The last time I visited Guadalajara, a tío asked me a geopolitical question.
“Myriam,” he began, “why does Donal Trón hate us so much? What did Mexicans ever do to him?”
I opened my mouth to answer but my tía spoke in my stead.
“Ay, Flaco,” she whined. “He does hate us! A Mexican girl must have broken his heart! That’s the only explanation I can think of and he’s been trying to make us pay ever since!” My tía turned to look at me. I rode in the back seat. “What do you think?” she probed.
Because my tíos were taking me to lunch, and presumably paying, I replied, “I agree with your theory, tía. Trón must’ve been heartbroken. Who do you think it was? Salma? Gloria Trevi?”
I want to state here, for the record, that I disagree with my aunt though her Trón theory did come to mind some weeks ago. I recalled it while paying attention to exchanges inspired by Oprah Winfrey’s interview of Mrs. and Mr. Meghan Markle.
17.1 million viewers tuned in to watch the two-hour event and fans of the royal couple took to social media to gush about their romance, touting it as an antidote to hatred. Fans celebrated the pair’s marriage, exalting it, treating it as a model that the rest of us should follow. They seemed to suggest that if everyone could just fall in love with a racial or ethnic Other, we could rid the planet of racism, xenophobia, and related bigotries. Some went so far as to characterize the couple’s son, Archie, as an apotheosis of anti-racism and it horrified many listeners to learn that someone from the House of Windsor had dared to racially profile a fetus in utero.
Markle told Winfrey that there were “concerns and conversations about how dark [Archie’s] skin might be…”
Audience members stunned by the royal family’s pigmentation talk have likely never set foot in Latin America and a glance at Latin American history reveals that while generation upon generation upon generation of “race mixing” has happened in the region, it has done little, if anything, to efface the white supremacist regime established by European settlers and colonists. In México, white supremacy and xenophobia continue to reign in spite of, and because of, mestizaje, an ethno-racial category developed to describe people of blended ancestry.
Mestizes vary widely. María Félix, for example, looked nothing like Selena Quintanilla Pérez and yet the two late entertainers continue to be categorized as mestizas. During the mid-twentieth century, studio executives made Félix into an icon of the Mexican silver screen and they did so, in large part, because of the actress’s physical attributes, her pale skin, tall body, and long face approximating European beauty ideals. Not quite Grace Kelly, Félix nonetheless gave Ava Gardener a run for her money.
Rarely are dark-skinned Mexican women made into screen stars in Latin America. In 2018, the success of Indigenous actress Yalitzia Aparicio disrupted México’s white supremacist norms but for now, Aparicio stands alone. The Mexican entertainment industry has yet to permit another Indigenous woman to reach the same professional heights as Aparicio. Her star, though, continues to rise. In 2019, PEOPLE en Español deemed her one of the world’s most beautiful celebrities. Last month, Aparicio’s second feature film, Presences, began production in central México and the actress recently told Indiewire that she’s fed up with white supremacy: “We have a complicated job, because [racial oppression] can’t be changed overnight…”
Aparacio is absolutely right. Those of us committed to white supremacy’s destruction have a fraught road ahead. The regime excels at perseverance and it asserts itself with ease in mestize families. As a child, I listened to my own mestize family members discuss, in great racialized detail, one another’s skin color, eye color, hair color, hair texture, facial structure, nose shape, lip girth, bust size, butt size, hip width, thinness, fatness, and muscle tone. Over time, I came to understand that these verbal critiques were a means of aesthetic policing. I learned that what my family members were commenting on was “phenotype,” a phenomenon that the National Human Genome Research Institute defines as “an individual’s observable traits, such as height, eye color, and blood type,” and my mestize family members used this concept to racialize one another, pointing out how they perceived certain physical traits to be indicators of Indigenous, African, or European ancestry.
I paid attention as my pale paternal grandmother spoke to us, her grandchildren, about our looks. I observed that her economy of compliments followed a pattern. Those of us who more closely approximated white ideals received praise for these traits. Those of us who didn’t were told what to fix. Hair could be straightened and colored. Dieting could whittle one’s physique. Sun avoidance could lighten one’s hue.
Eating disorders took root. Some of us starved ourselves. My grandmother complimented those of us who shrank. One aunt reminded us that what god had gotten wrong, a plastic surgeon could correct. As a result of white supremacy, I’ve seen some of the greatest noses of my generation vandalized, turned into woeful facsimiles of Grace Kelly’s.
I shake my head when well-intentioned but naïve people tout interracial coupling as inherently anti-racist. White supremacy has plenty of space to thrive in inter-ethnic and interracial families. Interracial couplings provide no panacea. Neither do the children born from such couplings, and Latin-American diaspora living in the United States of America seem to grasp this reality better than other folks living here. Case in point: I’ve watched WASPy people freak out about the marriage between Gavin McGinness, founder of SPLC-designated hate-group the Proud Boys, and Emily Jendrisak, the daughter of Indigenous activist Christine Whiterabbit Jendrisak.
“But…he’s a white supremacist!” the shocked sputter. “How could he be with her?! They have children together! It doesn’t make sense! Make it make sense!”
The coupling makes perfect historical sense.
Such couplings are how mestizes were, are, and will be made.
European men using sex with non-European women to assert and solidify white male hegemony is a tale older than the United States of America. The practice, especially when its engaged in violently and coercively, is foundational to settler-colonialism and Disney made a popular piece of propaganda about an early instance of it: Pocahontas. And McGinness isn’t the only Proud Boy partnered with a racially minoritized woman.
In 2018, after the arrest of Proud Boy John Kinsman, supporters tweeted a picture of Kinsman with ZC, his wife, a Black woman with whom he has several Black children. The dissemination served a strategic purpose. It became a shield, one that the Proud Boy used to deflect accusations of white supremacy and a rhetorical question circulated along with it: “How can Kinsman be racist? He has a Black wife! He fathered Black children!”
Again, the United States has a centuries-long history, some of it presidential, of white supremacist men fathering Black children, often through sexual violence. From Thomas Jefferson to the gang of white men that viciously assaulted Recy Taylor to Chet Hanx, white men have targeted racially minoritized women, Black women in particular, for degradation, domination, and control. This month, Hanx, the son of Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, made headlines when he released a music video for a song titled “White Boy Summer.” The dull artifact is a testament to Hanx’s love of cultural appropriation. It also flagrantly fetishizes Black and brown women.
Kiana Parker, a Black woman who knows dated Hanx, has filed a lawsuit against the piece of shit. She alleges that he spewed racist slurs at her and that he also threatened to kill her.
I wholeheartedly believe Parker.
Like Markle, Parker experienced misogynoir, a form of oppression that Angela Davis alluded to in Women, Race, and Class: “Racism has always drawn strength from its ability to encourage sexual coercion.” Davis historicized this thesis, explaining that “sexual coercion was…an essential dimension of the social relations between slavemaster and slave.” In the essay “Controlling Images and Black Women’s Oppression,” Patricia Hill Collins elaborated on specific archetypes developed for the sake of socially controlling Black women, one being the image of Jezebel. Hill Collins explained that Jezebel functioned “to relegate all Black women to the category of sexually aggressive women, thus providing a powerful rationale for the widespread sexual assaults by white men typically reported by Black slave women.”
Though I’m a non-Black mestiza, I got a taste of how this trope is used to justify harm. When I was thirteen-years old, a group of male classmates became preoccupied with one of my facial features. Henceforth, I became known to them as n-word lips. These bullies stalked me during lunchtime recess and approached me, reaching for my butt and breasts as I tried to evade their hands. While they grabbed, they grinned and hissed the nickname and I was sophisticated enough to understand that these kids learned their behavior from adults. As a result of this understanding, I didn’t report the assaults. White men ran our school, city, county, state, and country and because of their historical example, my classmates reduced me to a racialized body part to be toyed with.
Love has a place in the fight against white male supremacy and other forms of oppression but the kind I’m referring to isn’t of the romantic variety. The love I’m referring to is challenging. It’s a love we express when we unlearn oppression and replace its mechanisms with new ones. It’s a love inspired by abolitionists, a love committed to reimagining places and spaces we call home. Such love requires us to have conversations with our family and to tell certain members that we disagree with their racial politics and that there will be consequences for perpetuating white supremacy. This love is risky. It can lead to ostracism and exile. It can also lead to transformation and a deepening and strengthening of kin bonds. That’s the sort of love I’m after, the type that abides by Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s aphorism, “Where life is precious, life is precious.” For life to be precious, we must treat it that way. Let’s cultivate such love in our families in authentic, challenging, and life-affirming ways.
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