AL DEFINES HIMSELF
In the Daily Kos on 17 September 2009, Alfonso Nevarez published a diary entitled “I Am Politically Incorrect.” That diary seems to have been inspired by a claim from former President Jimmy Carter that conservative opposition to President Obama was based on racism. The Obama White House tried to deny the Carter premise, portraying it as harmful to future prospects for bipartisan cooperation. In discussing this denial by the White House, Al had some things to say which appear to define his views on the issue of race.
The author has focused on this article because of things which he personally experienced in Sterling Park in the years before Al’s arrival. Many will recall the early- to mid-years of the last decade when Sterling Park and Sugarland saw a large influx of illegal and legal immigrants of Latino origin. Whatever one’s politics may be, it cannot be denied that there followed a serious spike in overcrowded housing, crime, and zoning ordinance violations, something to which most residents were unaccustomed. There was a rapid and very visible deterioration in the overall quality of life, at least in the perceptions of long-term residents. There was also an explosion of tempers on the part of some residents, culminating in a community meeting at Park View High School which at times became a near shouting match between citizens and county elected and appointed officials. The Sheriff of this county actually had to leave the microphone under a barrage of criticism over law enforcement.
Some in these communities and elsewhere in the county cautioned not to let the anger evolve into an ethnic bias against the Latino newcomers and Latinos in general. The counterargument was that citizens were angry about crime and the diminished quality of life. This was not a bias against Latinos per se, but it ought to be recognized that certain elements within the demographic change were the root causes for the troubles. A spade was a spade, so to speak. Some called for government at all levels to do their jobs, enforce the law, and remove the illegal immigrants from our midst. Others called simply for more effective policing and for enhanced and tougher enforcement of the zoning ordinances so that the new immigrants would understand that they HAD to abide by established community standards.
I think that, in examining the self-stated views of Mr. Nevarez on race, we should do so in the context that Al is a candidate for county supervisor representing these very same communities. In the article, Al claimed to understand why the Obama White House rejected the Carter statement; and he did not blame President Obama. But he followed up with this:
“…there are few things more politically incorrect in 2009 as calling out racism, even when it is obvious…The reaction to President Carter’s interview is Exhibit A. Here we had a former President accurately identifying the motivation behind some of the most irrational displays of animosity towards a sitting President. In response, we see some self-identified liberals claim his statements are baseless, or even demand that he apologize. Are some liberals really so afraid to be labeled ‘race baiters’ or accused of using the ‘race card’ that they would demand an apology from perhaps the most courageous living President for simply giving a truthful assessment of our current predicament?”
“There are some who believed that President Obama’s election would heal our racial divides, but it feels as though these divisions are becoming deeper than they have been in my lifetime, and this denial of racially motivated hostility is putting ethnic minorities in a position of weakness…What I don’t understand, however, is why self-identified liberals would not only look away from this ugly reality, but actually deny it. This ‘post-racial’ denial, which has been going on for several years, but which is now a regular part of the discussion on race, has not only emboldened the fringe to propagate the hate, it has made it even more difficult for those of us who experience this hate to confront it, and it has even infected some of those with whom we work side by side to effect progressive change.”
Al then goes on to a very personal defining of himself based on his own ethnicity and personal experiences:
“I am a Chicano. My father was born in Durango, Mexico. He and his family came to the US when he was eight years old. My mother is half Nicaraguan and half Caucasian. My maternal grandmother, who was Caucasian, died when my mother was just 14, thus I never met her. In fact, I’ve never met a single relative who was entirely of European descent. As a result, my identity is intrinsically tied to the experience of being an American born Latino.”
“On the other hand, I look as white as Karl Rove. I have blue eyes and mostly European features. At various points in my life, I’ve been affectionately nicknamed Huero, Chele, and Mikio, all in reference to my whiteness. I have little doubt that this has benefitted me in my life. I can’t point to many specific examples, but I do know that I’ve had more success up to now developing a white collar career than most of my friends and relatives, and it’s not as though I’m more talented or educated or hard working. At some point my appearance had to make a difference. I might be more ambitious, but I feel as though the general receptiveness I get as someone who appears white has contributed to that.”
“The downside to not matching the stereotypical description of my ethnic identity is that people of other races that I interact with are sometimes more direct with their prejudice against Latinos. Some might argue that it’s advantageous to know how people really think, but it can be very stressful. If I call out a racist remark, I become ‘that guy,’ the one who’s always stirring up racial conflict. I’ve been ‘that guy’ before. It stinks. You’re subtly ostracized. Eventually, your presence is not really wanted at all.”
“I try to make it clear to those I work or socialize with, but even people who know my background will sometimes say something negative about Latinos in my presence. Perhaps they don’t perceive me as being one of ‘the other’ due to my appearance. Regardless of what it is, someone who knows me, someone with whom I must interact with on a daily basis, crossed that line yesterday.”
Al goes on to describe an incident in which a colleague made a reference to having to pull her own child out of school because, according to the colleague, the child’s math teacher spoke with such a heavy accent that communication was too difficult. Another colleague chimed in with the observation that it was getting awful because more than half the students in the school were now Hispanic. This remark greatly upset Al.
Al had a second confrontation over a similar observation in another context by this male colleague, whom Al concedes is a serious and active Democrat and “progressive” supporting and working toward the same goals as himself. This led Al to conclude that his “progressive” colleague also carried an element of “ethnocentrism” in his personal makeup. Al’s final conclusion came in two short sentences:
” My acqaintance is a bigot. He’s a real nice man.”
This Daily Kos diary appears to be one of Al’s better efforts to define himself. In Part III we will examine Al’s career progression from high school to his current position with the AFL-CIO in Washington, again largely in his own words.