August 31 , 2007

Racial slurs are increasing

Guillermo I. Martinez | Columnist. South Florida Sun-Sentinel, August 30, 2007.

The summer of 2007 has become open season on ethnic slurs and all types of verbal and written aggressions against Hispanics. It began as a political issue derived from heated arguments between advocates pro and against immigration reform.

Now it comes from all types of communicators. Some are the usual suspects. But some are a real surprise.

Take what Andy Rooney, the man with the crazy eyebrows and the dry wit of 60 Minutes, the most famous of all political newsmagazines, said.

In a syndicated column that ran in The Stamford (Conn.) Times, Rooney said: "(T)oday's baseball stars are all guys names Rodriguez to me. They're apparently very good, but they haven't caught my interest." Granted, his was not the clearest, meanest or worst case of blatant ethnic insults in the media. Still, pause and think, would a similar comment about the NBA losing interest because of it is predominantly a sport dominated by African-Americans be acceptable?

I think not. Rooney apologized.

A short aside to the readers: Please note that I am not using the word racist in describing the attacks on Hispanics. We come in all shapes, sizes and hues. What makes us different is our ethnic background, or the fact that we come from Spanish-speaking countries.

Of course there is little to say about Colorado's Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who uses any crime committed by an illegal alien to rant and rave against immigration reform. No argument from me. If a man illegally in this country rapes a woman or commits any felonious act, he should be deported; period.

But, as journalists many years ago we learned to only use the nationality, the ethnic origin, the religion, or the race of a person in a story when it is pertinent to the content of our report. Thus we should never say that a 17 year old African-American was killed in a traffic accident, but we would highlight that police were looking for a "young Hispanic" who was driving the vehicle. In the first case, it is horrible if any young man, regardless of race, dies in a traffic accident. The racial adjective adds nothing to the story. Saying police were looking for a young Hispanic male, on the other hand is important because it describes a wanted person.

In the summer of 2007, however, we are using ethnic insults in all forms and shapes. It hurts when it comes from people or institutions that should know better. The pain is even greater when nobody raises a voice to object to the insults.

Take the cartoon published by Pat Oliphant in The Washington Post on Aug. 22. I would have thought that The Washington Post, published in a city that is predominantly African-American, would be more sensitive against ethnic slurs. I was wrong. Apparently they are only sensitive when the insults are about blacks, not Hispanics.

The cartoon in question is Oliphant's take on Barack Obama's comments on the need to change U.S. policy limiting the amount of money Cuban-Americans can send their relatives on the island and how frequently they may travel to Cuba.

In the cartoon, Oliphant has Uncle Sam pushing out of the United States a raft full of babbling old men and saying: "Mr. Obama has made the excellent suggestion that you nuisances be allowed to freely visit Cuba " and then adds: "which I think is a dam' fine idea. Bon voyage!"

The old Cuban-American men in the small boat reply: "Outrageous! We demand a chance to interfere with the '08 election."

Cartoonists often say some horrible truths hidden in their humor. I fail to see the humor of Oliphant's cartoon.

First, he is making fun of a bunch of old Cuban-American men and calls them nuisances. To that he adds that the Cuban-Americans demand the right to "interfere" in the 2008 presidential elections.

Unfortunately what Oliphant is saying is what many people are thinking. They find it outrageous that a small group of immigrants who have worked hard - some for close to half a century in this country - vote in greater numbers than other groups and thus have more political clout.

Mind you, those of Cuban origin who vote in U.S. elections are American citizens and have the same right to vote as anyone else in this country; and to do so for whomever we choose.

I wonder when other racial or ethnic groups are going to stand up and offer Hispanics the same courtesies extended to African-American, women, or gays.

Guillermo I. Martínez is a journalist living in South Florida. He may be reached at [email protected]

Copyright © 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel


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