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"Is Racism Permanent? A Symposium (Part 2),"

by Jose Padilla November/December 1993 issue of Poverty & Race

Early on, I believed that were we to rid the world of railroad tracks, "racism" would disappear. The daily crossing to "the other side of town" to receive a Catholic schooling was an education in itself. I failed to understand "racism" upon graduating from middle school, when my mother offered her prophetic wisdom that my white Catholic school friends would abandon me for other "social circles" at the mixed public high school. I also failed to understand "racism" when I learned that perfect grades and bilingual skill were secondary to being "too Mexican" and that the latter foreclosed for me the honor of representing this country through the foreign exchange program that was sending a student from my high school to Costa Rica.

Then a civil rights problem walked onto our high school campus in 1969 when the Chicano students decided to wear ethnic buttons that called for "liberation." At that moment, the white-on brown near riot was an invisible line separating brown teenagers from white teenagers, both enraged because the previously unspoken differences between them were now expressed openly in the words on yellow-brown buttons. Then the following June I let go of the naive "railroad track" theory just before college, when the mother of a white friend reminded me that it was not the grades that got me (and not her daughter) into the prestigious university, but rather "race."

I repeat this personal racial sojourn from rural youth to mid-life because its reflection persists today in the larger society. Twenty-some years later, I continue to sense the evolution of my race education, with its increasing complexity that mixes not only class and race, but race and nationalism and (new to me) nationalism and the indigenous factor. The latter is evidenced when even our own Latino folk differentiate based on language and darker pigmentation, and thereby mistreat fellow Mexican citizen farmworkers of indigenous physiognomy.

In my youth, the poverty factor confused the issue because the rural tracks didn't keep just Mexicans on their side, but poor Mexican and poor black families. Although it was true that the social circles at the high school were largely richer kids hanging around with each other, other circles mixed and masked the race "thing" on the athletic field, in the college-prep classes, in student body governance, and even in limited interracial dating.

I have concluded that as long as differences exist between people of like-being and near-being, the potential for "racism" will always exist, through which the supposed superiority of one racial or nationality group suborns another. Concurrently, other "isms" (e.g., sex/ gender, class) will play roles that accomplish the same end. In this society, as long as there are wealth differences and the concurrent possibility and reality of economic mobility to get nearer the ceiling, "racism" will feed healthily within various classes because of competition for limited opportunities.

As to solution, laws might help g people of color near the ceiling. But while laws may force us into legal tolerance, they do not necessarily achieve "love of neighbor." Marriage might get some near the appropriate power or social circles, as may being "middle class" or prestigiously schooled. On the edges, however, raw hatred will characterize "racism." An "edge" is where white-on-black violence sets the black man afire and where black-on-white violence bashes a truck driver senseless on the pavement. But as long as the dominant economic and political culture is "white," that second expression of hatred isn't "racism," but pure brutishness, justifiable to some perpetrators as a residual from a race-driven society. Five generations hence, the same hatred might be called "whitism," when the victim pleads to humans of color running the country with similar subordination.

Moreover, other edges exist today where racial competition leaves little room for sharing of the bone: for example, where racial candidates compete for the limited political, corporate, or The immigrant history of the nation indicates that hatred expressed as anti-immigrant sentiment varies in the cycle only with the nationalism, color or religion of the victim. Although the oppressive treatment of immigrants may not always be labeled "racism," immigrant history argues that hatred against
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