It’s Not You, It’s Them: The Penalization of Black & Brown People Doing the Right Thing in Any Space
If you often find yourself anxious, depressed, questioning your sanity, having bouts of rage at that diversity department, that org, that agency you work for, that platform you volunteer at, that church you attend, that campaign you work for, for doing the right thing, you’re not alone. Thousands of us are penalized for doing the right thing. It’s not in your head.
Yes, your boss is terrible. Yes, your co-workers are awful. Yes, they’re often hired to carry water for the establishment—for covering up for the government and corporations. They are shields from valid criticisms, from those pesky gadflies shouting obscenities at them from the sidelines. You might’ve been a diversity hire that’s even more qualified than your white, straight, male co-workers, but you’re treated like you’re a charity case and your ideas, your observations, your warnings, your recommendations are passed over, or worse, revamped by someone who has a higher status than you just because they toe the line, they are of lighter complexion, they’re straight, they’re men… they adhere to a respectability politics for the sole sake of self-preservation. It’s not you. It’s them.
You’ve read the studies about Black activists being penalized when they apply to schools. Or how women are penalized for speaking up. You are being punished and gaslighted. These terrible people will justify it and everyone will agree with them—even people who really shouldn’t.
I’ve been in places I’ve been called “too sensitive” by both men and women, friend and foe, for simply speaking up when someone is being mistreated only to have them say many years later to me “César, you were right.” Don’t be surprised when that person you’re standing up for turns their back on you, too. I’ve been there many times. I am sure many of you have as well. It’s not in your head.
Every single entity that has been founded and supported with corporate money works to undermine our progress. It’s a no-brainer they’re going to rain money on folks who aren’t just going to defend them, but they’re also going to penalize anyone who strays from the norm of our culture—straight white male supremacy. Regardless of the color of the skin of your boss, their gender, their sexuality, their ethnicity, their nationality, you name it, they are most likely a hell of a lot more like those who oppress us than like us. Take presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris: They both belong to marginalized identities, yet they support and defend their place in the hierarchy of oppression–imperialism and racism. Everything is really that terrible.
On top, their identities are being used to advance awful political ideologies—since people will jump at you for questioning their place in the system. People who are fine with symbols. People who sleep well at night just because they see someone who sounds and looks just like them in high places. It’s a very effective, very nefarious scam. We’re supposed to be happy just because one of us makes it—no matter how awful the place they’re making it at is to us. I’m sure many of you have been exposed to this before. Maybe this is new to some of you. But let it at least be a refresher to the former and a catalyst to the latter. We can and should be better than that.
I’ve had so many godawful experiences trying to change the world for the better. I’ve been to DC a million times. Maybe I’m invited so I don’t sing like the canary that I am. Maybe some folks genuinely like me. Maybe some think I’m an enemy that should be kept closer. Who knows. But I’ll tell you one thing: It always ends in disaster just because I dare say and do the right thing. Call out racism and colorism? Within Latinidad? Uninvited. Call our sexism? Deplatformed. Call out white supremacy within us? Too radical. Call out colonized maladaptive behavior? Incendiary.
The gaslighting is real.
I remember one time a friend greeted me at an event I don’t care to remember and a Hispanic who calls himself the Mexican Redneck called him over and told him that he should be careful with the people he’s seen with. I thought I was hearing things because I was sure he meant me—right in front of my face. It turned out to be me. This man has a felony conviction. He’s not allowed to run a labor org, but since he’s a white Hispanic, even progressive leaders put him above us—Black, Brown people with a clean record. He’s been rewarded for never calling out our oppressors, for having proximity to powerful white people who say they’re progressive, for publicly pleading the fifth in hiring awful men who have been caught up in #MeToo, for working with places that swear up and down they’re bipartisan. Bipartisan. That’s a funny word.
Anyway, it’s fine if you celebrate awful Republicans, like I’ve seen some Hispanic foundations do while people cheer, it’s fine if you mingle with white nationalists, it’s fine if you previously posed with Trump even though you knew he’s a megalomaniac with a history of racism prior to running for office, it’s fine if you take money from right-wing entities that exploit and kill our people, it’s fine if you booed a trans woman when she protested Obama for the way his administration treated lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender immigrants, but God forbid you shake hands with someone that’s truly combatting them. That man, according to progressives, to the media, to Latinidad, is more of a representative of our people than me. If these are the progressives the country can birth then those progressives can and will get it, too. But he isn’t an anomaly. He’s the norm.
I know of a Black Latina who gets paid to represent us who doesn’t consider herself Black. Someone who cut a check to some awful people who also got caught up in the #MeToo movement, but turned her face away if you asked for funds to run an entity that’s going to truly benefit us. I know of another one that is quick to call out sexism, but racism is nonexistent because it’s “all in our heads.” I vividly remember a Brown Hispanic man calling Spain “la madre patria” in front of a group of Black and Brown Latinx content creators and nobody batted an eye, but he’s quick to screw Latinx content creators he’s getting paid to rep. I don’t think he saw me shooting a million mal de ojos his way. He still heads an org and is making mad money di’que representing us.
I remember a Latino dude animatedly asking how can this country elect a Black man before it elected a woman. I remember that same dude shutting down ideas for Black panels, for queer panels, for women panels, because, di’que, supuestamente, we’re not victims even though the entity he works for gets a ton of money exactly because we’re a marginalized, under-represented group. I remember my emails being delayed. I remember being called out for having my hands tied behind my back by their own people. I remember being penalized for defending myself. I remember being told I would never work with them again because I dared say “you have too many white people working here for a Hispanic org.” I remember how that was swatted away with a “people work with who they know.” I mean, it’s cool if you know so many white people, but that’s still no excuse for a Hispanic org to have so many of them—especially since we’re so criminally under-represented in theirs and few of our people can find good paying jobs. I remember my ideas being shut down at the suggestion of a Brown Latina di’que because they might offend members and sponsors, but it seems being a sellout isn’t offensive these days. Mind you, I’m benign in comparison to many advocates because I am willing to work with people to make them better. I’m forgiving to a fault—perhaps too much. I’ve always said I’m in the business of building up—not destroying. Though some entities deserve destruction. Especially those that uphold white supremacy and the patriarchy while representing a marginalized group. I was right in the middle of two forces: white supremacy and the patriarchy. Yes, you are white male supremacists in Brownface. Especially if you let go of people who look just like you to hire non-Hispanic whites or keep Hispanic dudebros who are just #MeToos waiting to happen onboard.
Don’t even get me started with white Hispanics. Buy this book instead.
I was once hailed as some brilliant Latino anomaly when I debuted my writing in Hispanic and mainstream media—when I was angrily breaking down the ways we were being marginalized. But once I pointed that lupa inward, once I started calling out racism, colorism, xenophobia within Latinidad, the pushback was swift and effective. If I called out a white Latina, I would be deemed sexist. If I called out anyone, a celebrity, a business leader, a high profiled activist, I would be knighted a hater, a crab in a barrel. It’s all very infantile.
My friends in the media stopped taking my pitches, engaging my social media. Those friends who have written many pieces inspired by my rants, but I was no longer brilliant. Now I am crazy and volatile. I am well-aware that no matter how talented I am, no matter how ingenious, people will find any little thing to discredit me and accuse me of all sorts of things. They will do anything to stop me from getting ahead, from climbing any field exactly because I possess multiple things that scare the bejesus out of evil and mediocre people: talent, intelligence, and charisma. There are even orgs that owe me thousands of dollars because they listened to mediocre talent about art—something that’s extremely subjective—just because that mediocre talent is afraid people might like me more. It’s something many of us experience. I wasn’t the only one that org screwed over. A mediocre co-worker sabotaging our every step and our Dilbert-like bosses falling every single time for their yes-people dressed in “it’s what’s best for us.” This is one of many, many experiences.
Good thing y’all made me sign that NDA, but trust, I’m broke. You will get Nathan but bad publicity even if you win any case against me, homies.
I’ve been penalized, deplatformed, passed over, gaslit, sabotaged, robbed for doing the right thing, for knowing intimately the sociopolitical, cultural, racial landscape that crushes us and for pointing it out with the goal of improving our condition. And I’m a light-skin Black Latino man. A man that can pass for mestizo—those who have many privileges that Black and Brown Latinas don’t have. So imagine what those Black and Brown Latinas who dare speak up go through? I’ve gotten away with calling out very powerful men and women simply because I’m a man and some powerful men find that admirable even if they don’t want to work with me (anymore).
You’re not crazy. Or maybe you are, but trust, you have all the reasons in the world to be. It’s no news to many of you that I’ve dealt with chronic anxiety. An anxiety that is usually accompanied by depression. Mental illnesses that are triggered by the shitty people around us. You, your emotions, your observations, your criticisms, your tropezos, and your wins matter, they are justified, and they’re real. We exist in an extremely messed up society that punishes the good and rewards the bad. Next time you think “maybe it’s me,” think of Krishnamurti’s words: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Don’t beat yourself over because you’re not exalted or hired by white people, by the publishing industry, by Hollywood, by the media, by Hispanic and African American orgs. To the contrary, if you’re being celebrated by any of those, if you’re gainfully employed by them, if they have a seat at any panel for you, best believe there is something about you that is too safe and too wrong for the majority of us. No entity rains money on another to undermine it. Capitalism and white supremacy are a comorbid combination of evil that is extremely wealthy and extremely powerful. There are enough people out there that sell their mothers and fathers for a nickel. So, trust, you matter even less to them. Your identity has value, though. You’re a product to be sold.
If you feel hot reading this: The struggle is real, but so is hell. Try not to go there. I hear it’s very cold.
But to those of you who don’t falter, who don’t skip a beat in doing the right thing: Keep keeping your head up. Some of us see you. I see you. I hear you.
It’s not you. It’s them. Trust.
Thanks for reading and sharing with your family and friends.
A mainstream or indie magazine would usually pay me between $250-$450 for one of my pieces. Since I decided to go solo for the sake of keeping my voice unedited and uncensored, I created this website. Keeping it afloat and these pieces coming is not just time-consuming, but it’s also costly because it angers a lot of those same mainstream papers and magazines (along with their donors) for calling them out—so their favorite retaliation tactic is deplatforming. Especially of unapologetic and unhypocritical Black and Brown voices. Ideally, I’d like to raise between $250-$450 per piece and many of you have actually stepped-up to the plate and helped me accomplish that. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you would like to see more of these and support one of the few unbought indie voices, please contribute:
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