Monday, June 26, 2006

Black vs. Brown

I'm going to tread into a complex and emotional topic because it has been on my mind lately and Newsweek is currently running an article highlighting it.
Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of ethnic politics in the 21st century, when blacks and Latinos, once presumed to be natural allies, increasingly find themselves competing for power and where promotion of racial harmony is as likely to evoke anger as admiration. Lynwood is a case study in the power of prejudice, the pitfalls of ethnic conflict and, perhaps, ultimately, the potential for interethnic cooperation. It may also foreshadow America's future; —one that will increasingly see blacks and Latinos fighting, sometimes together and sometimes each other, to overcome a history of marginalization.

Reading the linked article, I had a couple of thoughts gnawing at my brain. First, why was it written? There are many truths described in the piece, yet the writer obviously felt compelled to write it for a reason. So, what was it? Secondly, who stands to gain from the perpetuation of conflict between the African American and Latino communities?

It's not a surprise to me that there is a black/brown division being promoted (btw I hate those color characterizations, but I wasn't the one who wrote the headline for Newsweek). Growing up in a predominately Latino community I often heard the terms "pinche miate" or "negro" from friends and family. Perhaps I was born with a hyperactive sense of cultural sensitivity, but I always cringed, and still do, whenever I heard/hear those barbs thrown out in a casual way.

Why do human beings insist on fighting with one another? I wish I knew the answer to that question that encompasses a conversation spanning all philosophies, religions, political sytems, cultures, etc. In my opinion, this particular tension exists because there's a bit of turf war being waged in the middle and lower ends of the job market in the U.S. Add a dollop of cultural nuances and a perfect storm is created for outright hostility as outlined in the case study provided by Newsweek.

So who stands to gain from these racial scuffles? The answer is easy: the elite. They are the same cabal of power-mongers who are subverting democracy in the U.S. By keeping the "lower classes" focused on fighting one another, it lowers the probability that the minority communities will realize that if they unite, they have unbridled power to unleash a tidal wave of progressivism and human rights changes in a country that badly needs it.

Now, don't get me wrong, this post is not taking aim at the Anglo community. If it did, that would just expose me as a hypocrite to my personal visceral reactions to racism and xenophobia. This battle is being waged between those in power against the middle class, poor and other marginalized human beings. The situation in the U.S. has reached such an obscene point of economic, social and political polarization, accelerated by the 9/11 attacks and the divisive "leadership" by BushCo, that the divide has expanded beyond historical racial lines.

So how do we get past it? As with most Movements, it has to begin within. Unity within an umbrella of human rights advocacy must be promoted by each of us in our circles of influence. Flowing from the home, to the workplace, to everyday venues like restaurants or the grocery store, we have to be willing to reject the natural tendency to label, judge and ostracize; and call others out when they do it.

This afternoon while I was eating my lunch at a hole-in-the-wall taqueria that makes the best al pastor in town, I was approached by an older African American gentleman for some help to pay for some tacos. In that split-second I had a few thoughts: 1) do I have cash? (yes), 2) I wonder when he ate his last meal? (he looked and mentioned that he was hungry, 3) I'm very lucky that I don't have the added worry of figuring out if I can pay for my next meal and 4) the Newsweek article I read this morning does not have to be the reality. I can change it by fighting it in my own life.

After I gave the gentleman five bucks, which pays for a decent meal at that venue, I returned to my meal and pondered many things. While I was getting up to leave, the man walked over to my table with a white piece of paper that I had seen him pouring over while he was eating. On it was a beautiful drawing of a butterfly that he had created within the space of 15 minutes.

"I wanted to give you this as a small thank you. Have a great day"

The gentleman signed his mini-masterpiece with his name and a simple inscription - "Peace 2006"

I love the power of Hope on a random Monday in June. It is as life-renewing as the monsoon rains rolling through the desert; reminiscent of that moment when the capertpillar emerges from its cocoon, spreads its wings and shows the world its beauty; preparing to lift off and fly towards new horizons.

We need more of these moments. Don't you agree?

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