Riot Shaming by Latinos Needs to Stop

Sep 26, 2016
1:29 PM

“Notice how you don’t see Latinos rioting.”

“Because Latinos are made of tougher stuff; not such crybabies.”

“When is the last time you saw Latinos looting and destroying their own neighborhood.”

“Mexicans don’t riot because we’re too busy working.”

statements often said by some people when urban unrest occurs in Black communities

When I first came across these statements two years ago, I chuckled.  “Surely, everybody knows that there were riots in Latino communities from the 1960s to the present day,” I told myself.  Turns out, my thoughts regarding people’s knowledge about American history and the recent past were too optimistic.

I never knew “riot shaming” was a thing, but since the riots in Ferguson, it has almost become a tradition for some Latinos to go onto social media and claim that despite being killed by the police, Latinos “don’t riot.”  This claim appears in the comment sections of stories about officer-involved shootings and even in an op-ed written by a respected columnist.  And they have reappeared during the civil unrest in Charlotte, North Carolina, despite the fact that the crowd was multi-ethnic with Latinos holding the Mexican flag and signs that read “Latinos say Black Lives Matter.” This week Latino Rebels Radio even spoke to one Latina organizer who is based in Charlotte and has been protesting.

I don’t have to explain the history of Latino urban riots and social unrest since I documented it in an interactive map.  However, I think it’s crucial to understand what drives people to make this dubious claim despite evidence to the contrary.

Unbeknownst to these individuals and those who agree with them, riot shaming is rooted in historical illiteracy and white supremacy. By claiming that Latinos have never rioted, these individuals are whitewashing history and attempting to portray Latinos as potential “model minorities” in contrast to Blacks, who are seen as permanent “problem minorities.”

Riot shaming ignore the obvious fact that Blacks and Latinos often live in the same neighborhoods and share the same grievances.  While they are segregated from one another in cities such as Chicago, Orlando and Milwaukee, there are numerous other cities where they are neighbors.

In Charlotte, Blacks and Latinos live in the same communities. Latinos make up 13.1 percent of Charlotte’s population as of 2014. They have the highest child poverty rate at 39 percent.  While only 23 percent of White students in Charlotte attend a majority-poverty school, 77 and 80 percent of Black and Latino students attended these schools, respectively. In fact, Charlotte is ranked as one of the worst cities for poor children to achieve social mobility. The median income for White households in Mecklenburg County is 86 percent greater than Blacks and Latinos. Considering these factors, no one should have been surprised that Latinos were standing alongside Blacks in the recent protests.

But people who engage in riot shaming overlook this reality, and it isn’t limited to social media. During the Ferguson riots, Raoul Lowery Contreras wrote an op-ed for Fox News Latino where he argued that while Mexican Americans have experienced discrimination, although not as bad as Blacks, they have vanquished it through the legal system.

“Street riots are rejected by Mexican Americans,” he said.

He went on falsely claim that during demonstrations for immigration reform, marchers never threw rocks or bottles at police nor did police make any arrests. The only event he counted as a “riot” that involved Latinos in the Los Angeles area was the “rabid police riot” in McArthur Park in 2007, but he never mentioned the three nights of social unrest in Los Angeles’s Westlake District in 2010, a heavily Guatemalan immigrant community that erupted after a LAPD officer shot a Guatemalan day laborer. His op-ed reveals that riot shaming aren’t just ignorant comments that appear on social media, but rather it is a practice people engage in to link Latinidad to Whiteness.

Like it or not, race in the United States is seen within the context of Black and White. Even with a growing non-White population, there has always been a tendency to place Asians and Latinos within this binary. Whereas Asians are considered “honorary Whites,” there are notions that Cubans are “more like White folks” while Puerto Ricans are “more like Black folks.”  Dominicans are racialized as Black, but South Americans, depending on skin color and phenotype, can claim Whiteness. Mexicans and Central Americans, on the other hand, are considered ambiguous. This reality is what has always motivated some individuals, usually middle- and upper-middle class professionals, to make Latinos appear as having little to nothing in common with Blacks.

But attempting to make Latinos appear to have more in common with Whites than Blacks downplays tensions between police departments and poor and working-class Latino communities. According to a GenForward poll, 4 in 10 Latinos said they or someone they know had experienced violence or harassment by the police (who knows what the study would look like if accounting for subgroups and skin complexion).  Just this year, there were two violent clashes between police and Latinos in San Francisco’s Mission District and Stockton, California, the latter incident left six police vehicles damaged. Anyone of these clashes could have erupted into a larger, more violent event.

This is not to state that some Latinos don’t have anything in common with Whites. Some groups based off social and economic circumstances such as Cubans and South Americans do (this isn’t true with Afro-Latinos). But as Latino Studies scholar Juan Flores argued in From Bomba to Hip Hop, in New York City “most social indicators point consistently to Puerto Ricans bearing greater similarities to Blacks than to the other Latinos groups, and to the Latino aggregate.” Essentially, attempting to distance all Latinos from Blacks when rioting occurs undermines the diverse relationships certain Latino groups have with Blacks that vary geographically by regions, states and even within cities.

People who engage in riot shaming contribute nothing in solving the issues that sparks social unrest. They actually do more harm than good since the practice renders invisible the various riot-prone conditions that currently exist in many Latino communities across the country. Considering the fact that many of these areas experienced the same neglect as impoverished Black neighborhoods, it is highly likely that media coverage of social unrest in the near-future won’t only be broadcasting uproar in a predominately Black community.

Here are some examples of riot shaming comments:


Originally from Allentown, Pennsylvania, Aaron G. Fountain, Jr. is a Ph.D. student in the Department of History at Indiana University-Bloomington. Twitter: @aaronfountainjr