Poor Alberto Gonzalez. President Bush’s embattled attorney general is fighting alone for his political survival.
Although he is a Latino, the silence of support from the Hispanic community is deafening. Yet few are asking why the Latina/o community doesn’t rally to his defense. To answer this question, we must understand what happens when assimilation, rather than justice, is sought.
Unfortunately, members of marginalized racial and ethnic communities often shape themselves in the image of the dominant culture. They learn to mimic the attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and actions that they have been taught to see as superior. This is a form of colonization of the minds, in which the marginalized learn their “lack of self-worth” and experience self-loathing.
Some marginalized persons–like most of the people of color in the Bush administration–attempt to become “whiter” than the dominant culture. If salvation requires assimilation–at least in terms of the dominant culture–then proof of worthiness lies in being accepted by the dominant culture–even if this leads to actions that are contrary or damning to one’s own community of color.
No doubt Alberto Gonzales obtained “the American dream.” But this does not vindicate assimilation. Class privilege does create opportunities for him, and a few others within marginalized groups, to participate and benefit from the existing power structures.
This is a danger, however, when at times they exhibit greater disdain and less patience or compassion than their white counterparts for those within their own communities who fall short of the white ideal, usually persons who are darker and poorer.
When the marginalized who vocally support the many manifestations of white supremacy are lifted onto pedestals, the message to racial and ethic communities is clear: If you also want to succeed, then emulate these success stories. You too can become “a credit to your race.”
The lure of economic privilege has a way of seducing everyone, including those within marginalized groups, to seek benefits for self instead of justice for all.
I have no doubt that Hispanic leaders like Cesar Chavez would be greatly disappointed by the lack of radicalism displayed by Alberto Gonzales and other middle- and upper-class Hispanics.
Even though people like Alberto Gonzales or Condi Rice were greatly helped by the both the Civil Rights Movement and the unionizing efforts of Chavez, they have instead chosen the power and privilege that comes with defending racist social structures.
As Alice Walker pointed out, this new black [and Hispanic] middle class have abandoned the pursuit of justice rooted in such movements in the ’60s for “cars, expensive furniture, large houses and the finest Scotch.”
They have traded political emancipation for personal advancement. If that can be achieved only by learning to play along with oppressive structures, this is a terribly high price to be paid by those within marginalized communities.
As apologists for systems of injustice, it is not surprising the dominant culture offers lucrative rewards to such spokespersons.
Folks like Alberto Gonzales and Condi Rice remind us that the need for justice goes beyond the dominant culture and historically U.S. marginalized communities. The lure of becoming new oppressors at the expense of other marginalized groups is a reality that finds expression in various forms of oppression within such communities, such as internal racism, sexism and classism, where proximity to the white male ideal remains the standard for measuring superiority.
The closer one is to the white ideal, the more privilege–although still limited within the overall dominant culture–exists. It is easy to detect the sins the dominant culture perpetrates against our marginalized communities, and while these oppressive structures should never be minimized, it is also important to be aware of and active in dismantling the ways we emulate the dominant culture in oppressing segments within our own communities. Surely God stands against all oppression, even that perpetuated by the oppressed.
Any decision to find salvation through assimilation is difficult to unpack. Obviously, individual motives are always complex. Exploring human relationship, educator Paulo Freire noted that everyone in some part of their being seeks to be a “subject” who is able to act and transform her or his environment.
Thus, members of marginalized communities who are objects acted upon rather than subjects who do the acting have an escape route. While habitually alienated and acted upon, they desire acceptance and want to become subjects in their own right.
The safe route is to imitate the dominant society, whose acceptance they crave. In a very real sense, their consciousness becomes submerged. They become unable, or unwilling, to see how the operating interests and values of the dominant culture are internalized.
Alberto Gonzales may have brown skin, but the Hispanic community rejects him as one of their own, because he wears a white mask. This is evident by the lack of support for Alberto coming from our nation’s barrios.
Having a brown man serve as an apologist for white power structures is not diversity, nor can it ever be.
Miguel A. De La Torre is professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.