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Latinos, we must check our biases too 

Distinctions among black, brown and white

These last few weeks, since grand juries in Ferguson and New York refused to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively, have been a time for grief, anger, reflection and blocking people on Facebook. Yes, this time around, I chose not to engage with the folks who are refusing to face the facts that clearly point to a system of institutionalized bias and white privilege. Instead, I banned their asses from my feed.

The surprising thing? Many of the people I've had to ignore are Latinos.

I also noticed radio silence from many of my usually vocal and engaged Latino friends. While they had plenty to say about immigration, the World Cup and the mid-term elections, they chose to ignore Ferguson, one of the most controversial news items of the year.

A small national survey conducted shortly after Brown's killing supports what I was seeing play out in social media. Only 18 percent of Latinos were following the events in Ferguson closely, compared to 54 percent of blacks and 25 percent of whites.

Don't get me wrong — I have several Latino friends who have been posting messages of solidarity with our black brothers and sisters, and I've seen dozens of Latino organizations proclaim, unabashedly, that black lives matter. But there have also been a few whose social media messages left me puzzled. I know that everybody holds some biases, I am guilty of this myself, but to be so openly racist against blacks while also being part of a community that is so often the object of racist actions and policies just doesn't make much sense.

Now, Latinos are complicated. We are technically an ethnicity, not a race. Some of us identify as black, others as white, and many are somewhere in between: a mix of Indigenous peoples, African slaves, European settlers and Asian immigrants for which there isn't a checkbox on the census form. Still, no matter their race, Latinos are systematically targeted by police at higher rates than American whites and experience huge disparities in education, health and income. Not to mention the overwhelming burden of our broken immigration system, which has Latinos of all races in the United States living in constant fear of being torn away from their families.

So, why is it so difficult for some Latinos in this country to relate to the struggle of American blacks? Well, in many Latin American countries, racism is still far too common and accepted. I, personally, have only been called a racial slur once in my life; it was when I was living and studying abroad in Santiago de Chile.

The thing about racism in Latin America, though, is that many Latinos are in denial about its existence. I have had countless conversations with people from Central and South America who argue that the real problem is classism, without realizing how inextricably intertwined race, money and power are. If you need proof of this, turn on Univision — the Spanish language channel — and see if you can spot a single black Latino actor or journalist. Plan for this exercise to take up your entire day.

The other reason for which Latinos might feel a disconnect from Ferguson is the fact that, in our country's race ladder, American blacks are on the very bottom rung and Latinos are a few steps above. Even as a black Latina, I have experienced a softening tone and the benefit of the doubt when people realize that I'm Cuban American and not African American. It's like the old song lyric says, "If you're white, you're all right; if you're brown, stick around; if you're black, get back."

So even though Latinos are often the victims of racism and discrimination, it makes us feel good that we are not like "them." This is a line of thinking I have heard expressed by many Latino immigrants: "We work hard, we came here with nothing, American blacks are just lazy."

Ever since the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, I have been pleased to see so many calls for whites to acknowledge their privilege and work to better understand the injustices perpetrated against blacks in America. Today, I'd like to call on Latinos to do the same. Let's examine and reflect on our anti-black biases and become committed to the truth that black lives matter. ¡Si se puede!

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