This has always stuck with me, but it’s only in the past few years that I’ve been able to process it and come to terms with it.
About twenty years ago I was visiting a friend in Marina Del Rey. I got on the elevator, then saw a young black man about my age rushing to get on. I held the door open for him.
The first thing he said was “You’re lucky you’re white. You’ll never get stopped like I just was by the sheriffs.”
I protested that I was Latino, and subject to the same discrimination. He said, “You may be, but you look white. You’ll never be stopped.” He then got off on his floor.
Needless to say, I dismissed his assertion that I was “white”. I was Latino, part of the Prop 187 generation. We were fighting for our place in the sun. I was with the oppressed.
But here are a few facts.
I’m Cuban. That off the bat sets me apart from most of the Latinos in California. Cubans are always thought of as the “good Latinos”, not like those other ones who just want to take.
And I’m not only Cuban, but a white Cuban. That doubly sets me apart from most of the US Latino population. Cuba, like the US, has a horrifying history of slavery and oppression of its black citizens. Even in the Communist era, most people in high ranking positions are white.
It took many years, but eventually it did get through to me that my skin color conferred advantages and privileges upon me. That is merely a fact. I will most likely not be pulled over by a cop while walking down the street. I will not be stopped and frisked for no reason. I will be given the benefit of the doubt where people with darker skin will not.
When Barack Obama was elected, many of us felt as if a historical weight had been lifted off our shoulders. “Look, we elected our first African American president, and it happened so soon after Dr. King’s assassination!” There was a sense of national euphoria during the heady times surrounding the 2008 election.
But almost immediately it went to seed. Some on the Left were immediately disappointed that he wasn’t going to govern as their idealized version of an oppressed minority finally scaling the heights of power. And many on the Right were convinced not only that he would, but that he was.
I’ve documented the explosion of racial animus in our post-racial age elsewhere, all triggered by Pres. Obama’s election. But the previous week has seen it take hold of the national conscience in a way which has been extraordinary even in light of the past six years.