Final Paper

AnnMarie Mark

 

Professor Alvarez

 

English 255

 

25 May 2012

 

The Color Line: The
White/Black Hierarchy in American Society and the Effects of Racialization and
Identity on the African American and Latino Community

 

Abstract

 Racialization exists in America, but it also exists all over the world.  In this article, I will argue that Latinos face social struggles in American society.  I will argue that Latinos face the same social struggles that are inherent in the African American community but because of the white/black binary instituted within our culture, they tend to identify with whiteness because of the hierarchy that it implies.  Racialization stains the United States because of the color line.  Race links individuals to their place in society.  Latinos represent a racialized minority just as African Americans in American society, but depending on skin color a Latino/a can go either way.  This article will detail how skin color impacts the way Latinos classify and identify themselves.  This article will argue the idea of “race” and how it impacts the relationship between Latinos and African Americans.  I will argue that African Americans and Latinos need to connect on a minority level to build a coalition where the two groups will work together to achieve the same opportunities as whites.  Race is a form of social inequality and this article will demonstrate how it negatively labels different groups within the hierarchy of race.

Introduction: Progression
or Regression?
Deconstruction of the
White/Black Binary

 It is the year 2012 and the United States still battles issues with race.  Our President represents both African American and Caucasian descent, but yet classified as black only.  Why does this happen?  What about his Caucasian descent? Do we forget about it because his skin color represents a caramel color instead of a vanilla one?  The real issue here goes back to the color line that exists within the United States.  Race and color go hand in hand with each other and the fact remains that the United States does not stand alone with this issue.  Racialization exists all over the world.  It dwells within the Latino community, it persists within the African American community, and in fact it breathes within all minorities.  If you’re not considered a minority, the chance of Racialization entering your world probably does not exist.  Within the Black/White binary, a commonality in most countries, non-black minorities will tend to bend towards identifying with whites because of the hierarchy associated with white.  Throughout time and definitely today white reflects light and purity in every aspect of life where as black reflects negative connotations such as dark and tainted.  Whiteness suggests an inherent favorability in society and Blackness associates with an innate burden in society.  The key words in this article include Racialization, hierarchy, race, social construct, inherent, minority, white/black binary, the color line, fear and power.  All of which allude to how race and skin color determine a person’s place in society.  Racialization paralyzes this country; a country viewed by other nations as the epitome of Democracy, but yet the color line contaminates the good of the country.  Though the United States illustrates progression stemming from the days of slavery, it still requires cultivation and unity among minority groups to challenge the prevalence of the bWhite/Black binary in American culture.

Unity of Two Cultures

George Priestley’s article entitled “Ethnicity, Class, and Race in the United States: Prospects for African-American/Latino Alliances” discusses the formation and potential of Latinos/ Blacks in America to join forces to fight for the same causes.  The white race prevails over all ethnic groups in America politically, socially and economically.  African-American’s and Latinos frequently deal with unemployment, underemployment, living in an unsafe environment, lack of education, unable to attain healthcare, and high population in the prison system.  The American society reflects a divided society that consists of rich and poor along with the advantages of the “white race”.  Blacks and Latinos both strive for upward mobility, for this reason an alliance creates a commonality and unity along with achievement of major economic, political, and social issues within America.  Priestly states:

The current challenges of both groups are the product of race, class, and gender relations of the post-civil-rights era, a period characterized by massive immigration of nonwhite people […] If economic competition and immigration issues have the potential of dividing Latinos and African-Americans, these groups have a strategic list of demands that unites them. (Priestly 56)

 

Priestly believes that “race, class, and gender” play major roles in both minority groups.  In America today, slavery no longer exists, but “The Color Line” an article which Frederick Douglas published in 1881 detailing racial segregation, still exists to a certain extent in America.  The “Color Line” suggests racial discrimination because of the color/race of a person.  Latinos and African Americans have both equally dealt with Racialization and inequality in America prior to and after the “civil rights era”; an era that struggled to attain civil rights for African-Americans along with other groups.  Latinos represent a multi-cultural and multi ethnic group of people and a “color line” or Racialization exists within their community as well because of the diverse backgrounds and races that incorporate the group.  As immigration increases from Latin America, Latinos and Blacks both struggle to achieve civil, economic and social stability.  Priestly believes that instead of competition between the two groups, there is catalogue of “demands that unite them”.  They both require access to health care, education, jobs, affordable housing, reliable and affordable transportation, and accountability from the police (56).  Together they can be successful in accomplishing these demands and tackling the effects of Racialization.  But, the groups will both have to be willing to identify with each other as one equal fighting for a common cause.

Acknowledging each other’s Struggles

Ideally, a coalition of the African Americans and Latinos sounds like a sensible plan because both groups are minorities who experience Racialization.  But, most Latinos do not usually classify themselves with Blacks/African Americans.  Among the Dominican, Puerto Rican, Panamanian, Honduran, Colombian, and
Brazilian communities there is a tendency to “relate culturally to their “blackness” and have adapted the term Afro-Latino (57).   But, many other Latinos classify themselves with whites which opens the door for Latinos to create associations and unions with whites because of the “power” that whiteness represent.  But, whites do not represent minorities and they do not understand the struggles that inherently burden Latinos/African Americans.  Priestly acknowledges that specifications for a coalition or alliance must happen in order to acquire a strong coalition and he also sheds light on remarks made by Flores (2005, 81) which states:

Hispanic is not a construct that is decidedly non-black and in significant ways discursively anti-Black […] While there is a “non-Hispanic white” category in the census, there is no category of “non-Hispanic black.” Clearly, the construction of a “white Latino identity” is not the same as a “non-black Latino identity,” and the way Latinos construct their identity will bear significantly on any future coalition with African-Americans. (60)

Latinos and African Americans call for the same equality each facing social struggles and injustices throughout history in America.  Latinos would need to “construct their identity” in relation to African-Americans and see the bigger picture that will come with a strong coalition for the two groups.  Latinos who identify as “white Latino” would probably choose to disassociate themselves with the coalition because of possibly not experiencing or understanding the struggles which are faced daily by the “non-white” Latino.  The superiority complex does exist and it goes right back to the “color line” that exists in America, and will probably always exist.  African Americans would need to recognize issues of immigration and support progressive immigration reform.  The idea of a successful coalition will involve both groups to identify with each other and recognize that each are both demoralized because of the social structures that dwell within the nation.  Both groups must rid themselves of the “color line” and strive for success as minorities with a shared goal that will lead to an effective and lasting coalition.

 

Race and theDepiction of Color

 The following video entitled “The Browning of America” is from a lecture at The Latin American Health Institute by Ilan Stavans, the editor of The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.  Stavans discusses the social connotations of color and the stereotypes that society constructs for different ethnic groups.  He addresses the White/Black binary and states that the social connotations of color will always maintain prevalence because the world encompasses a multi cultural and multi ethnic society.

Stavans states that the “United States continues to exist in black and white”, which implies that race and racism remain one of the biggest issues in American society.  He also states: “Black is an equal a color as white or blue or red.  But, socially we have constructed a sense that black is the color of fear and white is the color of power”.  There is no wonder why other minorities of color would readily identify with whiteness.  Whiteness implies power and an ability to attain the American dream.  Stavans references a book entitled How the Irish became White; this book addresses the journey of the Irish who living in poor and miserable conditions but manages to “journey to the margins of society” to achieve power and social status.  They established partnerships with other whites and were able to fight against the
negative connotations of poverty.  But,the difference with an Irish person and an African American or Latino simply boils down to the color of their skin.  A poor white person does not have to battle against the color of their skin.

Inherent Discrimination of Latinos and Blacks

In Tanya Golash-Boza’s article entitled “Dropping the Hyphen?  Becoming Latino/a-American through Racialized Assimilation”, she touches on the Latino and the classification system which they use to identify themselves.  Latinos that look Caucasian will not experience Racialization or discrimination.  But those Latinos that identify as Latino/a or African American will most likely experience some form of discrimination in their lifetime.  Boza writes:

In contemporary U.S. society, we learn our racial place through interactions with others.  If others classify us as white, we learn to expect preferential treatment.  If others classify us as something other than white, we learn to expect marginalization.  This marginalization plays out in different ways, depending on a wide variety of factors, including, but not limited to, skin color, manner of speaking, body language, hair texture and facial features. (33)

Boza states the “we learn our racial place through interactions with others”.  This happens if you’re white, black, Latino, Asian, and so on.  Race places everyone in categories and even a child regardless of race understands their place in society.  Even if they are not consciously aware of it, society depicts a hierarchy with whiteness and children grasp this at an early age.  She also states that Latinos “learn to expect preferential treatment” if others classify them as white, and they
expect “marginalization” if they classify them as black or other.  She also states that depending on “skin color, manner of speaking, body language, hair texture and facial features”, the marginalization plays out in different ways.  Boza implies that the darker their skin, the more “ethnic” they speak and “act”, the coarser their hair and the larger their features the more they are racialized or discriminated against.  Latinos will experience different forms of oppression depending on the way society perceives them.  The White/Black binary that dwells across many nations will persist across many more generations to come.  Blacks and Latinos will not only face Racialization because of skin color, it also occurs because of culture and stereotypes.  Blacks and Latinos in American society grapple with very similar stereotypes such as they live in poverty, they lack education, they tend to interact in criminal activity, they use welfare as a crutch, they involve themselves in drug activity, and live in housing projects.

In the video below “Nanny Spanish”, done in a comical way but still manages to demonstrate how the white rich or middle class use Racialization when it comes to Latinos.  The video represents about two minutes of racial stereotypes but the point gets across to the viewer.  A Latina woman teaches Spanish to rich white women who employ Latinos as nannies and as she teaches Spanish they overwhelm her with different stereotypes to learn in Spanish.  See below.

Throughout the video, the presumed rich white women request outlandish statements to say in Spanish to their nanny.  These requests represent the stereotypes and views on the Latino and illustrate the levels of Racialization that the race experiences.  If the nanny were of white descent, these statements would probably not factor into their employer’s realm of thinking. The first woman requests to have the following statement translated in Spanish:  “I know you’re stealing from me.  I need to check your bag”.  This statement confirms the way Latinos are labeled within the white hierarchy and American society. There lies a negative intrinsic view of the culture and what Latinos represent.  The teacher listens to slurs directed at her culture but does not get irate instead she chooses to teach them derogatory things about themselves instead of what they request of her.  Another woman requests: “Please use the outdoor porter potty for your personal needs”.  So far we observe that Spanish people steal and they should not be allowed to use the bathroom in the home because of the “unclean” stereotype.  We also observe two other who lack compassion for the Latino.  One woman says:  “If one of your kids are sick again, you’re fired” and the last one says: “I don’t care if the bus was late, next time I’ll beat you”.   These last two statements also touch on the lack of humanity of the nannies simply because they speak Spanish, most likely poor, probably an immigrant who does not have their papers so this makes them less than the average majority, and this is what Racialization does to groups of people.  It socially constructs their place in society.  This video demonstrates how society stigmatizes and labels Latinos because of their race.  Latinos fit into the undesirable category as do African Americans but there exists a racial divide between the two groups.  As I mentioned earlier a coalition of the two groups would implement a strong voice for the groups but the white/black binary still influences many Latinos to point towards whiteness.

In Jennifer Lee’s and Frank D. Bean’s article entitled “Reinventing the Color Line Immigration and America’s New Racial/ Ethnic Divide” they discuss how different Latino ethnic groups will identify with blacks depending on their national origin.  Puerto Rican’s who represent more diversity will for instance identify with blacks more so than Mexicans whose blood did not mix much with Africans unlike the Puerto Ricans.  Lee and Bean state:

In any case, regardless of skin color, Latinos fall closer to non-Hispanic whites in their attitude towards blacks than to non-Hispanic blacks.  Such results suggest considerable variation in the Racialization experiences of Latinos in the United States […] Many Latinos, especially Mexican, may not see themselves or may not be seen as belonging to the collective black category. (569)

 

Lee and Bean state that “Latinos fall closer to non-Hispanic whites in their attitude towards blacks than to non-Hispanic blacks”, this implies many Latinos fit well within the white binary, where they relate more to whites than to blacks.  They also state that there lies “considerable variation in the Racialization experiences of Latinos in the United States” which implies that Latinos also use Racialization when it comes to blacks and because their experiences with Racialization did not exist, they related more towards the white spectrum.  Again, going back to the color line, why would anyone want to relate to a group that faces marginalization and Racialization over centuries within this society?  Black represents “fear” as Ilan Stavans said in the video.  Black does not hold any power.  The White/Black binary annihilates the black race with negative connotations associated with having a certain skin color and the inherent stereotypes that label them.  But, still Latinos must realize that whites will never consider them white or look to them as having “power”, as viewed in the “Nanny Spanish” video.  At the same token, African Americans must embrace non-black minorities into their world.  Stemming back from the days of slavery, African Americans hold certain insecurities and almost what I will call a “self-hate” aura within themselves and their communities.  As Arthur A. Schomburg phrased so well “The American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future” and he also states “History must restore what slavery took away, for it is the social damage of slavery that the present generation must repair and offset (371).  The social damage meaning the inherent marginalization, Racialization, and stereotypes that encompasses the race.

Let’s take the video below “Shades of the Border”.  This video demonstrates how Dominicans use Racialization when it comes to their sister island of Haiti.  Though the Haitians and the Dominicans look quite similar (the Haitians may be a tad bit darker), they view the Haitian people as less than which shows how the white/black binary persists in other countries as well. Check out the video below:

Jose Pineda, a journalist in the Dominican Republic sheds light on the Racialization that occurs in the Caribbean within the Dominicans and the Haitians that migrate to the Dominican Republic for a better life.  He starts off this documentary by stating that “Every Dominican carries a little bit of Haitian behind the ears” which means that every Dominican contains some black in their blood line.  Over one millionHaitians live in the Dominican Republic illegally and the video illustrates the conflicts that exist because of the white/black binary which is not only prevalent in the United States but as you see in this video in another “minority ethnic group” .  Dominicans and Haitians derive from the same lands and some the same ancestry, but yet one holds a stigma on the other because of skin color.  The other conflicts that Pineda mentioned pertain to cheap labor, language and religion but the real heart of the conflict involves darkness.  The darker the person, the more Racialization occurs even within other minority groups. In 2005, thirteen Haitians were killed in 2 weeks in and in 2009, there was a beheading of a Haitian man in Santo Domingo, where some Dominicans applauded the act and recorded on their cell phone.  My point of bringing to light this video was to show the insecurities and self hate that stems from the white/black hierarchy. How do we as minorities expect the white hierarchy to embrace us if we can not love and accept our selves?  Why do we discriminate against our own as well? Possibly because the social construct of race is ingrained in us from children.  We know from young that dark means bad and unattractive so therefore if your skin reflects a darker tone than mine, this means that I am closer to power than you.

Awareness of Racialization from Youth

In Jesus Colon’s From “A Puerto Rican in New York and Other Sketches”, Jesus Colon illustrates living in New York as a black Puerto Rican and identifies with the social struggles of Racialization.  The story holds power, even though quite short it reveals a powerful message that even children understand how the white/black hierarchy works within society as a mother asks her young daughter to “sit by the gentleman” who happens to have dark skin.  The child replies: “I won’t sit beside no nigger,” and Colon says “And the mother, myself, and all of us never said a word” (499).  The message here reveals how society leaves these views on the young in our country.  Colon never openly states that the child was raised this way by her parents, but he implies that racism stems from inside the home as well.  The silence that inhabited the diner after this young child said such a negatively connotative word represents the silent America.  Racialization, most of the time anyway, involves silence meaning done behind closed doors. In Iris Morales’ PALANTE, SIEMPRE, PALANTE!: The Young Lords A Childhood as “Go-Between” also sheds light on the experiences of Racialization from a young Latina’s point of view.  She speaks of the humiliation and the injustices that the Spanish people were experiencing in New York City.  Morales writes:

Often when on a translating trip at the hospital or local school with my mother or a neighbor, another person—a Spanish-speaking stranger—would also require and request translating assistance. The role as “go-between” helped in my later radicalization because I got to see institutional practices up close. I got to feel the disdain and injustices with which people, bureaucrats, and institutions responded to Puerto Ricans. I experienced the mistreatment and humiliation. (1429

In this passage from PALANTE,SIEMPRE PALANTE! : The Young Lords –A CHILDHOOD AS “GO-BETWEEN” Iris Morales discusses her life growing up and attaining her role as translator within her family and friends. Morales deemed herself the link between the American culture and the Puerto Rican culture for her parents. She assisted her parents as well as neighbors and strangers with translating the language. Morales experiences first hand how her race endured treatment as racialized minorities.  She detested the social injustices that the Puerto Ricans faced in America. The prejudices which Morales experience directly derive from being poor, darker skinned, and speaking a different language. The scenes of disrespect and disgrace become implanted in a person’s psyche. Throughout the history of the United States racist practices against minorities as discussed throughout this article involves relentless prevalence (the darker the skin the more prevalent).  Morales eventually utilizes these experiences to pursue a militant civil rights movement with the Young Lord Organization to ensure that the government takes more responsibility for the living conditions and  social struggles involving Racialization in the Latino communities.

Conclusion

This article demonstrates the effects of Racialization within the Latino and African American groups and shows how Racialization negatively affects how others perceive them. The article correlates some of the same aspects of Racialization that inhabit both communities.  This article illustrates the white/black hierarchy, a hierarchy which wreaks prevalence within the American Society and keeps minorities at a certain place socially, economically and politically.  This article details why some Latinos will choose to identify with whites because whiteness means power where as black or blackness evokes fear and darkness.  This article correlates the social struggles with the two groups, but also shows the division between the groups because of the color line.  This article also brings to light, the “power” that the two races could possess if they build a coalition so that they can achieve the same power as the white community. To reiterate my perspective, Race is a social construct that negatively impacts minorities.  Again, African American President, the year 2012 when will this end? When will the curse of the color line diminish within our society?  This topic can and will cause dispute for days, months, and years to come.  The only chances of Racialization ending would exist if we lived in a total white world.

 

Works Cited

Priestley, George. “Ethnicity, Class, and Race in the United States: Prospects for African- American/Latino Alliances.” Latin American Perspectives 34.1: 53-63. JSTOR. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/27647994. >Web. 24 May 2012.

Stavans, Ilan. “Immigration to USA-The Browning of America.” LIHorg, YouTube. 13 March 2007. Web. 24 May 2012.

Golash-Boza, Tanya.  “Dropping the Hyphen? Becoming Latino(a)-American through Racialized Assimilation.” Social Forces, Vol. 85, No. 1 Sep. 2006: 27-55. JSTOR. < http://www.jstor.org/stable/3844404. > Web. 24 May 2012.

“Nanny Spanish.” YouTube. Egnilk66, 24 January 2008. Web. 24 May 2012.< http://youtu.be/v0qTjfp3cgI. >

Lee, J., & Bean, F. D. (2007). “Reinventing the Color Line Immigration and America’s New Racial/Ethnic Divide.” Social Forces, Vol. 86, No. 2 Dec. 2007: 561-586. JSTOR. < http://www.jstor.org/stable/20430754. > Web. 24 May 2012.

Schomburg, Arthur A. “The Negro Digs Up His Past” 1925.  The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.  Eds. Ilan Stavans, Edna Acosta-Belen, Harold
Augenbraum, Maria Herrera-Sobek, Rolando Hinojosa, and Gustavo Perez Firmat. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 371-377. Print.

“Shades of the Border”. YouTube. Media that Matters A Project of Arts Engine, 24 June 2010. Web. 24 May 2012.< http://youtu.be/61ky5aICIXE. >

Colon, Jesus. From A Puerto Rican in New York and Other Sketches. “The Mother, the young Daughter, Myself, and All of Us” 1961.  The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.  Eds. Ilan Stavans, Edna Acosta-Belen, Harold Augenbraum, Maria Herrera-Sobek, Rolando Hinojosa, and Gustavo Perez Firmat. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 497-501. Print.

Morales, Iris. Palante, Siempre, Palante!: The Young Lords “A Childhood as “Go-Between”1948. The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.  Eds. Ilan Stavans, Edna Acosta-Belen, Harold Augenbraum, Maria Herrera-Sobek, Rolando Hinojosa, and Gustavo Perez Firmat. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 1429-1443

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