White folks have a tendency to invoke unconscious discriminatory-driven biases and sometimes invoking purposeful superiority over minorities.
Unless you’re Mel Brooks, race relations in America are as touchy as ever. Trying to address the implicit biases of white folks is only more problematic given the polarization of the current environment. None is more troubling than trying to address this issue among white moderates who typically see no fault in their words, their views, or their actions.
After Joe Biden won the Democratic primary in South Carolina with overwhelming support from Black voters, plenty is being said about those voters and their decision to vote for Biden. Much of what people are saying comes from white folks who were surprised by the predictable result in a state that Biden himself referred to as his firewall.
Some of those words are simply terrible.
Many progressives seem taken aback by Black voters turning out for Biden. Much of that shock comes from Sanders’ momentum taking a hit and his supporters trying to make sense of it. But it’s in these moments where white folks from either side of the political aisle, so to speak, tend to cross boundaries with implicit and sometimes unconscious bias.
We’ve all known that Black voters over 60 perceive Joe Biden as the safe choice and are overwhelmingly supporting him as a result. How this comes as a surprise to anyone is beyond me. As we ask ourselves how people who didn’t know Biden would win 75% of Black voters over 60 exist, white progressives should be asking themselves why Black folks don’t trust them with showing up to vote in the general election if they were to help nominate a progressive.
In fact, an ABC News/Edison Research exit poll highlighted by FiveThirtyEight shows white voters had the biggest “last-minute” swing on Super Tuesday. Sanders held the early voting lead (36%) over Biden (23%) with white voters, but late deciders flipped the script. Of those, 51% of white voters over the age of 45 supported Biden compared to only 17% for Sanders.
“Black voters opted for Biden because they have no faith that white voters will do the right thing and vote for a true progressive. “— Elie Mystal via The Nation
Instead of looking at the data and asking introspective questions, so-called woke folks will try to white-splain everything about minorities no matter how touchy the subject. When people begin claiming that Black voters in South Carolina were “low information voters,” that is a bridge too damned far. We can talk about politics all day without insulting minorities.
When white folks speak over the voices of minorities, they silence us while never having a full understanding of our issues. Most of which can be quite complex. For minority communities to achieve the equitable change necessary for a just society, we’re going to need the help of white folks. But as long as they talk over us while claiming to speak for us, we don’t stand a chance.
Anti-Black Moderate Prejudice
When Biden’s campaign surrogate, Hilary Rosen spoke over Nina Turner, Bernie Sanders’ campaign co-chair, telling her that she didn’t have the right to cite Martin Luther King during a debate on Chris Cuomo’s CNN show earlier this week, highlighted one of the bigger issues with moderate racism. Rosen told Turner not to “use Martin Luther King against Joe Biden,” adding that Turner doesn’t “have that standing.”
Yeah, that happened.
This is how white folks try to drown minorities out. “Don’t tell me what type of standing I have as a Black woman in America,” Turner fired back. “How dare you! First of all, you’re dipping in something I have to say…”
Rosen then accused Turner of attacking Biden, to which Sanders’ campaign co-chair replied, “I didn’t attack anybody. You’re taking it that way. Listen, don’t dip into what I have to say about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. How dare you, as a white woman, sit up here and try to tell me what I’m supposed to feel and what I’m doing right now?”
The situation worsened when Rosen took to Twitter in an attempt to apologize using language that reads racist, “On air thurs [sic] I said my colleague @ninaturner didn’t have standing [sic] to use MLK Jr.That [sic] was wrong. I am sorry for saying those words. Pls [sic] no need to defend me and attack angry black women. They have standing. I always need to listen more than I talk. We rise together.”
The tweet has since been deleted.
Needless to say, Rosen received much backlash and has since tweeted nearly non-stop trying to apologize to Nina Turner for her language. And that’s the problem. White folks, particularly those in power, can say and do racist things and the only requirement of them is that they issue an apology. American society has always been socially liberal when making space for racism.
The problem with Rosen and Turner is a common one that arose when Rosen felt the need to talk over Turner. It’s an issue many minorities have to deal with throughout our daily lives. From the workplace to the corner store, we are constantly overlooked, viewed as criminals, or flat-out ignored. And if we’re ever given the chance to speak, there’s always at least one white person there to talk over us.
“Few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.” — Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail
Sadly, this behavior isn’t isolated. Latinos and other minority groups experience this daily as well. Particularly on the political front. When it comes to politics, Latinos are routinely told what we’re concerned about instead of listening to our concerns. Many Americans seem to think that all Latino issues begin and end with immigration. Again, they couldn’t be more wrong.
Of course, what’s happening at the border is horrifying. Yes, Latinos are arguably most affected by Trump’s policies and their side-effects. We are just as terrified about human rights abuses by Amerca’s so-called law enforcement agencies as anyone else. The idea that the United States continues to treat people of color like animals in 2020 is beyond appalling. Yet here we are…
Anti-Latino Moderate Prejudice
What most Americans fail to understand is that we should be having a broader conversation about US interventionism in Latin America before we talk about immigration. But since so much of American society is driven by discriminatory stereotypes, it’s not hard to see why Latinos, Black folks, and other marginalized communities are routinely silenced by white voices.
Conflating immigration solely with the Latino community drowns-out the main issues for Latinos. While immigration is a topic of importance for many Americans, it might come as a surprise that it is not the top concern for Latino communities. Similarly to our Black and White counterparts, our main issues are the economy, job security, wages, healthcare, and education. If more white folks took the time to listen instead of shouting over us, they would know this.
In August 2019, UnidosUS released state polling of Latino voters on key issues and key traits the community seeks in a presidential candidate. The poll, conducted by Latino Decisions, took a look into what Latino voters are looking for in a presidential candidate, what the biggest issue priorities are, and what the biggest concerns are within the areas identified.
The poll, which was conducted nationally and in four of five key states (Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas) showed that 78% of Latinos are “frustrated with how President Trump and his allies treat immigrants and Latinos and worry it will get worse if Trump is re-elected.” When viewing all of the issues on a broader scale, the most important issues were healthcare, jobs and the economy, followed by immigration and education topping the primary concerns.
Latinos are not as complex as many who ask rhetorical and sometimes discriminatory questions would suggest. Moderate liberals are falling behind with Latinos despite showing up for Democrats in the 2018 mid-term elections with a “50 percent increase in Hispanic voter turnout.” But politicians and pundits alike routinely miss the broader conversation by failing to acknowledge the main issues for Latinos and other marginalized groups.
Arguably one of the biggest struggles minorities are faced with is being heard when trying to speak out on social justice and while advocating for programs to provide access to labor rights, healthcare, and education. As with many minority issues across America, pundits typically see the issue of racial inequities from a binary perspective. It’s in that viewpoint that much nuance is missed. Latinos, in particular, struggle to be heard because we don’t fit into that Black/White narrative so many have been beholden to for over a century.
The explosion of racism and discrimination against communities of color over the last three years helps illustrate just how complex America’s problems are regarding race issues. While some matters can be addressed with blanket solutions, the equitable needs of various communities of color are vastly different from one group to another and/or one location to another.
Major Political Issues
Housing, equal rights, job programs, and criminal justice reform are all issues that Latinos and other minority communities want to address. However, when it comes to Latinos, it seems that politicians trying to make inroads think taking a stance against the immigration policies of the xenophobe in the White House is enough to draw in voters. And while that does help, it’s not enough to increase likeability among what is now the largest ethnic voting bloc in the country.
Similarly, when it comes to racism, Black folks (79%) and Latinos (70%) are more likely to say racism is a very big problem for the country than white Democrats (52%). When looking at the broader issues, however, the top areas of concern are similar between all demographics.
An overwhelming majority of Latinos view education as the answer to many of the social and economic woes faced by all of our respective communities. Politicians, in general, have dismissed these pleas to focus on immigration reform. Again, a flawed approach based largely on the failure to understand that most current immigrants are Central American; making foreign policy in Latin America central to the conversation much more appropriate.
Another issue of contention is when the electorate views Blacks and Latinos in monolithic terms respectively. For example, Latinos born in the U.S. have mixed views on immigration. Some view migrants with contempt. This contingent thinks of newer immigrants as competitors based on their own nationalist and/or prejudiced views highlighting the complexities of appealing to a specific group without addressing the subtleties of any issue.
In February 2017, a study published by Pew Research indicated that the top priorities for the incoming Trump administration showed 73% of Latinos were seeking to improve the educational system. Of the other issues that were considered most important, protecting the country from terrorist attacks (69%), strengthening the nation’s economy (66%), and reducing healthcare costs (54%) were top priorities over immigration (46%).
The Pew Research study showed immigration to be less of a concern in 2017 (prior to the Trump administration’s methods) than it has become since the implementation of Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. This tells us Trump’s manufactured crisis of cruelty at the border has made immigration a bit more of a priority across wide demographics, but broader issues such as healthcare, job security, and education continue to be top priorities among all groups.
A more recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that 71% of Latinos think the government should do more to solve problems (51% of those polled were Republican or lean Republican). The study also noted, “it’s a view that is reflected in their broad support for raising the minimum wage, government involvement in healthcare, and stricter gun laws.”
Other minority groups also see the need for government intervention into social issues. Black folks (76%) overwhelmingly say the needy have hard lives because the government doesn’t do enough to help them lead decent lives. Additionally, 79% of Black folks say the government should do more to assist poor Americans, even if it means going deeper into debt.
In the end, and despite an abundance of factual information, white folks don’t listen to what ails minority communities. Instead, they opt to assume they know, angering minorities. America can discuss the inequities and the injustices of our society until we’re blue in the face. But if our so-called allies have no understanding of what the terminology really means or what the actual issues are, they really aren’t doing us much good.
In fact, it could be argued that allies are doing harm by perpetuating the same discriminatory stereotypes that have been circulating in America for centuries. Those prejudices will never disappear as long as people continue to sleep through their unconscious biases.
When Martin Luther King Jr. expressed his disappointment with the white moderate in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, this is precisely what he was talking about. Here we are, nearly 60 years later, barely moving forward.
“I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” — Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail
White folks, do us all a favor. Think before you speak; listen before expressing what you think you know; ask before speaking up for marginalized communities to ensure you know what you’re saying and how to back it up.
Otherwise, you’re not really helping.
Arturo is an anti-racist political nerd who started his career in writing after suffering a stroke at the age of 40. He is an upcoming author, journalist, advocate for social justice, and a married father of three young men. He is a regular contributor to Latino Rebels. If you’d like to learn more about the issues covered here follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.