Latina feminist columnist Daisy Hernandez talked on NPR this week about her relief when she learned that the Arizona mass-murderer wasn’t Latino. I heard this when it was first broadcast on Wednesday afternoon, and thought that it was terrific, because she explains how the world looks from her perspective, and it’s not a perspective that most white people would probably imagine on their own:
It’s safe to say there was a collective sigh of brown relief when the Tucson killer turned out to be a gringo. Had the shooter been Latino, media pundits wouldn’t be discussing the impact of nasty politics on a young man this week — they’d be demanding an even more stringent anti-immigrant policy. The new members of the House would be stepping over each other to propose new legislation for more guns on the border, more mothers to be deported, and more employers to be penalized for hiring brown people. Obama would be attending funerals and telling the nation tonight that he was going to increase security just about everywhere.
In short, the only reason the nation is taking a few days to reflect on the animosity in politics today is precisely that the shooter was not Latino.
I thought that this was a completely sensible thing to point out, but apparently NPR was hit with e-mails and comments about how “gringo” is an offensive word. I have never heard this–and I live in the American West, where both white and Latin@ people use the term casually and usually playfully. (Example: “Have you tried that new restaurant?” “Yes, we went there last night–it was okay, but kind of gringo Mex, you know?”) I’m no linguist, but I’ve never heard anyone express any concerns about the term “gringo.” It probably is used by some derisively–but it seems to me like white people should suck it up. Whites own most of the wealth in this country and for now, they’re still a majority–putting up with “gringo” seems like a small price to pay for all the advantages of whiteness in the United States.
To me, this sounds like a major exercise in deflection. People didn’t like hearing a plausible counterfactual scenario about what would have happened in a politicized border town like Tucson if the mass-murderer and would-be assassin of a U.S. Representative turned out to be Latino–but they could hardly argue that counterfactual point. So they seized on Hernandez’s use of the term “gringo,” and asked, when will the oppressed white majority in this country get the respect it deserves?