By Luis Quiros
“In my past, the combination of luxury and a lot of white people never failed to make me feel invisible” are words from my book, “An Other’s Mind.” Though referring to instances throughout my childhood growing up as a Puerto Rican in New York City, the aftermath of my lived experience under those conditions now in the late part of my adulthood still resonates—ignorance remains this nation’s dominant characteristic.
As my intimate friend Dr. John Hope Franklin often verified, the Reconstruction Era has yet to end. My perspective is this nation has yet to deal with slavery and racial-divisive symbols don’t just come down.
Why then would a white person deny her roots and orchestrate a black identity? Rachel Dolezal exposes the myth of the level playing fields and a “post-racial era.” In fact, the Birmingham, Ala., bombing in 1963 that killed four teenagers in a church and the Emanuel AME massacre in Charleston, S.C., did not lower the Confederate flag any more than it exposed the United States. The attack in Charleston reveals our interconnectedness of the trauma imposed on others.
Intelligent people, concerning the effects of slavery, would not have people of color profiled as shooters and immediately called terrorists, while white people are only labeled mentally ill. The white pilot who flew the plane into the French Alps killing more than 150 people was labeled mentally disturbed. However, the three gunmen who stormed the Paris offices of a French satirical magazine, killing 12, were immediately labeled terrorists.
In 2014, in a place of luxury overlooking the Hudson River with a “progressive” and white audience, a Puerto Rican keynote speaker addressed more than 100 attendees. One white man turned his back on the speaker. For me, that moment was a flashback to first grade—being ignored, denied my language and being made to feel that my history was not worthy of being taught. Too often demonized: our version of a swastika; a burning cross; a Confederate flag; the permanency of our intellectual genocides. Cornell West defines these gestures as the “niggerization of America”—a person of color can never truly earn a place of honor to say what is on his or her mind.
When the New York Police Department turned its back on the mayor in protest, they were not reprimanded. I reacted by addressing this rude gesture and was told to apologize and faced consequences. Yet, on June 28, New York’s highest court ruled unanimously that going on a profanity-laden rant during an encounter with police did not constitute disorderly conduct. Richard Gonzalez, not surprisingly, was sentenced to three-and-a-half to seven years for this “disorderly conduct.” Such racist views have landed tens of thousands of New Yorkers in jail over the last decade. According to the New York Law Journal, the interaction, while not pleasant, is totally legal.
When I hear the words “report suspicious activities,” chills run down my spine. Less than two years ago I was arrested in front of my house and was told I looked suspicious. I was also asked why was I “near a school.” We are suspicious by default.
Brian Williams, a white man who should have been fired for his actions, reminds me of Dr. Franklin’s wisdom once again, “We do not have the right to fail.” There is an immeasurable difference between “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.” There is a lived experience to one who has often been denied a value of being whole, worthy and trustworthy.
Bree Newsome and others like her may scale flagpoles to bring down the Confederate flag; I simply will continue to expose the hypocrites who have signed the confederate gentlemen’s agreement in their heart, while holding positions of power and influence that are perceived as being contrary to their heart.
To correct your ideologies, start by at least paying attention. Spell and say our names correctly and know that we are very visible and highly educated, in every language and color.
My mother taught me “not to believe in gravity” so I could land where and when I wanted–making choices not as a given like the status quo or the culture of this nation, which she knew was deeply rooted in racism and capitalism. Those in power create an unquestioned gentleman’s agreement dictating who the experts are, who is rude, violent, and who should remain invisible.
Luis Quiros is a resident of Mamaroneck. The views expressed are his.