A Boston Globe opinion article discussing the relationship between Latino identity and anti-Blackness quotes Professor Tanya K. Hernández, whose work in understanding racism in the Latino community helps explain the origins of Proud Boys’ leader Enrique Tarrio.
The notion that people of color can’t possibly belong to white nationalist hate groups has been exposed as a plain fallacy. Black and brown members of such groups often play the role of “useful idiots,” as others have put it, because they offer the perfect cover to mask these extremist organizations’ latent racism.
Case in point: The leader of the Proud Boys — the far-right, neofascist group at the center of the Jan. 6 committee hearings for its prominent role in the US Capitol insurrection — is Enrique Tarrio, a dark-skinned Cuban American. Tarrio, who faces several federal charges in connection with the Capitol attack, including a rare charge of seditious conspiracy, has repeatedly downplayed the group’s white nationalism and notoriously told an Insider reporter that he denounces white supremacy, fascism, and communism. “I’m pretty brown, I’m Cuban,” Tarrio said. “There’s nothing white supremacist about me.”
Tanya Katerí Hernández, a professor of law at Fordham University School of Law, is the author of the upcoming book “Racial Innocence: Unmasking Latino Anti-Black Bias and the Struggle for Equality,” in which she looks “at the ways Latinos espouse two things simultaneously,” she said in an interview. “One, that [we]are not discriminatory, that we don’t have racism, or at least not the way in which North Americans have racism. And that’s because we are racially evolved and racially mixed. And so there is no white and there is no Black.”
So the conventional thinking goes, “[Latinos] can’t possibly harbor discrimination,” she said. But “embedded within much of our language and much of our actions are a lot of anti-Black, prejudicial attitudes.” Hernández’s research touches on extremism and physical violence but also on the myriad ways Latinos are involved in acts of discrimination against Black people, such as in the real estate market or in the workplace.
What drives a non-white person to take part in violence against racial minorities? “What’s the best way to distance yourself from feeling like you’re part of an oppressed group? It’s to align yourself with those who are part of the oppressors,” said Hernández. Additionally, whiteness has been very elastic throughout history, she said. “People who today we think of as white people with Italian American or Irish American ancestry were, at the turn of last century, viewed as non-white. Whiteness sort of expanded to include them.”
Hernández was adamant that Tarrio, Fuentes, and other Latinos are not isolated cases, and warned against viewing them as such because then we, as Latinos, avoid responsibility for addressing pernicious anti-Black attitudes in the Latino community.
“We’re acting as if this Afro identity is something separate, apart from us,” Hernández said, and she’s spot on. To understand how white supremacy continues to be able to operate among Hispanics, it’s crucial to acknowledge Afro-Latino identity within Latinidad. Only then will we have a shot at dismantling it.