Although East Side Eddie Report.com is a weekly blog, every once in a while I feel compelled to post more than once a week. This is one of those times.
redskin – n. Offensive Slang. Used as a disparaging term for a Native American (American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd edition)
cholo – n. East Side Slang. A Mexican or Mexican American gang member; someone who dresses in the style of a gang member (East Side Dictionary)
George Zimmerman – n. A racist who got away with murder (Common Knowledge Dictionary)
Last week, I was watching the Martin Bashir show on MSNBC and the host was talking about how Texas Senator Ted Cruz is a thug who held Congress hostage for 16 days over a futile crusade to rid the country of Obamacare. I love watching Bashir because he’s a brash critic of the conservative cause. As I was relishing in his tirade against Cruz, a graphic on the lower left of the screen suddenly caught my attention. It was a photo of Cruz in dark sunglasses next to a drawing of two clenched fists with the words “Cruz Life” tattooed in Old English font on the fingers.
A tattoo with an Old English font is the stamp of primarily Mexican and Mexican American cholos and “Cruz Life” is clearly a reference to the “thug life” gang culture coined by the late rapper Tupac Shakur. Bashir obviously meant to portray Cruz as a Latino gangster bullying the United States Congress. Of course I agree that the senator is a bully, but my first reaction to the interplay between Bashir’s commentary and his drawing was, “here we go again.” It never fails that non-Latino America, even bleeding heart liberals like Bashir, use negative images to make a point about Latinos.
The old Chicano Studies student in me wanted to complain to MSNBC, call Bashir a racist, and start a protest. Fortunately, I caught my breath, came to my senses, and gave this issue thoughtful reflection. Why did Bashir use those tattooed fists? Why was I disappointed in MSNBC, the bastion of liberal journalism? Why didn’t America find it offensive? I explored a variety of answers, and kept coming back to the notion that Bashir’s actions were another manifestation of “inherent bias,” a term I’ve used in other blog posts.
Technically, “inherent bias” is used by statisticians to measure something or other that is way beyond my intellectual abilities to comprehend. The first time I saw the phrase in a sociological context was in a newspaper article about Santa Clara University students dressed as janitors, maids, and pregnant teens at a Mexican theme party. Rather than racism, the university president believed the students’ actions were the result of an “inherent bias of Mexicans” due to negative stereotypes in the media. He concluded that the whole affair was a “teachable moment.”
This brings us to redskins, George Zimmerman, and a teachable moment for Martin Bashir.
There’s a debate brewing about the Washington Redskins NFL team’s mascot. The word “redskin,” like the “N word,” was used to oppress and humiliate; so Native American groups are calling on the team’s owner to change the name. Outside of the Native American community, the liberal media has been the biggest advocate for the repeal of the Redskins’ nickname. Martin Bashir is one of the loudest voices on this issue. He understands the evil history and devastating effect the word has wrought on Native people. Like Bashir, I would like to see the word “redskin” buried in the same cemetery as the “N word.”
Bashir was also at the forefront of exposing George Zimmerman for what he really is: a racist who used a badly conceived Florida law to murder Trayvon Martin for being a young black man wearing a hoodie in the wrong neighborhood. While the right-wing and mainstream media camouflaged the race issues by focusing on the Florida law and who started the fight, Bashir and his liberal cohorts kept the spotlight on the racial biases that led to the “stand your ground” laws and their murderous by-products. As with the Redskins debate; Bashir recognizes the wickedness of racism against Black Americans.
How could a progressive champion of people of color make such a faux pas with the tattooed “Cruz Life” fists? If the president of Santa Clara University is correct, Martin Bashir’s experience with Latinos is limited to media portrayals. Images of tattooed Mexican American gangsters creating mayhem are regular features on cable TV real crime story shows. So when Bashir wants to make the point that Cruz is a bully, he caricatures the conservative southern senator born to a Cuban father and Irish American mother as a Mexican American gangbanger in dark sunglasses with tattooed fingers.
This is problematic on many levels as it perpetuates the stereotype that Latinos are dangerous Mexican American gang members. Combined with the conservative obsession to block immigration reform, Latinos are either cholos or “illegals” in the American consciousness. I’m absolutely sure that this wasn’t Bashir’s intent with the graphic, but it surely was the result. The only way to overcome these negative images is for leaders in the Latino community to use their influence to educate mainstream America on the dangers of unintentional actions due to inherent bias.
I don’t advocate protesting or publicly flogging Bashir or other progressives who fall into the same trap. He’s one of the good guys. Rather, affluent Latinos should invest in more projects like “Latinos in America,” the brilliant three-part documentary aired on PBS, so Americans can learn about the Latino experience as we have come to understand the Native American and Black experience. Influential Latinos in the media and Latino political leaders should take Bashir aside on the cocktail circuit and let him know why using the “Cruz Life” image wasn’t accurate or appropriate.
As a nation, it’s doubtful that we’ll ever be rid of the scourge of individual racism, but I believe that having honest and courageous conversations about race will minimize the negative effects of inherent bias. This would be a giant step toward erasing negative and demeaning images of people of color.