Skin Color Discrimination: The Latino Case

Results from a Pew Research Center survey show the persistence in the United States of an association between Latinos’ skin color and their experiences of white (and other) discrimination.

Sixty-four percent of dark-skinned Latinos reported they had experienced discrimination or unfair treatment from time to time whereas the corresponding figure for those with lighter skin was 50 percent. Dark skin was associated with stereotypes. Fifty-five percent of Latinos with dark skin said that people have reacted to them as though the Latinos were not smart, vis-à-vis 36 percent of those with light skins. Additionally, fifty-three percent of Latinos with dark skin stated that they had been victims of slurs or racist jokes, while the comparable figure for light-skinned ones was 34 percent.

The survey also asked Latinos what race people would assume they were if they walked past them on the street. Seventy-one percent said others saw them as Hispanic or Latino, 19 percent as white and approximately 5 percent as members of other races (the report does not mention the remaining 5 percent, although it is safe to assume that they were survey non-responders).

Among Latinos who reported being seen as People of Color, 62 percent stated that they had experienced discrimination while the corresponding figure for those saying they were perceived as white was 50 percent. Finally, Latino respondents said that when they are perceived as People of Color, individuals were more likely to view them with suspicion or treat them as not being smart. The question arises whether the effects of skin color and speaking Spanish might be cumulative. However, the Pew survey does not report such data.

It is important to emphasize that although dark-skinned Latinos were more likely to be victims of discrimination or arouse suspicion, both light- and dark-skinned Latinos reported substantial rates of negative experiences. Thus, while lighter-complected Latinos might manage to escape discrimination more frequently than darker ones, they are still Latinos and their skin color is not sufficient to save them completely from the consequences of white racism.

And note too the direction in which this racialized colorism always operates: Lighter/whiter is always better than darker/browner-blacker. White racial framing–prizing white/lightness in physical look–has affected how most people frame and think for centuries, in the US and abroad.

Log Cabin Republicans: Gay Racism

In July of 2016 the Log Cabin Republicans, an LGBT Republican organization, criticized the Republican party for putting forward what they called “the most anti-LGBT platform in the party’s 162-year history.” Gregory T. Angelo, the president at the time mentioned how, included within the Republican platform, you will find “opposition to marriage equality, nonsense about bathrooms, an endorsement of the debunked psychological practice of ‘pray the gay away’ — it’s all in there.” During this time, the organization declined to support then Republican candidate Donald Trump, finding his candidacy unpredictable and therefore unsupportable. Yes, to the amazement of a small bunch of conservative LGBT folks and the bewilderment of the rest of us who have known this for quite some time, the Log Cabin Republicans learned that the Republican party was anti-LGBT. Surprise!

Then something happened. On August 16th, 2019, the Log Cabin Republicans, to the shock and awe of no one really, reversed course and endorsed Donald Trump for reelection in 2020. While the organization has never really been a staple of the Republican party, it has gained a stronger footing in recent years. This can be attributed to several factors, including an increasing number of US Americans supporting LGBT rights, and the public bluster of President Trump, whom Angelo described as “perhaps the most pro-LGBT presidential nominee in the history of the Republican Party.” This supposed pro-LGBT stance can be attributed to Trump’s 2016 Republican National Convention acceptance speech, where he stated that he would do “everything in my power to protect our L.G.B.T.Q. citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” As such, the Log Cabin Republicans felt like Trump kept his promise and here we are, at their surprising (but not so surprising) support for President Trump.

Ironically, in the same month that Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Trump, CBS News reported that his administration moved to eliminate “nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people by adding religious exemptions to an Obama-era 2014 executive order which “prohibited discrimination in hiring on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.” You read that correctly. The same organization that declined to support Trump previously and found the Republican platform to be the most anti-LGBT, now endorses Trump right as his administration works to remove LGBT protections. This, on top of the fact that Trump has nominated several anti-LGBT judges to courts across the US, initiated a ban on transgender soldiers in the military, and whose Vice President is one of the most extreme anti-LGBT Vice Presidents on record. So what gives? What made the Log Cabin Republicans reverse course? One way to make sense of this is to use the concept of “interest convergence.” According to the late great Law Professor Dr. Derrick Bell, when white people, in general, only support racial justice because there is something in it for them, this becomes interest convergence. For example, in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education that found “separate but equal” unconstitutional, Bell argued that United States had an interest in presenting itself to the world and the Soviet Union as pro-civil and human rights and that this was the real reason behind it finding the law unconstitutional and not because all of a sudden the US become enlightened and found black people as equal to whites. Now let’s take the same rational behind the concept and apply it to the Log Cabin Republicans and Donald Trump but instead of the interests being in racial justice, lets imagine that it is racism.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Robert Kabel and Jill Homan, the current chairman and woman of the Log Cabin Republicans, argued that while they don’t agree with everything the Trump administration is doing, they support Trump’s push to end HIV in 10 years and his protections of LGBT families. While on the surface these policies seem to protect all LGBT people, they are really aimed to attract white gay men.

For instance, while new advances in science and technology have decreased HIV infection rates in the US, these medicines are more likely to be in the hands of white gay men than men and woman of color, the group most likely to be infected by HIV. It also doesn’t help that in March of 2019 the Trump administration proposed huge cuts to Medicaid and Medicare, which provide health coverage to many poor people, and people of color. The result of which Jen Kates, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, predicts will work against the Ending the HIV Epidemic program. As she said for NBC news, “With infectious disease, pulling back resources historically has led to increase in infectious disease.” Surprise! Who would have thought that stripping health care from the most vulnerable people will result in higher infection rates? Being that more and more LGBT people are young, of color and from a lower income group, they will be most likely harmed by such cuts, resulting in less access to prevention medications. Still, by making the call to end HIV and making sure that white gay men have access to such resources while gay people of color don’t, the anti-LGBT Trump administration and the pro-LGBT Log Cabin Republicans found a converging point for their interests.

Similarly, their interests converged for the call to end the criminalization of homosexuality globally. NBC reported that a young, gay Iranian man was hung to death as a result of the country’s anti-homosexuality laws. The Trump Administration took the opportunity to claim that their random push to decriminalize homosexuality globally was because of this incident. In reality though, the Trump administration wants to end the Iran Nuclear Deal and wants other countries to join suit and to impose economic sanctions on the country. European nations have been hesitant to do so and so the administration is using human rights, in the form of a global push to decriminalize homosexuality, as a point of agreement with these countries on Iran. Thus, once again, interest convergence explains this scenario better than the Log Cabin’s claim that Trump has kept his promise to the LGBT community.

It makes little sense for the Trump administration to claim a moral superiority over countries that outright kill homosexuals when their policies are anything but friendly to LGBT folks. Research shows that when “transgender youths are allowed to use their chosen name in places such as work, school and at home, their risk of depression and suicide drops.” That is, being able to use the name that matches their gender identity literally saves their lives. Still, in November of 2018, the Trump administration pressured the international 4-H youth organization to remove a policy that asked the local programs to “treat all students consistent with their gender identity and allow them ‘equal access.’” This disparity between claiming to be for LGBT people and doing things that harm LGBT people can be concealed under the guise that Trump is fighting to protect queer lives by pushing for the decriminalization of homosexuality.

The Log Cabin Republicans interests converged with the Trump administrations once again over families. According to Robert Kabel and Jill Homan, Trump has supposedly done much to protect LGBT families. One just has to wonder though, which LGBT families are they talking about? The Muslim ban proposed by Trump tore apart families. The concentration camps that currently house immigrants are similarly harmful to families. And the Trump family separation policy that takes children from their parents at the border clear rips families apart. In case the Log Cabin Republicans forgot, many LGBT people are Muslim, Latino, and immigrants. It seems like these families were forgotten. Or, surprise! They weren’t even considered in their endorsement because they are not the sort of LGBT families Trump or the Log Cabin Republicans care about.

Using interest convergence, we can now see why the Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Trump. Even though many would see Trump’s words, policies, and actions, as harmful to LGBT people, in reality, they are particularly harmful to LGBT racial and gender minorities and not so much gay white men, whom make up the majority of the organization. In fact, it is in their shared whiteness that the Trump Administration and the Log Cabin Republicans have a joint interest. So, of course they would endorse Trump. His racist actions and policies hurt people the Log Cabin Republicans could care less about. At least, it’s not a surprise anymore.

Jesús Gregorio Smith is an assistant professor of Ethnic Studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. His research centers on the intersections of race, gender and sexuality and how they impact health.

Bridges Across Savage Inhumanities

“The camps set up for Japanese Americans, like the camps we are currently forcing asylum seekers into were awful, but they are not engines of genocide.”–Evan Gerstmann

I mourn the way some persons, in general, and some persons who are Jewish, in particular, claim ownership of words like “Concentration Camp” (as if many other peoples have not been systematically corralled and detained in unsanitary, malnourished, dehumanizing prisons/penal structures); and words like “Genocide” (as if the cruel erasure of the aborigines of Tasmania never happened; as if we merely had a nightmare about the reduction of 90% of many North American Indigenous peoples via warfare, biological warfare, policies of extermination, disease, policies of termination, etc. And these are just a few examples). Though the word “genocide” was coined in the wake of Nazi atrocities against Jews, Roma, and others, there have been many, many, more genocides (as well as many more concentration camps). Yes! The Jewish Holocaust of Nazi Germany is among the most inhumane atrocities out there, ever. But I mourn the tendency of some Jews to claim ownership of these words because doing so builds barriers instead of bridges among those who have also suffered very savage inhumanities. We need to learn the lessons of these atrocities instead of engaging in what Elizabeth Martinez has referred to as the “Oppression Olympics.”

Even the initial concentration camps of the Third Reich, as dehumanizing as they were, did not start out as death camps. Persons incarcerated could be and were killed/murdered by German officials; but the “Final Solution” came later. Scholars disagree over that actual start of the “Final Solution,” but it was with the implementation of the “Final Solution” around about 1941 that the atrocities of the Third Reich hit even more horrific heights. (See Holocaust Encyclopedia here)

We must remember that the atrocities of the Third Reich happened in stages. We have to be mindful of those stages. We must do all in our power to make sure that the detention camps at the southern border of the U.S. today do not descend into bureaucratized death camps!

There are many crimes of Western imperialism dating back to the late 1400s. If we look carefully and critically at Spain’s Encomienda system imposed upon the Indigenous Peoples in “Hispaniola” in the late 1490s and at the Praying Towns forced upon Indigenous Americans during the early Massachusetts colonies of the mid-1600s, we will probably find concentration-like camps that descended into death camps. Many millions of indigenous people died or were killed as a result of violent European invasions of the Americas.

However, of this I am sure: There were horrific concentration camps that descended into death camps before the cruelties of the Third Reich. For example, there are the horrors of the British Raj and the death camps of Lord Lytton in the mid-to-late 1800s. (see source here).

The British would go on to use concentration camps at the turn of the 20th century for the Boers and Native South Africans. Then the British seemed to say, “tag you’re it” to the Germans. In the early 1900s the Herero and Nama death camps (especially Shark Island) happened in the country today known as Namibia; the Herero and Namaqua concentration/death camps occurred 30 years before the Third Reich. These death camps were, actually, a German colonial invention. But these British and German penal structures still post-date the U.S. reservation system imposed upon Native Americans (which included concentration camps and prisoner of war camps). And although the internment camps that imprisoned Japanese Americans did not descend into death camps, they were definitely concentration camps.

In short the concentration camps of the Third Reich were extraordinarily anti-human and atrocious in their scale and impact. But so were some of the concentration camps that preceded the Third Reich.

I agree with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s application of “concentration camps” to the anti-human detention camps currently being used to imprison US immigrants and refugees, almost all people of color. And I pray and protest that the migrant concentration camps do not evolve into death camps or camps linked to the earlier genocidal practices.

Dr. Lory Janelle Dance
Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies
Associate Director of the Institute for Ethnic Studies
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Visiting Senior Researcher
Human Rights Studies Program
Lund University, Sweden