Racing to the Finish

On a nice summer day, me and a friend of mine were sitting at a patio, having a drink and sharing in each other’s company. It was getting cold, so we hopped inside to continue to talk. We shared many stories, some traumatic, and some fun and enlightening. I decided that would share a feeling that I have had for a long time. I said to her, after glancing around to make sure it was in confidence, that I felt different and alienated for how I look. She was surprised, and was incredulous, even looking away briefly after I spoke. I glanced around again, and I noticed that I was the only person of color amongst the patrons.

I sometimes wonder if those people around me understand what it feels like, to be judged and assumed upon simply for how you look. I have received so much banter and jest for my ethnicity and skin color over the years that it feels second nature, and I would brush it off and treat it as a friendly gesture. I have gotten angry at times, only to be responded to with the good ol’ “It was joke, don’t take it seriously” response. A friend of mine once said “I only make fun of my closest friends” a quote he references from a comedian he favors. He is a good guy, and I hold no grudge of the sort, and I even understand that sentiment…but why must my ethnicity be the thing to be poked at? Why am I reduced to my skin color, a stereotype, and a language? Other people are poked at and reduced to inadequacies for things that can change, like weight, intellect, and demeanor. But it feels worse when the actual charge against you stems from something you have no hope of changing, something I wish I could do at times.

George Floyd was a man, a black man, that was killed by a police officer for no good reason. He was lying on a paved street next to a car, handcuffed, with the officer’s knee resting on his neck, all while three cops watched. George pleaded “I can’t breathe” over and over, till finally, he was long gone. And for what? A forged $20 bill?

Racism is something I have experienced all my life, whether by employers, friends, people on the street, even my own family. But it is not the kind you may be thinking of, nor is it of the treatment that African-Americans face. However, I want to share an analogy regarding racism:

“Racism is like an effervescent tablet, those dissolvable pills. It might appear to be gone to the naked eye when placed in water, but it is still there, you just don’t notice it till you drink it.”

Today I spent my time sifting through content on Facebook (usually a big mistake), when I caught a glimpse of a conspiracy theory regarding George Floyd’s murder. The theory is that the murder was staged, and the men weren’t really cops at all, with the point of the murder being to incite hatred and divisiveness amongst the American public. Another theory involves Ilhan Omar, a democratic representative from Minneapolis. The theory suggests that the murder was orchestrated to push for government funding from the federal reserve, and for suppression of the white population.

Ok…so a theory is easier to accept then an injustice made against your fellow man? I guess he isn’t your fellow then.

Rioting occurred after the death of George Floyd. A video went viral that showed the murder, and the city went ablaze. The riots are being heavily scrutinized by some news outlets, but surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) by Donald Trump, saying “If there’s looting, there’ll be shooting,” a quote used during a time of racial tension. Richard Nixon found a way to appeal to those that were deemed racist with a strategy involving a reminder of civil disobedience through a commercial for his 1968 presidential campaign. The commercial he sponsored showcases protesting, destruction of property, and other forms of civil unrest being enacted by black people and other minorities, all while calling for an end to the protesting. It is interesting to note that several people that were against the civil rights movement were saying things that are being said right now:

“You can’t destroy public property and expect respect”

“That isn’t how to ask for change”

“Follow the rules and this won’t happen”

The irony of the remarks some of those people are making now is that those same people are also in support of protesting the COVID-19 lockdown, and causing chaos and civil unrest to the citizens that are just trying to get by.

And knowing that we live in a time where the civil rights act passed, stop and frisk has been halted, and even a black president was elected into the White House, it seems we have beaten racism…right? That is the reality a lot of those that object the rioting have: racism isn’t a reality.

When I was about eleven years old, I heard the term “Spic” for the first time. I never knew what it meant nor that it was a slur directed towards Latinos and Spanish speaking people. But I knew right away it was negative as those that said it, said it with anger and meant to put me down. I learned of “Wetback” soon after, and I got assailed for being Latino all the time. Funny enough, I was also lauded for being a Latino, with people approaching me and wondering if I was affiliated with the MS-13, or other Latin gangs as Scarface was a popular film at the time. I didn’t realize this till later, but that was the beginning of being recognized as a stereotype and nothing more. The constant barrage of references of Spanish speaking countries, Latinos they think I’ll know, dancing, even lovemaking (a stereotype that could be viewed as a positive) were always there. With that though came the stereotype of being affiliated with a gang or being a criminal. I have been stopped by police a few times because I looked suspicious (with one of those times ending with me in jail for the night, and another in lockup), and I have been avoided on the street or in public settings.

What image enters your mind when you think of a criminal? If I said a gangster was walking around your neighborhood, what image would enter your mind? If a former inmate were living in your neighborhood, what would that person look like in your mind’s eye?

Amy Cooper was walking her dog in a park in New York city when a birdwatcher confronted her with a request to put a leash on her dog, as that was required in the park. She didn’t like that much and decided to call the cops on him for causing the discomfort. When she got a hold of the police, she said that she was being threatened by a man in the park. The man, Christian Cooper (could’ve been the start of a dating story), started taking footage of her conversation with the police, which went viral, and cost her a job and has received public shame and scrutiny. Amy knew what she was doing, and she knew that she would succeed in her endeavor because she recognized there was a flaw in the system, and took advantage of it. She must of recognized that she could of contributed to an unwarranted incarceration, or worse, death. Amy did apologize publicly afterwards, but the act still occurred and indicates an actual abuse of the system. Oh yeah, did I mention Christian Cooper is black?

Have you ever had to prove your right to life? How about proving that you are an actual citizen of your country, with the same rights as those around you? The tragedy of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor shows how different people look at black people and people of color.

I have never really felt like a Latino, despite having one of the most recognizable Latin names out there (thanks Lady Gaga). I don’t speak Spanish, I don’t partake in any festivities, I never grew up in a Spanish country, and I don’t have very many Spanish-speaking friends. I had to learn about my ethnic background by reading books, watching documentaries and asking family members. I have the darkest skin in my family, and I can pass for many different ethnicities depending on my facial hair and length of hair, along with the time of the year. My interests aren’t stereotypical of Latin culture either. I carry interests in philosophical ideas, literature, writing, film and television, and politics. But I am always relegated to being a “Mexican” to the eyes of many (Mexico was my name while working at a restaurant). The irony of those last couple sentences is that it carries racist undertones because I am dismissing my heritage and saying those interests aren’t Latin, and therefore not a part of that social group. The thing is, I am a Canadian, but I am denied that often because of how I look. I once had to fight someone on being Canadian because he didn’t believe me, throwing questions about Canada at me like names of Prime Ministers and the years that historical events took place. The luxury many people have is not needing to fight for a voice. White people got it, they are trusted. It’s not often that I am recognized as a Canadian at first glance, I always have to prove it. I do see change though, and I have noticed more recognition from those that have never felt any of things I have described, and are actively trying to take a stand, which I applaud.

We all have a story to tell, and we’ve all seen some shit hit the fan, but to use that as leverage over someone else’s trauma – continued trauma – we gloss over their anger, we gloss over their cries. It is a silent death if you ask me, and no amount of burnt cars can light that loss up.

Someone said to me that FOX News was on the scene in Minneapolis, and they spoke with a protester. He was erudite, and clear with why they were angry she explained. She finished by saying the destruction and civil unrest silences those voices since the chaos is all we see, and she was glad to hear his voice because it would of been silenced by the riots. I said, “Isn’t it sad that it took rioting and protesting for him to be heard?” Listening is selfless, and damn easy. It shouldn’t take a riot to hear someone’s pain, but for some, it is all that they have.

“It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

Martin Luther King Jr

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