Anyone who has ever purchased or sold property knows it can be a time-consuming and stressful event. There are credit checks, endless forms to fill out, and fees and points to pay. However, imagine being subject to what looks like extortion (See Cal. Pen. Sec. 518-519). by using a threat to report immigration status just for trying to conduct the normal business of life that families engage in, like the sale of a home. This is exactly what happened to my parents – lifelong residents and citizens – when they recently sold their condominium in California. A buyer tried to use what he believed to be their vulnerability because of immigration status (or perhaps some other assumption about their status as criminals because they are Latino) to take advantage of them.
Just before the inspection took place, the white buyer sent my relative (who was assisting them in the transaction) an email demanding my parent’s social security numbers in an affidavit. The following is the buyer’s email:
Your parents needed to state their Social Security numbers and affidavit for the final disclosure. You must get that information TODAY, or it could be inferred that your father may be classified as an illegal immigrant or implicated in some other issue, and that will complicate everything. If…I do not receive this information today, I will cancel both inspections set for tomorrow 1PM. Time is of the essence now on the calendar. You know that I will back out of the purchase if proper papers are not in order on time.
This request by represents just one example of the many racist experiences Latinos face when engaging in perfectly normal events in this country such as buying or selling property. It is part of the consequence of what Joe Feagin calls the white racial frame, where many white Americans act on stereotypes, racist narratives, images, and emotions that lead to discriminatory action towards people of color, which are rationalized in a world view that justifies white racial superiority.
It is also an example of what law professor Bill Hong Hing terms a process of de-Americanization, which includes racially profiling groups out of the notion or conception of an American. It has resulted in defining Latinos as “not real Americans, not part of us.” Professor Hing argues that this process has the insidious ability to perpetuate itself in multiple generations. Indeed, my research on Latino lawyers and Feagin and Cobas’s research on middle class Latino professionals underscore Hing’s argument. What my parents experienced in their real estate transaction is sadly the kind of racism they have experienced their entire lives in America.
The current racialization of Latinos, including Latino immigrants, includes being defined out of the “American” community, and therefore, undeserving of aspects of the American Dream. This type of prejudice and de-Americanization is something Feagin argues we are all taught over the decades of our lives. Latinos are racialized to be laborers, not professionals; to be “illegal,” “criminal,” not deserving of the privilege of participating in the real estate market. Examples of this sort of reinforcement of the white racial frame, are a constant in American society, one encouraged and enhanced by the dehumanizing and “othering” of Latinos including citizens and long-time residents such as my parents. The white racial frame is also reinforced as a part of the larger political debate around immigration where all Latinos are seen as undocumented, undeserving, un-American. Until national political entities—particularly the GOP—realize that for policy purposes their anti-Latino rhetoric results in the racialization of all Latinos as “illegal” then they will never gain significant traction among the growing Latino constituency.
However, this type of discrimination and prejudice must be challenged at multiple levels—legally, socially, politically, culturally, so that acts such as what appear to be intimidation and prejudice on the part of the white buyer above no longer remain part of acceptable societal behavior in a nation that considers itself to be democratic and equitable. Some may believe that the comment: “or it could be inferred that your father may be classified as an illegal immigrant or implicated in some other issue” is a lack of civility. However, I believe it is another perfect example of the white racial frame at work.
Currently 17 percent of Americans identify as Latino and this figure will go up to 30 percent in the next two decades. If middle-class lifetime citizens and residents are treated this way without a significant moral outrage against this kind of racism what does it portend for the future of our ethno-racial society?
In the meantime, until this type of discrimination and prejudice is challenged widely we will not create the change we need in how whites see themselves, and how they see people of color. Making an ethno-racial democracy work will take many voices raised and even more minds changed to understand the demands of social equity in American society.