When Racists Speak the Truth

in Politics by

Not everything oozing from a racist’s lips is racist. That’s not how racism works. That’s not how any of this works.

Congressman Steve King of Iowa is a racist, meaning he’s noticeably more racist than his colleagues in Congress. There’s, of course, the infamous “calves the size of cantaloupes” comment, when he told Newsmax that, for every undocumented immigrant who graduates at the top of his or her class, “there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds … hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

This past Sunday he tweeted that “culture and demographics are our destiny,”
stressing “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

Then, on Monday, the Iowa Republican told a local radio host he wasn’t worried much about Jorge Ramos’ prediction that whites would become a majority-minority — the largest racial group but a minority of the population — by 2044.

Speaking with Des Moines’ 1040 WHO, Congressman King said “Jorge Ramos’ stock in trade is identifying and trying to drive wedges between race”:

When you start accentuating the differences, then you start ending up with people that are at each other’s throats. And he’s adding up Hispanics and blacks into what he predicts will be in greater number than whites in America. I will predict that Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other before that happens.

King’s comments got the usual coverage in the mainstream media, where “blacks and Hispanics will be fighting each other” was quoted in most headlines as though the editors weren’t sure whether the statement was controversial or not.

I didn’t see any of the coverage in Latino media, though I did see Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist and pundit, fire back at King on Twitter.

A post on Voto Latino’s Facebook page was the first I heard of King’s statement. The group, co-founded in 2004 by actress Rosario Dawson with the goal of making young Latinos more politically engaged, labeled King’s prediction that blacks and Latinos would fight with each other before coming together as “another racist statement.”

The problem here is that King said nothing I myself haven’t written before. The gulf between blacks and Latinos — itself a false dichotomy — is nearly as storied as the tensions between whites and people of color.

Yes, there have been plenty of instances of people of color coming together against a common enemy, as when the Chicano Movement marched in solidarity with the Civil Rights Movement. Or when the Young Lords joined forces with the Black Panthers, and the Puerto Rican Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional coordinated with the Black Liberation Army. Then there’s the coalition of black and Latino voters who helped elect the first black mayor of Chicago. And, of course, there’s the Black Lives Matter movement, which many young Latinos have taken to instinctively.

But blacks and Latinos (for lack of better terms) aren’t quite yet the united front that Ms. Navarro and Voto Latino would like us to believe they are. In my home town, Chicago, you could literally drive a semi between the black and Latino neighborhoods. Many Latino parents and grandparents don’t want their progeny mingling with los morenos, and black squads are still beefing with Latino cliques from Watts to the BX borough.

Only an enlightened minority in each group recognizes that blacks and Latinos share more in common than they have differences. And an even smaller minority knows the difference between blacks and Latinos is really no difference at all.

So, while blacks and Latinos have come together in the past — for the election of the first black president, and after the killings of young black boys, for example — to say that blacks and Latinos have come together for good is a lie; it is the lie. After all, even Latinos themselves have yet to come together, and that day still seems far off in the future.

Our people, black and Latino, are still much too tribal, provincial, and superficial. We divide ourselves by skin color, nationality, language, religion, residency, and whatever else comes to mind. It seems we’d rather be unique than united.

Plus capitalism effectively divides workers from each other along any lines of separation it can conjure up, placing black workers in direct competition with Latino workers so that the two never team up — and then with white workers — to confront the natural enemy they all share in common: the One Percent. It’s a fact too obvious and repeated too many times before to be worth any more than this dinky paragraph.

Now is not the time for happy little fantasies. Now is not the time for us to pretend that what we wish were true is in fact the truth. Trump became president while we weren’t seeing; we were looking — a little too much, actually — but we weren’t seeing. In the end, groups like Voto Latino do the communities they mean to help a disservice by telling those communities that they’re in much better shape than they actually are. We’ve trapped ourselves in a tangled web of our own lies, the lies we’ve been telling ourselves, and the only way to get free is with hard truths.

A racist has said something very true about what has long plagued blacks and Latinos, something which has kept them divided and unable to flex their political and economic muscles. Instead of condemning King’s statement because King himself is a racist, let it be a wake-up call.

“Come together,” as the Beatles sang. But for real, and for good.


Featured image: Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Hector is the editor and publisher of Enclave. A Chicago writer now floating on the edge of Las Vegas, he is also the former deputy editor for Latino Rebels, as well as the former managing editor for Gozamos, a Latino art-activism site based in his home town. He has contributed to RedEye, a Chicago daily geared toward millennials, and La Respuesta, a New York-based site for the Puerto Rican Diaspora, plus a number of publications, including The Huffington Post. He studied history (for some reason) at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his focus was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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