PEREZ: Prejudice Promoted by Media
Published: Monday, February 4, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 23:02
On Nov. 6, Puerto Ricans at home went to the polls to vote in the general election as well as a local plebiscite regarding their territorial status. The outcome, albeit fuzzy, was the first time Puerto Ricans seemed to show support for entering the union as the 51st state. Although no political change will likely arise from this result, these reactions highlighted America’s past and the way we treat Latinos here and abroad.
Negative stereotypes of Latinos and Latinas in the media have always been present. After the results of the plebiscite, politicians and the media wondered about the possibility of a state that looked differently from the rest. Questions about the language, poverty and crime on the island dominated the discourse, and one media outlet even compared the sexuality of Puerto Rican women to normal — meaning white — women.
Some commentators regarded this as a ploy by President Obama to get more Latino voters to increase the democratic majority. These types of responses only add to the level of mistrust currently facing Latinos in the United States. Commentators have tried to dismiss the possibility of Puerto Rican statehood by criticizing the island’s exotic culture, completely ignoring the fact that there are now more people of Puerto Rican descent in the United States than on the island itself.
But the main issue implicit in this debate is, of course, immigration. A poll released by the National Hispanic Media Coalition and Latino Decisions four months ago revealed that 30 percent of non-Hispanics participating in the survey believed that a majority of Latinos in the United States are undocumented. And questions about immigration almost always collapse to invalid concerns about the level of poverty, amount of welfare and number of children immigrants have. These same questions are now being raised about Puerto Rico.
These concerns reveal, of course, the true fear: a takeover. Over the past couple of years, anti-immigrant groups have pushed for racist laws all over the country to preserve a social order where Latinos will remain a minority. Arizona’s SB 1070, English-only laws and efforts to eliminate “anchor babies” now preoccupy the minds of many of our legislators that use immigration and Puerto Rico as an excuse to fulfill their own racial biases and hatred.
Politicians and the media have always used “takeover” language when discussing people of color in the United States. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act passed in response to fears of a “yellow takeover.” But today, the fear of a takeover by Latinos guided most of our discourse — except the way we talk about our fear of takeovers has shifted. Outright racist violence and exclusion has gone out of style, so people have gotten more creative. Just ask Arizona’s Maricopa County, where Spanish-speaking voters received incorrect information about their polling dates multiple times, or even the voter ID Laws that disproportionately affect Latino voters.
We can expect more of these laws as people encounter more signals of a plural racial society in the United States. The Puerto Rican plebiscite, immigration and outright demographic changes will continue to reveal the racial biases and stereotypes that our political and media leaders have. These types of political changes reveal that fears of takeovers are still very much present in the American psyche.
Our efforts now must focus on calling out this negative discourse that leads to laws that try to exclude racial minorities from engaging in civic life.
Zenen Jaimes Pérez is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. IDENTITY POLITICS appears every other Tuesday.