I Am Not Your Spic

By: Gabriela Yareliz

I Am Not Your Negro (film) was a pretty emotional experience for me.

It was probably emotional for every person who one day woke up and realized that he or she was being treated differently than his or her white counterparts. It was also probably a provocative affair for those watching who have lived in what James Baldwin calls the idealistic, blind American dream. Watching, gave me a rush of emotion, and it reminded me of the many racist incidents I experienced as a child. It reminded me of how I felt when I realized that everyone on TV or in a magazine did not look like me, unless I was watching Univision or reading Latina magazine (which came much later, in my teenage years).

The film was a refreshing reminder of the fact that racism has inflicted real wounds and real pain, and it has shaped those of us who have been rejected. It is a refreshing acknowledgement, in a world where these ideas are often dismissed as bitter or irrationally sensitive.

I won’t go into details regarding certain memorable racist incidents that shaped my life, but I will say that all those incidents showed me that I was different and that the world saw me as such.

Fortunately for me, I had an incredible support system. I grew up in a household with a Puerto Rican flag as big as the wall, and with parents who taught me that my value was in my character and in the fact that I was a child of God.

I grew up in both north and south of the Dixie line, but racism was never absent from my life, and even still, as an adult and attorney, it is not absent. Ironically, I have experienced the most racism and seen the most segregation in northern states.

As I continue to face racism in the “now,” I’m tired of people finding excuses and justifying hate. Something that I liked about this film is that it addresses a subtle form of racism that I see every day. Racism is no longer just about someone not liking me as the person next to them, but it’s more about a person showing hostility, showing apathy and disinterest in who I am as a person, in my identity, and someone thinking of me as inferior. Someone building a wall that they do not care to look past– that is also racism.

“The question is really a kind of apathy and ignorance, which is the price we pay for segregation. That’s what segregation means. You don’t know what’s happening on the other side of the wall, because you don’t want to know.” James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro

It is time that we realize that our carefully designed ignorance and insular world leads to racism. I recently heard a tween mention that no one had been deported from the U.S. since Trump was elected president. Obviously, it was an ignorant statement. I was heartbroken by how clueless she was, and I told her that she was misinformed. Her eyes grew wide, in disbelief. But it’s the truth. We cannot stay in our insulated fantasies. This fantasy is not our real America. The truth shall set you free.

The opposite of racism is learning to love, understand and care for your neighbor. These things cannot be done from a distance.

James Baldwin continued to explain that we live in a society that excuses the white majority, and it allows them to apologize for missteps, without assigning to them the duty to grow. It allows immaturity to “remain a virtue,” while others have to bind up their own wounds.

Mr. Baldwin is shown on a television interview, saying, “You know when the Israelis pick up guns or the Poles or the Irish, or any white man in the world says, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’ the entire white world applauds. When a black man says exactly the same thing, word-for-word he is judged a criminal and treated like one.” This is still the America we live in.

It is time we realize, “History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.”

In today’s political climate, turmoil, strife and perpetuated ignorance, there are still people who refuse to look at others; they simply don’t care to. They don’t understand cultures, history and passion. They take, they appropriate, they adopt– without giving second thought or caring about the artist or person or tradition that created whatever they are snatching.

We live in a time of carefully designed ignorance. But the majority must beware, for as Mr. Baldwin said, “You gave me a terrifying advantage, you never had to look at me; I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

I’m saying this because we need to stop excusing others and even ourselves. We need to learn more about others, and learn more about ourselves. Mr. Baldwin stated that this wasn’t about numbers. We do not need numbers, he said, we need passion. But I will go one step farther– more than passion, we need genuine love.

It was Martin Luther King Jr., who said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“We are like the plants that grow without water;
Without an American passport because half of gringolandia is Mexican territory;
You have to be a son of a b****,
We plant the tree, and they eat the fruit.
We are those who crossed;
We came here to find the gold they robbed from us.
We have more tricks that secret service; we can fit our entire house in our suitcase.
With a pick, a shovel and a rake,
we will build you a castle.
What does the chorus say?
Immigrants, we get the job done.”
Residente, Calle 13

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2 thoughts on “I Am Not Your Spic

  1. Well said! As the mother of two Hispanic boys–one who looks it and one who doesn’t–I see all sorts of crazy bits in how people deal with differences. And we have a long way to go. But, with each generation I see an improvement. I am hoping a sea change with the next . . .

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