By Victor Enrique Puertas
America desperately wants to believe that issues of race are no longer relevant. For much of this country’s history, the myth of the melting pot was the purported glue that held immigrants from different origins together, working out misunderstandings and melting into this wonderful, prosperous land. This myth completely ignores that this country is equally held together by histories of rape and genocide in a literal and metaphorical way.
This myth held sway because this ugly history has been virtually erased from public memory. For example, the horrific effects of the slave trade are not taught in detail, but glossed over. There is little mention of the colonization of Africa by imperialist powers, the extermination of entire villages and nations, and the atrocities of the middle passage. Moreover, the acts of resistance against these cruelties are also rarely mentioned. In addition, we barely hear about Manifest Destiny and what it has meant for Native American nations who still struggle with issues of poverty, health and generational trauma because of this policy. We also don’t hear about other dark moments of America’s history—the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment camps, the Bracero program, the Mexican Repatriation Act, in which as many as 500,000 Mexican citizens, and American citizens of Mexican origin were forcibly deported to Mexico.
Now, the new rhetoric is that we are a post-racial, colorblind America, where people don’t see color and everyone has the same opportunity. In this narrative, people deny the fact that for people of color, indigenous people, black people etc., ethnicity or race are defining aspects of their identity or lived experience.
It is hard to embrace this storyline when we note how many people of color have been struck down because of their racial or ethnic identity. Both Oscar Grant, an African-American in Oakland California, killed by the police in 2010 and Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager murdered by a neighborhood watchman in 2012, were suspect because of their blackness. Muslim Shaima Alawadi, who was killed in her own house next to the words “Go back to your country, you terrorist.”
Lastly, there is the case of Anastasio Hernández Rojas, an undocumented immigrant who was caught crossing the border in June 2010 and was beaten to death by border patrol agents. Leaked cell phone video is the only reason we know about this brutal killing. Even more resounding are the countless immigrants that at this very minute are being detained, separated from families, putting citizen children in foster care who do not make the headlines. All of these examples reveal the true face of race relations in our country; they show us that colorblindness, or post-racial America is not only a myth, it is a lie. We delude ourselves into thinking we are colorblind.
This discourse is especially damaging because it attempts to instill the idea in people
of color that we shouldn’t care about race, color or ethnicity, that we should just assimilate or disregard these identities, cultures, or traditions.
As a Latino and indigenous person, I find this repugnant. My racialized body is the repository of 500 years of transnational conflict, cultural deaths and births of my family dreams, breakthrough achievements and struggle. My skin color is proof that we’ve survived, and we’re going to keep on surviving. Why would I want to erase that to make some uneasy white people happy?
Pretending one’s identity is divorced of their race, cultures, or ethnicity is not equality: it is the fabrication that racial struggles and oppression no longer exist created to benefit the dominant groups in society. If our community believes this, we can no longer acknowledge let alone fight oppression, allowing it to continue unchecked.
Given both the historical and contemporary examples of continued subjugation and murder of our peoples, we have every reason to disavow colorblindness, resist the narrative of post-raciality, and continue the struggle.