for reading the piece. I agree that the question is essential but like I said in the piece, Slate failed miserably on the execution. For example, the comment you just posted here? That does a better explanation of the issue in the Slate piece because it it real and speaks to your own true experience. Goes to prove my point: Slate would have benefited from having an actual Latino write a piece that gets to the issue of whiteness. Thanks again for your comment!

JulioRVarela
JulioRVarela

@BrianAcevedo1  The point is that Latino have been talking about identity for years. Slate is coming late to the party b/c it is now "hot" to focus on Latino issues. I would have been more impressed if its writing staff was a bit more reflective of a changing American landscape.

BrianAcevedo1
BrianAcevedo1

@JulioRVarela @BrianAcevedo1  In that respect I completely agree with you. This kind of lack of depth in news stories and articles is becoming all too common. If you want the real deal, you really have to carefully choose what you read or watch. Unfortunately, this sensationalism is devoured by the masses, especially our generations (X-ers and Millennials).

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