Gutierrez’s actions showed how white supremacy has shaped the attitudes of many Latinos — sometimes with deadly consequences.
I still remember how conservative pundits dismissed anyone who pointed out that George Zimmerman, the man who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, was a White Hispanic man — they were too eager to imply that race did not play a part in what happened. And it was a Latino police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, who killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Minnesota.
Latinos have enormous blind spots when it comes to recognizing and addressing racism in our communities, but we can’t deny the obvious.
The racism is there, literally imported from our Latin American countries of origins. It’s there when a White man named Gutierrez torments a Black Latino member of the military. It’s there when a White Peruvian American man follows and kills a young boy. It’s there when a police officer kills a popular cafeteria worker at a local school during a traffic stop.
How can we address this racism?
A 2018 study from Washington University in St. Louis found that “Hispanic males were over 2.6 times as likely as others to be killed by officers from agencies with relatively higher percentages of Hispanic officers.” This seems to reflect the complex power dynamics of class and race in our communities.
Ten years before that study, another one looked into the theory that if there were more Latino police officers in Latino communities, it would lead to better relations. However, as the study noted, “although most expressed a strong Latino identity and community attachment, many did not, and a small number self-identified as exclusively ‘White/Anglo.’”
Whiteness affords privileges for Latinos, too. Associating Blackness with “danger” is also common in Latin America, part of the legacy of our racist colonial past. The U.S. Latino population is often grouped as one homogenous community. But Pew Research Center data released earlier this year showed that 5 percent of the country’s Black population identifies as Afro-Latino, a number that has grown since 2000. Still, Afro-Latinos continue to be invisible in most U.S.-Latino spaces.
Which may be why Gutierrez, as a White man with a Latino surname, did not seem to see another Latino man when he detained Nazario. Did he see Nazario — even wearing an Army uniform — as a threat just because he was Black?
We as Latinos can no longer hide behind calls for unity, behind our “mestizaje,” behind our shared language. We must acknowledge that we too come from a history of colonial violence that subjugated Black and Indigenous lives for the benefit of White Latin Americans. There should be outrage — real, united outrage — when it comes to speaking out for Nazario, Castile, Daunte Wright, George Floyd or any other Black person who has fallen victim to police brutality.
We need to ask whether embracing white supremacy and the enforcement systems it has established — including police violence, mass incarceration and even the draconian immigration system — is the way forward for Latinos. The answer is no.