Matthew Hunter’s recent column ignores the struggles of Hispanics and other minority groups, which limits conversations about race (A conversation about race, 04/10/2009). My agitation is largely due to the fact that in this conversation on race, he failed to mention, let alone explore, the fastest growing and indeed largest minority group in the United States: Hispanics.
It is bewildering, yet somehow unsurprising, that such a large group of people could have been excluded. For me, and possibly for other Hispanics in the University community, it is a dismaying development that while we continue to grow and prosper in America, the history of our oppression and cultural contributions is ignored because of the assumption that race conversations are only appropriate between blacks and whites. The reality is that social relations are not black-white relations — they are white-everything else.
It may seem insolent to compartmentalize all minority groups into an “everything else” mentality, but this is the reality in America. Though there has been much advancement in the social, political and economic positions of minorities in this country, most inequalities of the 19th and 20th centuries toward blacks, Hispanics and Asians have changed relatively little. They remain veiled to appease the conscience of many whites, who would like to think that race no longer matters with the advent of Obama. Well, race does matter, and if we are going to talk about it, let’s not forget that there are 46 million Hispanics in this country — many of whom still remember being hosed, bitten by dogs or shot when they tried to unionize.
Let’s not forget that — though we are the largest minority group in this country — there have been less than 100 Hispanic representatives in Congress since the early 1800s. Hispanics can no longer remain in the shadows when race is being talked about, because it is not only ignorant but also presumptuous to think that there is only one front on the struggle for equality in this country. There are many fronts that all need to be addressed. If we fall into the trap of thinking America is only black and white, we will forget it is not.
This is not to say that blacks have not had their significant share of oppression and do not deserve their own platform to expel ignorance. Indeed, they do. But this platform should be present for all oppressed groups in this country. Blacks remain the gatekeepers of racial representation in school-boards, city councils, Congress and here at the University. What I see happening, sadly, is the voices of other minorities being drowned in exchange for the simplified “black-white relations” argument, of which Hunter’s piece is a perfect example. Inequality will continue as long as ignorance exists and everyone should quickly learn this lesson.