Racial Innocence: Unmasking Latino Anti-Black Bias and the Struggle for Equality (Beacon Press, August 2022), the third book by Archibald R. Murray Professor of Law Tanya Hernández, will be published on August 23.
The third in what Hernández considers a “trilogy” on anti-Black bias among Latinos, the book looks at examples of discrimination in the workplace, housing, schools, and the justice system in the United States, based on Hernández’s extensive research in the form of interviews and legal case files.
To celebrate the launch of the book (which is now available for preorder), Professor Hernández discussed her motivation for writing the book, her research process, and what she hopes readers will take away from reading it.
What inspired you to write this book?
As an Afro Latina, I have had the unfortunate “privilege” to be privy to the seeming schizophrenia of Latino racial attitudes, whereby assertions of being a racially-mixed population immune to racism coexist with very problematic anti-Black attitudes. When I started to observe how judges and juries presented with discrimination lawsuits were confused by allegations of Latino anti-Black racism, I was inspired to bring my life experiences to bear in the analysis of the cases.
It is my hope that the book not only creates greater awareness about the complexity of societal anti-Blackness, but that it also aids legal stakeholders in more effectively enforcing our anti-discrimination laws.
How does this book fit in with your two previously published books, Racial Subordination in Latin America: The Role of State, Customary Law, and The New Civil Rights Response (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012) and Multiracials and Civil Rights: Mixed-Race Stories of Discrimination (NYU Press, 2018)?
I like to joke that the three books form a trilogy. Book one, Racial Subordination in Latin America detailed the entrenched histories of anti-Blackness that continue to wreak havoc in the lives of Afro Latinos within Latin America, and how this reality is denied with the mythology that the racial mixture in Latin America has made the region a racial utopia.
Book two, Multiracial and Civil Rights, used the insights from the Latin American context of the first book to deeply interrogate how the parallel U.S. discourses of mixed-race exceptionalism were similarly interfering with the effective enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.
The new book, Racial Innocence, completes the “trilogy” by bringing together how Latin American racial pathologies are recreated in the U.S. within Latino communities that deny their anti-Black attitudes behind a veil of presumed mixed-race innocence.
What are some of the main topics this book tackles or some of the misconceptions it hopes to challenge?
Racial Innocence excavates the otherwise silenced voices of the Afro Latino and African American victims of Latino anti-Blackness from the case files of discrimination charges with the first comprehensive national analysis of Latino anti-Blackness and what it means for the pursuit of racial equality.
The book’s narratives show examples where: Latino workplace supervisors deny both Afro Latinos and Blacks access to promotions and wage increases; Latino homeowners turn away Black prospective tenants and home purchasers; Latino restaurant workers block Black customers from entry and refuse to serve them; Latino students bully and harass Black students; Latino educators belittle Black students; Latino police officers assault and kill Blacks; and, most heinous, Latinos who join violent white supremacist organizations and harm Blacks.
Yet, many Latinos deny the existence of prejudice against Afro Latinos and any “true” Latino racism against African Americans. This denial is rooted in the Latino cultural notion of “mestizaje,” that, as a uniquely syncretic, racially-mixed people, Latinos are incapable of racist attitudes. In turn, Latino mestizaje situates anti-Blackness as a North American construct learned only when “racially innocent” Latinos, once in the United States, encounter racist thinking for the first time.
The book demonstrates that U.S. racism is complex and multifaceted, and that it is possible for a historically marginalized group—now the second largest ethnic group in the United States—to experience discrimination, while simultaneously being discriminatory.
What did the research and writing process for this book look like for you?
Like so much of my work, the research was fundamentally interdisciplinary. First, I focused on excavating and mapping the examples of Latino anti-Black discrimination revealed in lawsuits regarding bias in the workplace, the housing market, schools, places of recreation, the criminal justice system, and Latino families. Then, I scoured news sites and social media for instances of bias never reported in case files. Finally, I interviewed stakeholders with deep knowledge regarding the manifestation of Latino anti-Black bias in all the aforementioned settings to go beyond the published record.
Pulling all the research together during the writing process became more than an academic exposition. Lifting up the important voices behind the hidden stories of Latino anti-Blackness felt like my small contribution to the pursuit of social justice.
What new ideas do you hope readers walk away with after reading this book?
The objective of the book is to aid those who care about the pursuit of racial equality by providing a more expansive view of the greater swath of the population that is harmed by anti-Black bias and, by contributing the missing piece of Latino agency to an understanding of the complexities of racism, helping social justice actors be better positioned to be more effective in an increasingly racially diverse world.
This book also serves as an invitation for continued nuanced examinations of how other communities of color can be complicit in the operation of racism in the U.S. In addition to social justice activists and civil rights leaders, the lawyers and judges who enforce our nation’s anti-discrimination laws will find useful insights. Educating both lawyers and judges about how Latinos are not only victims of discrimination but also part of the problem of societal discrimination will fortify the ability of law to redress discrimination in an increasingly diverse society. It is not a cure-all, but it can certainly be part of the solution.
The Center on Race, Law and Justice will be hosting a CLE discussion of the book on September 15 during Hispanic Heritage Month. Copies of the book will be available for purchase, along with a reception and book signing by Hernández.
The Big Idea: Unmasking Latino Anti-Black Bias with Professor Tanya Hernández from Fordham Law School on Vimeo.