Whiteness and white culture are social constructs that uphold white supremacy.
As a Latino with olive-colored skin, and with Afro-Latinos making up a large portion of my family, I can’t identify as a White Latino as many others do. I simply cannot. Whiteness in America has never been welcoming of Latinos who express our Latinidad, our Latino-ness. Those of us who celebrate our culture unapologetically. To be welcomed into white spaces we must denounce our heritage and declare our whiteness as long as it aligns with America’s perception of whiteness — something many are unwilling to do.
Including me. And yes, I’m rather militant about it.
I was born in New Jersey and grew up on both sides of the Hudson River. My childhood was that of being surrounded by a culturally diverse population. To me, segregation and systemic racism seemed to no longer exist. That is, until my late teen years when we moved to Texas via Miami, Florida. It was then, that despite being called a spic many times prior to moving South, that I would realize just how bigoted America still was.
In New Jersey, I ran around with anti-racist skinheads who regularly found themselves involved in physical altercations with neo-Nazi skinheads. But moving to the deep South, I began to realize a whole different level of racism. The type of racism we only read about in History class that took place during the Jim Crow Era all the way through to the Civil Rights Era. Knowing racism obviously still existed, it was the systemic racism that I began to wrap my head around. That was thirty years ago. I’ve studied it extensively since then.
When people like me denounce whiteness it’s not to say white privilege and white supremacy don’t exist. In fact, it’s because of those things that many of us refuse to associate ourselves with whiteness in general. We understand that sometimes we benefit from white privilege. But we also understand that it’s on us to use it for the benefit of others. We see our Afro-Latino brothers and sisters being treated as less than and we reject it. Instead, we fight for equality and justice.
From there, many Latinos can see what Black America deals with; the injustice, the bigotry, the system that was built to keep treating Black people as second-class citizens. We see it happen to Indigenous people as well. Much like in Latin America, where whiteness is used to oppress non-white Latinos, our cultures are all deeply intertwined by the oppressive nature of whiteness.
The same colonialism from hundreds of years ago is upheld by the systemic racism in the United States. Whiteness in Latin America, with help from the U.S., is what overthrows governments that refuse to align themselves with the colonialism that rules the Caribbean and the South American continent — oppressing non-white populations. In the United States, that same oppressive government is set in stone. American whiteness foretells the destruction of Black populations along with broader ethnic populations and their heritage.
American whiteness needs not overthrow any government — its mere existence has persisted for hundreds of years.
What is white culture?
Many white supremacists insist that white culture exists. In fact, they argue that it’s under attack by Latinos like me, by Black Lives Matter, by racial sensitivity training, and anything else they can drum up. It’s what they refer to as white extinction and they’ve even labeled their fears as white extinction anxiety which isn’t tangible because whiteness isn’t a thing. Sorry White people, it’s just not. We all have ethnic backgrounds, including you.
The only way to define white culture in the eyes of those who understand that every one of us has deep ethnic backgrounds is by defining the bastardization of every culture on earth. In other words, as an immigrant nation, America’s culture is also foreign. The only groups who can claim American culture as their own are Indigenous people and the Black descendants of slaves who had their history and cultural heritage robbed from them. Those groups should be regarded as protected. Protected from whiteness and white supremacy.
Yet they are not.
White supremacists often define their culture in colonialist and imperialistic terms. They believe that they are solely responsible for the construction of the United States and the colonization of many nations. That same colonization, as they refer to it, is exploitation. The United States is responsible for exploiting countries in Africa, Central America, South America, and the Middle East for resources. When foreign countries don’t play ball, the U.S. supports coups until they do.
What it comes down to is white culture cannot exist without white supremacy and white supremacy cannot exist without whiteness. There is nothing profound about this. Denouncing whiteness strikes at the very core of white supremacy. However, White people and white-passing Latinos must acknowledge white privilege and we must use it as allies in the fight for racial justice. Denouncing whiteness does not mean these privileges don’t exist and that we don’t benefit from them. Colorism among Latinos is real.
For white passing Latinos like myself, white privilege is often limited. We are constantly discriminated against simply because of our names. It’s a conversation that has been an open discussion for years. Many have expressed having to Americanize their names on job and loan applications to seek approval of any kind. In comparison to White people, we pay bigger down payments, higher interest rates, are prevented from living in certain areas, and are denied countless opportunities just because of our surnames.
While our privilege is limited, we still wield the social and political power to help push for change.
As the largest ethnic group in America, most of us (about 70%) believe social justice issues must be addressed. But we also have to address the nearly insurmountable bigotry in our own communities. We deal with rampant homophobia, transphobia, racism, colorism, and yes, even xenophobia. While many in our community are quick to say that most of this comes from Cubans and Venezuelans, it’s much more widespread than that.
We see that same bigotry in every Latino community. From Puerto Ricans and Dominicans to Mexicans and Hondurans. By stigmatizing just a handful of groups, we fail to address the problem as a community. And in the U.S., we are Latinos — both socially and politically.
Tackling white supremacy
I’m a firm believer in the idea that if White people came to terms with their ethnicity, their culture, their heritage, and stopped identifying as White, they strike at the core of white supremacy. This is not to say that they shouldn’t acknowledge their privilege or their contributions to white supremacy. But by denouncing whiteness they can begin to see the commonalities among us instead of focusing on the differences in our cultures.
My brother and I spent the last years of high school in Texas. Most of our classmates initially treated us as White kids. But upon finding out we spoke Spanish, or Mexican as they referred to it, their reactions were always followed by the statement: “damn, I thought you were white.” It was then that we would begin to be treated differently. Many of our so-called friends likely didn’t notice the not so subtle changes in their behavior, but we certainly did.
We never fully adjusted to school in Texas where racism was rampant, not just by students, but by teachers. It was something we struggled with because being referred to as spics was always met with flying fists back East. While that was common in New York City and New Jersey and was dealt with much differently, in Texas that led to expulsions and arrests leaving us to go to school in more problematic campuses where racism was front and center.
To be clear, I know the difference between racism and xenophobia, something my detractors so wittingly attack me for. But when I refer to how we were treated as racism, it’s because if a White person comes at you with their superiority complex, meaning they think they are better than you because they are white and you are not, that’s racism. Even us, as white-passing Latinos who were constantly attacked by white supremacists, were victims of racism. It’s hard to call it xenophobia when we were born in the United States.
These are just more of the reasons why I can never identify as white — as so many Latinos do. Many do for the sake of aligning themselves with the bigotry of white supremacy. Some do it because it validates their own bigotry, their homophobia, their transphobia, their colorism, their xenophobia, their racism. Latinos like Enrique Tarrio, who finds himself as chairman of the Proud Boys despite identifying as Afro-Cuban, join white supremacist groups in search of validation despite those groups targeting them in their manifestos, their charters, their declarations. It makes them feel included.
White supremacy, racism, discrimination, and prejudice in America isn’t binary. It isn’t just Black and White. Just look at how light-skinned Black folks and Latinos are more accepted in society than darker-skinned members of each group. In Latin America, we have the same problem. White supremacy is deeply ingrained into Western society and it encompasses institutions, transactions, and every aspect of our lives whether you are Indigenous, Black, Latino, or anything non-white.
This is an issue that ALL White people are responsible for. Whether done purposely, implicitly, by accident, or by being silent, every White person in the Americas has played a role in where we are today. To stop it, I argue society must denounce whiteness striking at the core of white supremacy. Whiteness and white culture are tools that uphold white supremacy.
The culture of othering that whiteness facilitates must die.
Again, and only because this requires a ton of emphasis, denouncing whiteness means using the white privilege that benefits many of us (some more than others) to tackle the hate that whiteness breeds. Whiteness was born to sow division and discord among the poor and for centuries it has worked like a charm as a tool for the few capitalists in power.
Amassing wealth at our expense is the whole point of dividing us by race and class while failing to protect the most vulnerable among us: Black and Indigenous people in the U.S. and in Latin America. Remember the coups in Venezuela and Bolivia? Those occur when Indigenous people gain power and begin providing for the poor while limiting access to resources by the U.S. driven corporate power structure. It’s no coincidence that Elon Musk made moves to access Bolivia’s massive lithium reserves just after Evo Morales was ousted in a U.S.-backed coup.
White supremacy in Latin America is backed by U.S. corporate interests just like it is here at home. However, in the U.S., Latinos have more power because despite where we come from, the colonialist mentality labels us as a singular group. A mistake we can use to our advantage. Rather than divide us into subgroups, American colonialism united us under a single banner.
Yes, I know, many Latinos balk at the idea of using colonialist language to identify any group, but as we are dealt these cards, we must play them to our advantage while uplifting other oppressed groups in the U.S. If we can minimize or put a dent in the systemic white supremacy in America, we will inevitably cripple the effects it has in Latin America and around the world.
Look, whiteness is bullshit. It’s colorism at an extreme level. It suggests that if you have melanin deficient skin tones you are superior and we all know that to be a lie. If that were the case, Jews would be welcomed into the white community. But the prevalent antisemitism that exists in much of the Americas prevents them from doing so because of their religion — which is a huge part of their culture. For Latinos, it’s no different.
Our cultures deny us access to whiteness.
Let me make this abundantly clear: denouncing whiteness doesn’t grant White people or white-passing people a pass. The sole purpose of doing so is to strike at the core of white supremacy. Is America ready for this? Are we at that point right now? I can’t answer that. But as a white-passing Latino who has been treated like dirt by whiteness, I’ve always denounced it and I always will. For White people, I feel like there’s a lot more work to be done though.
But my hope is that one-day White folks will embrace their ethnicities and denounce whiteness altogether. It is then, and only then, that we can begin dismantling the white supremacist imperialist and colonialist culture that whiteness has suffocated us with for centuries. More provocative measures are needed — to think outside the box so to speak, in order to really bring about the change most of us seek to achieve.
Until then, my hope is to have you question the colonialist nature of how we all think and to tear it all down in the name of equality.
Arturo is an anti-racist political nerd. He is an upcoming author, journalist, advocate for social justice, and a married father of three. He is a top writer on Medium and a regular contributor to several news media outlets. He writes educational and informative material about systemic racism, white supremacy, and racial injustice. He collaborates with many in Academia in discussing the issues mentioned here. If you’d like to learn more, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also support his work here.