Wednesday November 8, 2006

On the difference between the immigrant experience and the African-American experience

[I was just reading this post and comments at 26th Parallell. I tried to leave a comment, but Robert’s system doesn’t let me link my name back here. So here’s my comment:]

When I was voting yesterday, there was a black guy hanging out and talking with the poll workers for a long time while his eligibility was being figured out (he’d been out of the country or something). When he finally left, I heard several of the poll workers remark, loudly and conspicuously, what a nice young man he was (he was 27; I’d overheard his birthdate as he was giving it to them), and how rare that was these days. Would they have remarked the same way about me? Of course not — it would have been absurd and weird. It’s not-so-subtle shit like this that I notice from time to time that makes me realize that subtle signs of racism are very prevalent in the US to this day.

On top of that, the legacy of Jim-Crow laws (which are not very far in the past) and slavery are very difficult to shake off for reasons that are no less real for being complicated.

The experience of immigrants is, indeed, very very difficult. It’s probably an oversimplification, but I’ll offer this: some people are just more motivated then others to get up and DO stuff. This is genetic. 100% of immigrants, almost by definition, fall into that category, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to find them succeeding at high rates. This group is roughly comparable to the many successful African Americans.

Statements like “those people should stop complaining and do something about their situation” are roughly equivalent to “I refuse to look into this situation and try to figure out what might be going on.”

Statements like “anyone from South Africa whose white can call themselves an African-American too,” while logically accurate, miss many important cultural truths. The fact is that white South Africans have a lot to answer for. If I was them I wouldn’t be arguing labels with a group of people who have a lot of persecution in their past, and who in my opinion have earned the right to call themselves what they like.

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  1. J-J    Wed Nov 8, 08:30 AM #  

    How about the Latino Experience outside of the Dade County bubble?

    When my best friend, who was born and raised in Miami, left to live in NYC, I told her that she was going to experience a different kind environment where people would see her a Latino woman/ non-white. She didn’t believe me…

    Well, she’s been living in NYC for two years and she’s being confronted by her new reality…all her friends are deeply involved with pro-Latino/black issues. But since she grew up in Miami she ‘s having to learn how to live her life as a Latino woman…that, or being labeled an oreo (black on the outside/white on the inside) by her peer group. Since she has strong Latino features she can not pass as white like some people that I know that have moved up north. And now she has to deal with her new reality which I think its a good thing, most Latinos in Miami should spend sometime living in another city and learn how most of the nation views us. That way ,maybe, people in Miami wouldn’t be so apathetic about ethnic relations

    So there you go, a real life case scenario and prove that when Latinos leave Miami they have to deal wit ha new reality.

    They are no longer “tanned” or “olive skinned” no sir you are BROWN

  2. Racist Cubans    Wed Nov 8, 10:36 AM #  

    Hi. I was wondering if you’d be posting this if the poll workers were Cuban.

    (I’m assuming they were white, as you sound almost personally disgusted by their remarks, as if they were the same color as you.)

    Since I’ve been living in Miami, I have heard more racist remarks at the most inappropriate places (out to lunch with my Cuban co-workers), in the work-place (at three different office jobs), at clubs, etcetera about blacks (and Mexicans) by Cubans (who seem to consider themselves the New Whites).

    Is it just me? Hardly. Is this a Cuban stereotype upon itself? Only if the same can be said about racist whites (who you take to represent the sad fact that “racism still exists in this country”).

    Am I racist? No, and moreover I don’t bring it up in public conversation or at work because it’s a hot button issue.

    Do Cubans get the pass on this shit because they are in this nation’s circle of immigrants and “work hard” and subscribe wholeheartedly to capitalism? Definitely.

    In my estimation since moving here, Cubans have outdone whites locally in their racist projections onto black people. I don’t hear white people declaring themselves “white” 1/100 as often as Cubans do and when they do, it’s not with this trophy-esque boasting. Most white people discuss their whiteness with insecurity because we are constantly blasted for our race. It’s a hot button issue, but since this is Miami maybe someone saying “he’s a nice young man” can be overlooked.

    Also, is it just me or is the phrase “he’s a nice young man, there aren’t many like him these days” more of a geriatric reaction that I’ve seen in like fourty thousand fuckign bad movies, usually as an old lady is buying lettace or something.

  3. J-J    Wed Nov 8, 11:34 AM #  

    Yeah, my friend was one of those Miami based Cubans that thought she was white, all that changed when she left Miami and found out, to her bewilderment, that she was in fact, brown.

    And RC does have a valid point, there’s a culture of intolerance, not in multicultural Miami Beach, but on the mainland. Case and point, look at commissioner Arza’s racist remarks and his unwillingness to accept any responsibility for his despicable actions…I love Miami, but this city/us has/have to work really hard on our infra-ethnic issues.

  4. Re: RCs    Wed Nov 8, 11:42 AM #  

    wow. that was well said RC. i have been thinking that for sometime. it’s a bit out of hand from what i’ve experienced. lots of hate and inferiority complexes from the cuban community in miami, that’s no misperception on your part.

  5. Think    Wed Nov 8, 12:58 PM #  

    A little easy people. Your in danger of being seen as really insensitive to Cuban Miamians.

  6. Me    Wed Nov 8, 01:13 PM #  

    Whoever the hell posted this probably cried when “Crash” won Best Picture.There is nothing racist about the remark that led to this pointless post. Liberal bitchiness. Miami is the one of the rudest cities you’ll ever go to, it has zip to do with race. see that car being blocked in. people here don’t give a shit about anybody or anything except money and blowjobs and their cellphone conversations.

  7. Robert    Wed Nov 8, 02:35 PM #  

    I left an earlier comment but I guess it didn’t publish.

    Here’s the condensed version: I obviously wasn’t there, but I can’t fathom how someone complimenting another person’s behavior can be seen as a subtle form of racism. Perhaps I’m not understanding your point, Alesh. Or perhaps it’s the positive, non-cynical side of me.

    As far as the other comments from people such as “racist cubans” (Okayyyyyy), I’m not going to try to convince you that racism doesn’t exist. Of course it does. Does it mean that this is a Cuban trait? Only someone with a predisposition against Cubans would think that.

    J-J, you use Arza as an example of typical “mainland” intolerance. Please explain how this phenomenon came to be, because after living in the mainland for over 30 years, I don’t understand what you’re saying one bit.

  8. Manola Blablablanik    Wed Nov 8, 03:01 PM #  

    Robert, it also seems to me that all Spanish-speaking people from Hispanic countries are being lumped together as Cubans. Call me crazy, but is this some Einstein epiphany? OF COURSE you are going to stand out when you go to a place where your people are not the majority. Duh.

    I really like Robert’s positive point of view. Miami has its fair share of problems, to be sure, but how you see the world is partly a reflection of yourself. If you project negativity then guess what? (I’m not saying this about Alesh, by the way.) What I am referring to is that I find a lot of criticism about Miami in the blogosphere, and no doubt that much of it is legitimate, but I have to wonder, people with a more positive outlook and approach to life are better able to deal with and fend off negativity. Develop a thick skin and don’t let someone else’s bullshit ruin your day. Try laughing it all off — it’ll change your perspective. I don’t care how bad Miami is, I’m not about to believe that there’s anyone place in the world that is perfectly paradise. It’s so easy to point the finger at something, without looking within to see other reasons for being chronically dissatisfied. And dat’s all I have to say ‘bout dat!

  9. alesh    Wed Nov 8, 03:06 PM #  

    Yes, I think it’s one of those cases of everyone being a little right. Personally, I know a number of Cubans, and they’re most certainly not racist. Obviously, some others are. So it goes. (And by the way, certain generalized statements about Cubans being racist come dangerously close to racism themselves.) The point isn’t that every member of ANY group is racist; the point is that racism exists, and needs to be acknowledged, not trivialized.

    As far as the comments at the poll. First of all, I have no idea where the people making them were from. My best recollection is that at least one of them looked like she was from South America, but of course I have no way of knowing. I don’t think I even saw the other person; my face was in the voting machine. They may have been white, Cuban, or something else, I have no idea.

    I take the comment as a sign of racism because of how completely absurd it was. Here was a guy having a completely normal conversation with them, and when he left they were commenting with shock and exaggerated positivity that he was polite. It was completely ridiculous. I guess it’s reading between the lines a little bit, but I’m positive that those women would not have been surprised to have had the same conversation with a white guy.

  10. Me    Wed Nov 8, 03:26 PM #  

    Next up on Reading Rainbow…

    why saying “he’s a nice young man” now means you’re better than that person and so is your race.


  11. Afrobella    Wed Nov 8, 03:28 PM #  

    Alesh, thanks for bringing this up. I’m from Trinidad, and I am black. I never really experienced racism – however subtle – until I came to Miami. In the Caribbean, prejudice tends to be based on the shade of your skin and the neighborhood you’re from.

    Robert, let me explain. I read your comment: “I can’t fathom how someone complimenting another person’s behavior can be seen as a subtle form of racism”, and I can see where you might not understand where the racist attitude comes in. Chris Rock addressed this in an insightful joke about Colin Powell, where white people kept “complimenting” him by saying “he speaks so well!” That’s a backhanded compliment if ever I heard one, and I never thought that kind of comment would ever come my way. Until an older Caucasian lady sat next to me at Shorty’s BBQ on US 1 and told me the same thing, looked me dead in the eye and said “You speak english so well!” While I was sitting with my white husband. He was appalled to say the least. I could have been rude and said “no shit, grandma,” but I simply responded by saying “thank you, it’s the only language I know.” She gave me a curious look, but didn’t respond.

    I have also been in the presence of older Cuban ladies while they were saying horrible, derogatory things about African Americans. When I spoke up and indicated that hey – obviously I’m black too, what the hell are you saying – their response was “You’re one of us, not one of them. You’re from the Caribbean.” That was pretty much my only experience with racism from Cubans.

    Miami likes to think of itself as a melting pot, but not all of the flavors are mixed in completely. Many immigrant groups tend to stick to themselves, and I notice a real schism with the African-American community as a whole. I also agree that people in this city are horribly rude and inconsiderate in general. I see evidence of that every day in my commute from downtown to Kendall.

    I don’t know what the solutions are, but Manola’s advice has worked for me. “Develop a thick skin and don’t let someone else’s bullshit ruin your day. Try laughing it all off — it’ll change your perspective.” Miami isn’t perfectly paradise, and neither is my homeland. But somewhere in between, it is possible to peacefully and happily co-exist.

  12. nonee moose    Wed Nov 8, 05:02 PM #  

    That Alesh, what a polite young man, and so well spoken, too…

    Sometimes a compliment is just that. But this is Miami, so there’s GOT to be subtext, right?

    J-J: now that you’ve properly classified everyone, push the hornrims back onto the bridge of your nose. There are places in this world where you would be “pink”. But not on the big bad Mainland. Here, you would just be bait. BTW, Arza skipped the commissioner grade altogether… went from community council straight to the legislature. He was very smart and articulate. For a brown.

    Me- So, I guess a cellphone is out of the question?

    RC- NOBODY gets a pass on being racist, moreover openly so. It’s just that karma takes time, y’know?

    And I think several posters have mistaken “Hispanic” (of any strain) for a race. It is not. You can look it up. So, if we’re going to pontificate on racism, let’s be precise about the players. I looked in my Crayola box. No Hispanic.

  13. Steve    Wed Nov 8, 06:59 PM #  

    Here’s a generalization. Every time a sentence begins with “They” or “We” referring to an entire ethnicity or race, the speaker starts down a wrong path that leads to at best bullshit, and at worst ignorant bias.

    It’s the wrong way to regard human beings, and people, often with the best of intentions (and most definitely often not!) do it all the time.

    The exact same sentence (“He speaks so well”) can be used to compliment as well as to insult. Ever hear, “Black people make the best athletes”? I’ve heard that often, not complimentary.

    How about “Italians make the best lovers.” Well, oh hi, Guido! Umm, that’s true.

  14. Robert    Wed Nov 8, 08:38 PM #  

    Thanks for the props Manola…and I can understand how in certain obvious situation, a compliment can be perceived as a put down. Still, I think we need to be very careful at how we arrive at those judgements, unless we want to fall into those same traps we try so hard to avoid.

    Finally, Steve hit it right on the nose. If someone comes out pointing fingers at everyone, the only person that appears racist is the finger-pointer. You want respect? You want to be listened to? Show some respect yourself.

  15. harumi    Wed Nov 8, 08:58 PM #  

    I think racism comes from ignorance. We just have no idea living in other skin.
    I think People in general like to stick with similar back ground people because it’s comfortable and easier to relate.
    But What I like about America is being able to learn and actually meet other culture and race people. It doen’t happen in Japan as much.

    I haven’t experience much racism here. (maybe I just don’t notice much) But lots of young children often stare me like they have never seen any Asian person except on TV.
    It’s cute, but feel wired sometimes.

  16. circuitmouse    Wed Nov 8, 09:19 PM #  

    Let’s ask the Tequestas to weigh in about this…. oh, that’s right. They’re all dead. Gee… I wonder how that happened…

  17. yeah, wtf?    Wed Nov 8, 11:20 PM #  

    In response to RCs comment – As someone who grew up in a predominantly white town, I was shocked when I went to work in my Miami office, at some of the openly racist statements I heard about black people, from my Cuban coworkers. I mean, jesus… I had never heard anyone be so openly discriminatory. Seriously, this shit ran the gamut of offensive, far past any stereotypes… from liberal use of the n-word, to completely vile jokes, to basic celebration that we’d “lost a few” in response to a shooting in Liberty City.

    Just don’t understand it, and don’t know how far-reaching it is… I can only hope it doesn’t represent a majority opinion.

  18. alesh    Thu Nov 9, 06:33 AM #  


    I don’t find much criticism of Miami in the Blogosphere (maybe you’re reading blogs you should be staying away from!), but I’m sure it’s out there.


    (I lost a comment yesterday, too! Are you by any chance using the Firefox 2? My problem might have been something weird I did with commenting on more then one post at a time, but I’m not sure.)


    You’re exactly right, and thank you for sharing. I don’t know what the solution is, but living growing up in a big city with lots of different people seems to make a big difference. To the extent that homogeneous groups exist, the “we’re better” attitude has the chance to survive.

    What’s the best pragmatic way for an individual to deal with everyday instances of racism directed at them? I don’t know.

    Me / nonee moose~

    They said it like you’d say it to a 10 year old kid. Trust me, I know what I heard.

    (Point well taken about ‘Hispanic’ not being a race. You get weird quasi-meaningless constructions like this when you really start talking about “the races,” a concept which has little to no biological basis.)


    Exactly right. Maybe Americans aren’t racist towards Japanese/Chinese/Korean-looking people is because they believe those people are actually superior to them. Plus there is a pretty prevalent fascination with Asia, and Japan in particular.

  19. Robert    Thu Nov 9, 10:14 AM #  


    I am using Firefox 2.0 – perhaps that’s the problem as you mentioned.

  20. Me    Thu Nov 9, 12:45 PM #  

    Re: Robert

    Firefox 2.0? Lemme guess, you are white!

    Oh sorry, is that racist?

    Yesterday, I was really offended. This dishevled hispanic guy came up to me randomly on the street and asked if I spoke Spanish. I said I didn’t and he said “I didn’t think so.” God, what a fucking racist.

  21. Politically Correctest    Fri Nov 10, 01:45 PM #  

    I needed $100 from the ATM so I pounch in my code and up on the screen comes the message “Welcome!” Can you believe that language? Racist bigot.

  22. Biscayne Bystander    Wed Nov 15, 12:20 AM #  

    Alesh, I really have to commend you on leading the discussion regarding race relations here in Miami.

    As tempting as my scathing remark might be, it would be moot to respond to ME & PC. Racism is usually trivialized by those fortunate enough not to be subjected to it and the dumbasses who don’t know any better.

    If you want to see racism in action, stop by the Pawn Shop & bring a friend with an African American phenotype AND Cornrows. According to their door staff on Thursdays, you are not welcome – ever. If said friend opts to come back with a fade, expect to be hasseled at the bar.

    If you are ever in the Design District and in the mood for French a la rude, stop by Le Charcuterie off NE 2nd Ave & 36 St. I’ve had my order (Bacon Cheeseburger) buried in the kitchen longer than it takes them to seat & serve Talapia entrees to three tables of four. The apologetic owner manages to always profess that it will never happen again, if I ever choose to return.

    Setting the record straight:
    Cubans in Miami think they are white. Latins in general think white is better than black. While Cubans in Cuba are mostly black. And Black Americans have little in common with Black Caribbeans.

  23. j-j    Wed Nov 15, 08:27 AM #  

    BB, Well said BB. I have seen similar acts at the Pawn Shop and at restaurants around town…