Racism on Display
In the old days, the bigots would cut out my column, scribble childish and offensive phrases on it, and send it back to me. Or they would send me letters that made no effort to hide their racism. "Hey Perez, You spic, look at your people; dirty, lazy, drug dealing, welfare," one of them wrote in 1997. "You people rot our system."
Although this kind of garbage was delivered to me frequently by the Postal Service, it never got published by the newspapers that ran my columns on their opinion pages. Newspapers had filters. Civil discourse was important. In the "letters to the editor" sections, anonymous diatribes were rejected and civility was required.
Many people didn't even believe that these Neanderthal bigots still existed. They thought it was just Archie Bunker in the TV comedy series "All in the Family." When I was asked to speak in public, I would read excerpts from my "fan mail," and people would be amazed at the volume of hatred and ignorance these letters displayed.
But we don't need to worry about that anymore. Nowadays racism is on display! The Internet brought it out of the closet. Even anonymous cowards are published. Some of them are famous in the world of cyberspace — even if they are cowards, known only by their screen names.
Everywhere we look on the Internet, we find articles that are followed by racist rants written by the same kind of bigots who wrote me through the mail just a few years ago. Many are much more than xenophobes. They are clearly white supremacists who claim to be only threatened by illegal immigrants but show they are threatened by the growing Latino population.
Because no one is filtering out their inflammatory diatribes, now they feel they have a license to abuse their freedom of expression. And they do it quite often!
In the old days, to illustrate the state of racism and xenophobia in America, I would quote some offensive remarks from the letters in my mailbox. But now all I have to do is refer you to the bottom of some of my recent columns to demonstrate that racism is alive and well in our country.
Every time I write about racism, the bigots step up to provide the evidence. Sometimes I feel I should thank them for making my points so clear!
It's human nature; the people who write back to news reporters and columnists usually are those who disliked what they read or heard. When they like it, they hardly ever pay you compliments. But when they dislike it, look out! They'll let you know exactly how angry they feel.
Because I often write about Latinos, immigrants and other minority Americans, the letters I get are mostly from xenophobic bigots. For every 20 bigots calling for my head — and for publications to stop running my columns — perhaps one is a "bravo" from one of the people I defend in my columns.
Sometimes it gets lonely here with my laptop.
And it's also a cultural thing. Unfortunately, Latinos, immigrants and other minorities are not prone to letter writing. Just as many fail to participate in the electoral process, they fail to respond to the media.
And when they do, though they may send complimentary notes directly to the writers, they seldom respond to the bigots on those Internet message boards where racism has become acceptable.
For example, take my columns from the past four weeks, which were on the Latino vote in the midterm elections and in which I argued that many of the newly elected Latino Republicans ran on anti-Hispanic platforms, did not win the majority of the Hispanic vote and should not be considered Latino leaders. On the Internet, the reaction to those columns was mostly venom from right-wing extremists.
For defending my people, my community and my heritage, I was accused by some of them of being a racist. Nowadays when you try to expose the racists in our society, just for bringing up the subject of racism, the bigots accuse you of being a racist. They expect the rest of us to allow them to show prejudice, discriminate, promote ignorance and hatred, antagonize people, and violate human rights, because if we call it racism, we are the ones who are "playing the race card." It's ludicrous!
Honestly, I would like nothing more than to put racism and ethnic discrimination in the history books. But as long as this kind of venom is prevalent, it cannot be swept under the rug. It needs to be brought out in the open.
Of course, most of the Latinos who sent me e-mails had a different view. In the past week, perhaps because last week's column ("Latino Leaders — Not!") struck a different nerve, I've received an unusual amount of praise from Latino readers.
You wouldn't know it from reading the xenophobic and hateful comments at the bottom of each of my recent columns on creators.com, but at least some Latinos felt my take on the recently elected Hispanic Republicans was "so true" ... was "superb" ... "needed saying" ... "hit the nail on the head."
I received several wonderful letters, three requests to reprint the column in Hispanic publications and one invitation to appear on a Los Angeles radio program.
"This is a remarkably truthful analysis of how those claiming to represent us are getting elected by non-Latino voters," wrote one Latino as he distributed the column among a network of friends. "I want to thank the author for his willingness to state what many of us feel."
I was surprised! When you write about Latinos, immigrants and other minorities, those comments are so rare — and so immensely appreciated!
But unless we learn how to combat the racism that has become prevalent and acceptable on the Internet, unless Latinos and immigrants start going into those message boards and challenging ignorance with facts, a loud minority of venom writers will overwhelm cyberspace and continue to make racism openly acceptable in our country.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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