Wednesday, like most of America, I was glued to the television, watching as whiteness wielded its power and stormed the U.S. capitol. Countless images of white supremacists turned domestic terrorists flooded CNN as I watched them spend their privilege dancing and running, emboldened and entitled by their Commander and Chief. Then as I was watching, one segment from the BBC stuck out to me.
It started like any other typical interview with extreme racists would, with two white men dressed as if for combat with a sign “Beijing Biden is CCP Loyalist” looming in the background. “We’re here to support you know… if violence happens like… it happens but we’re not going to start it we’re just here to defend ourselves.” Then from left, there’s a faint but strong interjection: “…pay with blood.”
The cameraman pans left to reveal a man in a bright orange hoodie, a Trump 2020 camo baseball cap, wearing large sunglasses that look like they might be better suited to Kylie Jenner. He speaks to the camera, “I’m a Mexican immigrant. I support Trump. Freedom is paid for with blood… and tyranny always masquerades itself as safety and security and that’s what we’re fighting against right now.”
This was not the first time I had been faced with a racist extremist that also proudly identified as Mexican. This was not the first time I’ve thought about the hundreds of thousands of Latinx folks who voted for Trump. However, as I scrolled through my feed watching this group of radicalized domestic terrorists breaking and rummaging through our capitol, I did notice the reaction many progressive white Latinxs took, which was to ignore our role, the role of Latinx folks in the conservative movement.
It’s always been easier to look at the problems of others instead of ourselves and our communities. The truth is racism is deeply ingrained in Latinx culture. Whether it’s the way our media consistently picks the whitest actors for our telenovelas or the erasure of the AfroLatinx and Indigenous communities. While many Latinxs condemned the actions of these vigilantes and the President, it’s time for white Latinx folks to take more responsibility.
Whiteness is a tool that Latinx folks are far too familiar with. From colonization to today, proximity to whiteness continues to play a role in how easy success can be had. Many Latinx people have deluded themselves into thinking and projecting that they are as white as everyone else. This attitude may afford them temporary protection and success, by appealing to white power structures and adopting anti-Blackness in their cultural and political beliefs. However, it only goes so far – even Latinx Trumpers can be turned on, ostracized, and oppressed.
When that man said “I’m a Mexican immigrant and I support Trump” he was showing off the power of his learned whiteness, available to him thanks to the tone of his skin, showing off the privilege he is to be able to use in an attempted coup of the capitol.
This is the same privilege that was untenable for the hundreds of thousands of Black Americans. They protested in the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the years of police violence taking innocent Brown and Black lives, not the conspiracy theory of election fraud. This contrast clearly shows not just who is allowed to protest and for what. Black Americans have been and continue to be at the mercy of a system that never worked for them and continues to berate them.
Instead of recognizing this dichotomy and outing the injustice behind it, some Latinx folks have decided to work for the system of white supremacy. “I’m pretty brown, I’m Cuban. There’s nothing white supremacist about me.” These are the words of the far-right, neo-fascist and male-only political organization Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio. He is first-generation, “identifies as Afro-Cuban any chance he gets,” and is the head of one of the most racist, sexist, and homophobic organizations in this country. These facts can all be true at once.
Tarrio is living proof of the ability to leverage and learn whiteness in order to get into places and positions of power. He wields his masculinity and his Latinidad as both a shield and sword to propagate the Proud Boys’ bigoted agenda. A group that now is part of perpetrating one of the most egregious acts of domestic terror, all in the name of whiteness, protection, and fear.
We cannot continue to hide and ignore the racism that exists in our communities, especially when we look towards the future. When they first immigrated to the U.S., Irish, Italian, and Jewish people were ostracized and labeled as something other than white. But with time they learned how the system of oppression worked in America – they learned to adapt and wear whiteness.
The white Latinx community should not commit to reaching a similar fate. Instead, we must out racism and stand against oppression. It’s imperative white Latinx folks not only reject the systems of white supremacy but join and stand actively against anti-Blackness both within and outside our communities. As Jasmine Haywood, an Afro-Latinx researcher on anti-Black racism said, “Unless White-presenting Latinos join in solidarity with Afro-descendant Latinos and Black folks, no one is going to win and no one is going to experience liberation. All the struggles they both experience are intertwined and intermingled, the common denominator is racism and white supremacy.” We must work against white supremacy as if our fate depends on it. Because it does.