Thursday, March 06, 2008

Fear of a Brown Planet, Part Dos

Reading my city’s homicide blog has become a guilty pleasure for me, like collecting Coach bags and surfing for Internet porn. The listings, compiled weekly from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, are classified according to race and method of murder. Occasionally, the blog provides a snapshot of the victim’s life so as not to reduce him or her to just another faceless statistic. While I sympathize with the families of the departed, I still feel like a Peeping Tom gazing into other people’s pain.

I came across an entry a few days ago that shattered the window of my cyber voyeurism: the murder of 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw. Shaw was a high school MVP who was wooed by Stanford and Rutgers mere days before his death. His story had all the elements of an urban tragedy: a promising football star shot down right before he made it out of the hood, a killing that occurred three doors from his house, a mother on her second tour of duty in Iraq returning home to bury her son. Yet, one detail of this horrific crime infuriated me more than any other: Shaw’s assailants were Hispanic.

It’s hypocritical of me to ruminate on the interracial aspect of this murder because statistics show that 90 percent of black victims are killed by fellow blacks. Would I be as angry if Shaw were a garden-variety gangbanger caught in a hail of Crips gunfire, or if he were a Latino honor student ambushed by black thugs? Sadly, I wouldn’t. Maybe I have bought into the media hype of “ethnic cleansing" in Los Angeles, from the senseless killing of 14-year-old Cheryl Green — a black eighth grader who was gunned down by Hispanic gang members as she played with her friends — to Latino gangs like Florencia 13 and the Avenues who were involved in several high-profile racially motivated homicides. When I’m driving through certain areas of L.A. lined with bodegas y laundromats, I have an illogical fear of being targeted for my skin color. Sometimes I feel like the proverbial white woman who clutches her purse as a black guy walks past her on the sidewalk.

Maybe I’m guilty of racial fealty. Maybe I privilege the preservation and superiority of my own tribe above all others, and Shaw’s death — the good black kid on the road to success — deducts points from the ethnic scoreboard. Maybe I’ve allowed myself to get caught up in a wave of anti-Hispanic hysteria, which pushes the narrative that Latinos are hostile to African-Americans, won’t vote for a black presidential candidate and are taking all the good jobs.

Whatever the case, I've allowed my emotions to get the best of me. Right after I read about the running back’s violent death, I fired off an e-mail to Antonio Villaraigosa, the Latino mayor of Los Angeles. The angry missive began by accusing him of stumping across the country for Hillary Clinton to drum up Hispanic support for her campaign while black-and-brown conflict was escalating in his own backyard, and ended with the assumption that if a rash of black-on-brown crime occurred in Los Angeles, he’d be holding bilingual press conferences weekly. The e-mail was vitriolic, racist and a bit premature. As I sheepishly noted hours after hitting the send button, Mayor Villaraigosa attended a candlelight vigil for Shaw and said his murder may be prosecuted as a hate crime.

I don’t want to become that angry black chick with fears of a brown planet. I don't want to be that dysfunctional diva who panics at the sight of every newly erected bilingual billboard, who reduces every Hispanic – regardless of country of origin – to Mexican, who contemplates calling the cops on the homeowners across the street for blasting merengue from an ancient radio on their back porch, but who tolerates the deafening bass of My Chemical Romance emanating from the apartment of the college students next door, who fears driving south of Wilshire or east of Vermont, and who allows self-imposed perimeters to not only block out “aliens,” but to fence herself in.

Even in the midst of his anguish, Jamiel Shaw Sr. didn’t view his son as the casualty of a brewing race war. "I don't see it as black and brown," he said during an interview. "I see it as a gang problem."

I could take some notes from the elder Shaw and examine my own prejudices. Instead of viewing every injustice through a brown-and-black lens, I need to determine what I can do to promote tolerance and healing.

As of this writing, the homicide blog is featuring a snapshot of Antwan Cole, a 19-year-old black male who “loved people” and “was going places.” The former football player, who had dreams of becoming a sports commentator, was shot at a bus stop after his evening shift. Instead of scanning the ten or eleven paragraphs of his memorial to see if his assailants were Spanish-speaking, I can honor Cole’s life — as well as Shaw’s — by focusing on his legacy.

To donate to the Foundation for Jamiel Shaw II, contact the USC Federal Credit Union, University Park Campus, 1025 W 34th Street, King Hall, 2nd Floor MC 2280, Los Angeles, CA 90089. Phone: (213) 821-7100 and fax: (213) 821-7151.

If you have any information regarding the murder of Jamiel A. Shaw II, please contact the Los Angeles Police Department. The toll-free number is (877) LAWFULL. A reward is being offered.


Villager said...

Excellent commentary and analysis. This is my first time visiting your blog. I enjoy the flow and hope to come back often...

peace, Villager

Anonymous said...

It is excellent. However, it doesn't negate the need for there to be open discussion of the fact that there is racism in the Hispanic community.

Last week on NPR there was a discussion on Hispanic racism as it applies to the presidential race. The two guests were Roland Roebuck, who is Afro-Latino, and Ricardo Ramirez, a Hispanic activist and academic. Roebuck, spoke passionately about the racism against Afro-Latino's in Hispanic countries. How they are oppressed, with the exception of when there are festivals and their music, and cuisine is on display for tourists. Rather than debate him Ramirez prefered to dismiss his claims and offer pie in the sky platitudes.

Afterwards, I did some researching online and learned that in Latin American countries, they revisionize history. Their textbooks do not reflect an accurate portrayal of Latin American history. There is no addressing the fact that their Spanish ancestors invented the trans-Atlantic slave trade, primarily to replace the indigenous peoples they had committed a virtual genocide against, to work the mines and fields. The Spanish crown demanded resources like gold and other valuables be strip mined to fill their pockets.

Their history books also gloss over the genocide, and quite often claim that the Spanish and the "indios" lived in peace and justice, pretending that was the situation until the "Anglos" arrived in the southwestern portion of what is now called the United States.

The truth is that the papers and journals of Spanish priests, the church, and noblemen documented what really happened.

Racism and hatred are a big part of Hispanic culture. It isn't something they pick up upon entering the US.

Hispanic leaders, and especially Hispanic elected officials are silent or only making slight mentions of the problem do so because they are a part of the problem. They wish to minimalize discussion until they can get away with it. Villairagosa will tap dance around this until he is confronted with the fact that if he wants to be mayor, he has to remember he is obligated to serve the needs of the entire population, not just Hispanics.

We know that problems like this do not get resolved until they are forced to be addressed.

Racism exists throughout the world. Refusing to challenge it when it comes up, because those acting racist hide behind the claim of "brown" skin, is allowing yourself to be intimidated. They are trying to make you feel guilty, as though your concerns are "racist". Do you notice a pattern here?

This isn't about hate, or being anti-immigrant, it is about demanding that they respect the laws and the rights and freedoms you are entitled to. Only you can give them up, and that is what you are doing when you allow them to claim those rights for themselves, while attempting to negate yours.

Jenny (I don't have a blogger account)

PrettyBlack said...

Girl I have MISSED you! I'm glad your back, I had taken you off of my blogroll because I thought you had given up on us :-) Good to have you back.

As for this story, so heartbreaking, it reminds me of a story that happened out here (sacramento) in 1990. my hubby's best friend was on his way to Washington State on a football scholarship and was gunned down in front of a night club. It was featured on America's most wanted. I just wonder when are we going to start teaching our youth the beauty of life?

That's what they need to be taught.

Moving post.