White Fragility in the Latinx Community: A Lesson (OPINION)

Nov 10, 2020
5:54 PM

When one of my closest and oldest friends asked me if I had seen Natalie Morales’ (the actress, not the journalist) thread on her brainwashed Cuban family in Miami, all in light of Eva Longoria’s uninformed public statement earlier this week, I should have known immediately it wouldn’t lead anywhere good.

Despite that red flag, I asked her to send me the thread. She wanted my reaction to it because I am half-Cuban, I am a scholar, and she has often heard me discuss my issues with Miami Cubans. Morales’ original tweet, which was 19 tweets long, explained in depth as to how traumatized the Cuban people are because of socialism and/or communism.

She even posted a picture of Obama’s campaign sign, designed by Shepard Fairey, and asked us to notice the similarities between it and communist ads.



After I’d read it, I immediately responded to my friend, stating that the thread was essentially apologizing and creating sympathy for a racist community that refuses to seek solidarity with other Latinx groups and with Black folks.

I should have remembered that Natalie Morales was tagged on the thread (that was careless on my part, but it opened up a teaching moment).

Ms. Morales isn’t young enough to be my daughter, but as a tenured professor who works in Latinx Studies and who specifically looks at race in Latinx literature, I know what a teaching moment looks like.

She initially stated that she wanted folks to understand why her friends and family in Miami voted the way that they did and, later, in her responses to me, she claimed that she wrote the thread in order to convince her family and friends to change their future votes. When I reacted to her thread, debunking its efficacy, she tweeted back at me at length, claiming that her friends and family are not racist, she is not white, she has Black friends, and that these were good people who just needed to be educated. I received several responses to her claimed intentions and actions.

The first question I would post to her is why Jewish people, who were indisputably more traumatized by Adolf Hitler than Cubans were by Fidel Castro, are able to support the Democratic ideas that have been generated by Black people and Latinx groups (other than Cubans) that drive the Biden/Harris ticket? Adolf Hitler was a Nazi, but that party was officially known as the National Socialist German Workers Party. Shouldn’t Jewish folks be similarly wary of voting for Democrats with a “scary” poster of Obama, based on the argument posed? Jewish folks were murdered in the millions.

Cubans cannot claim that kind of genocide (unless they are Jewish Cubans), yet we are to believe that they are so traumatized by a man who no longer exists that they are incapable of seeing the horror in separating children from their parents? They are so traumatized by a specter that they are incapable of understanding how dangerous it is to have a misogynist in the White House? Somehow, Jewish folks have the capacity to see that our current President is a dictator, a fascist, that it doesn’t matter what ideology he claims to support, and that his actions show him to be a dangerous man, capitalist or socialist, no matter. That is one way the argument posed does not stand.

Another argument posed is that these folks are not racist and they just need education. I agree—they need to read books, as does the woman who tried to explain their thinking. The specific book Ms. Morales and her friends/family need to read is White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (which is entirely based on scholarship by majority people of color, like Cheryl I. Harris, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, and Beverly Daniel Tatum, to name just a few).

Racism is not something that is confined to specific acts by bad people. Racism is as system that is overwhelmingly supported by people who would define themselves as “good people.” Also, one does not need to be white-indentifying to support a white supremacist structure.

George Zimmerman was not a white man. His mother was a dark-skinned Latina. However, Zimmerman was so aligned with white supremacy that he killed Trayvon Martin, a defenseless Black boy, because of his own internalized hatred. Therefore, there may be a lot of Cubans who do not define themselves as white, culturally, but if we look at the organizational power in Miami, it is clear that white supremacy reigns. There is a clear skin color separation and Ms. Morales cannot deny that she benefits from colorism because of her light skin.

Do I need to remind folks about Ybor City? I find it so insidious that it has become a tourist destination, when its origins are in deep seated racism against Black Cubans. White Cubans hated Black Cubans so much that they decided they needed their own segregated space within Florida. Now we can go there to watch Black Cubans roll cigars as entertainment. Disgusting.

A great book that touches on that history is called Black Cuban, Black America, by Evelio Grillo, and he makes it clear that there was and is systemic racism within the Cuban community in the United States. Ultimately, he aligned himself with African Americans because he was able to meet his goals better in that community than within his Cuban community. This is indisputable history.

You simply cannot say that Miami Cubans are not racist because the overwhelming proof, via their actions, is that systemic racism exists throughout the U.S. and, yes, also in Miami. Somehow, Ms. Morales seems to know a precious few who are somehow exempt from an economic system based on race that is world-wide.

DiAngelo writes, “stopping our racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others that we don’t have them. We do have them, and people of color already know we have them; our efforts to prove otherwise are not convincing” (129). This is where I stand with Ms. Morales’ thread. I grew up with a lot of Cubans who loved me very much AND they were racist. I could see this because I am Black, and even though I’m light-skinned, there was no way to ignore reality. I have had to distance myself from many people who I grew up with because they support white supremacy, they are homophobic, and they value a tax break over the devastating policies that go along with those tax breaks, policies that mainly affect Black folks and people of color all over the world. These facts are widely available and Cubans in the U.S. have repeatedly chosen not to learn from them.

I say Cubans in the U.S. because Cubans on the island know all of this and they, often, think differently (they also read books). DiAngelo states that, “White fragility punishes the person giving feedback and presses them back into silence” and that “we need to ask ourselves where these rules come from and whom they serve” (125). In other words, when we Black folks call others out on what they’ve neglected to mention, or how they are privileging people who maintain the norms of white supremacy, we are told that we are being rude, that we are being violent, that we are wrong, that we misunderstood everything. That is a prime example of white fragility within the Latinx community. African American folks have stopped centering people who time and time again refuse to educate themselves in order to eradicate the racist structure of our nation. Black Latinxs and our allies are doing the same within our Latinx communities. Cubans are holding on to their white supremacist beliefs and it shows. There is a reason why whenever I speak to any Latinxs regarding Miami Cubans, the first word that comes up is racism. Look that the following graphic:

We will no longer listen to people who simply are not with it. We will not center them. We have too much work to do, and we are having too much fun doing it, and focusing on people who would blame the past for an inability to address very real issues in the present is pointless. We don’t need them.

Even if we have once called them friends and/or family. I get that “convincing” them might feel like an honorable goal. It isn’t. It centers them as reasonable. Instead, align yourself with people who are doing the good work and center their ideas and accomplishments. Maybe, at some point, the person who has refused to learn will decide to change themselves (but don’t count on it).

That is my lesson. It was not meant to be hurtful, but if you haven’t learned from anything that I’ve written (or that so many before me have written), then it will feel so. I am not sorry about that possibility.


Dr. Grisel Y. Acosta is the editor of Latina Outsiders Remaking Latina Identity (Routledge 2019). She is an Associate Professor of English at City University of New York—BCC. She tweets from @GriselYAcosta1.