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“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
As we observe Dr. King’s day and reflect on his legacy, it can be said that although profound changes have been made to the fabric of our society, significant challenges remain. One of them is in the realm of political discourse. Last week a Latino organization released this press release:
With only weeks left until San Diego votes on a new mayor, the contest just took a racist turn — a Republican political group mailed voters a picture of Latino candidate David Alvarez that made him resemble a menacing gang member.
Cynical tactics like this have no place in electoral politics. But instead of denouncing the attack, Alvarez’s Republican opponent Kevin Faulconer laughed, flippantly dismissing it as just another political attack. But this is way worse than politics as usual. It’s dog-whistle racism — using common racial stereotypes to stir up fear of minorities without using explicitly racist terms.
By failing to denounce the racist attack, Faulconer also fails to denounce its underlying message: that no matter how educated, accomplished, or hardworking Latinos are, we will still be equated with gang members.
A political consultant mentioned in a news report on the attack mailer interprets the picture as racially related: “the images subtly but clearly insinuate a connection.” The group that sent the mailer, the Lincoln Club, explained it in this way: ”It’s an image of a politician in a suit. … The ad was mailed throughout the city because all San Diegans share a distaste for politicians beholden to government employee unions.”
PR people know well the power of image and words, and how to manipulate our stereotypes. I myself got used to the image of the tattooed, head-shaved, gang members. The Al Capone image of a mafioso had taken a secondary place in my mind. The cartel boss, a gang member, imagery is indeed depicted in the Alvarez’s picture. The Teddy Bear fiasco is our local experience of a racially motivated mindset, no matter whether the offender is connected to members of the offended race. Not all the Latinos may have been offended, but a significant segment, based on religious and social, beliefs, were. This mindset is a reflection of political values, not necessarily of race. The emergence of a new political power, which happens to be mostly Latino and non-affluent, challenging the status quo has triggered a reaction that has verged on racism.
Exclusionary, racially motivated initiatives have been mostly linked to conservatives, which alienate groups like Latinos. To avoid further alienation, as our values are also subject to generational changes which are less conservative, the GOP needs more modern and inclusive policies and messages. The postponement of the immigration reform is not helping. The well-known Latina celebrity, Maria Conchita Alonso, is having second thoughts about her endorsement of Tim Donelly for Governor. She was not aware of his stance on immigration.
Locally, anti-immigrant stances are not only expressed by conservatives but also by the liberals like Jordan Brandman, who appointed a notorious anti-immigrant to the Election Citizens Advisory Committee. Many of us will remember this when Brandman runs for re-election. We will also remember that Ms Murray likes the blog of the Teddy Bear mockery.
Another relevant challenge left from Dr King’s legacy is income inequality, which is now widely recognized. Will Disneyland finally agree to a living wage? Will this be reflected on an improvement of all the neighborhoods?
I have illustrated today’s essay with a photo of my friend, the gardener mentioned from my previous post here (“Caterpillars Crossing in a City and the Crossroads”), who presents a different picture of today’s Latinos. He is eagerly waiting to become a proud American citizen.