Sunday, September 15, 2013

NPR's Code Switch forgets (or ignores) Latinas

con safos

In my work as the managing editor at Al Día News I spend a lot of time asking questions about the Latina experience in the United States. It is not an academic exercise. I’m intimately and professionally invested in examining the way we exist within a culture that sometimes erases, criminalizes or fetishizes us, and routinely overlooks our accomplishments.

I’ve heard many Latina stories, many Latina voices.. Each of those Latinas — cis and trans; immigrant and native-born; established and emergent; young and old — has something to say about what it means to be a Latina in the United States at this particular moment in time.

But that panoply of Latina voices has a hard time getting heard outside of specifically Latin@ circles. Sometimes, not even one Latina voice is heard.

NPR’s Code Switch, for example, picked up on the activity prompted by the #solidarityisforwhitewomen twitter hashtag created by writer Mikki Kendall, and generated a roundtable discussion that would explore the intersection of digital feminism and race in more depth than twitter’s 140-character limit permitted. They then asked Roxanne GayJill Filipovic, and Kendall herself, to write posts for the site. The final two writers invited to the roundtable were Lindsey Yoo and Jamilah Lemieux (her piece is not posted yet, as I write this).

Three African-American writers (including the originator of the hashtag), one white blogger and one Korean-American. No Latinas.

It’s not that Latinas didn’t participate when the hashtag was trending, because we did. If memory serves, Aura Bogado, the news editor of and a contributor to the Nation, was especially active. Even if I hadn't been following the hashtag, I would have seen this because she tops my "always read" list on twitter for her substantive, engaged take on the world.

So, then?

Maybe NPR's Code Switch thought the problematic intersection of race and feminism was not a consideration for the 25 million mestizas, afrolatinas, indigenous and white Latinas who live in the United States. Or maybe they thought we had nothing to contribute that couldn’t be said better by others.

One of the most pernicious and pervasive biases about Latinas is the belief that we are intellectual lightweights.

According to the American Association of University Professors, Latina tenured or tenure-track female faculty members frequently find themselves facing stereotypes centered on intellectual capacity. “Some are told by colleagues that they are particularly articulate, or that they speak English well, implying that this is atypical,” a 2012 AAUP article states. “Others have described instances where students, other faculty members, or staff members have assumed that they are service workers or anything but professors.”

The opposition to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation was also couched in terms of intellectual ability. Jeffrey Rosen’s profile in the New Republic, which served as her introduction to the public, was chock-full of quotes about the future Justice’s middling intelligence and lack of “intellectual gravitas.” When Salon’s Rebecca Traister analyzed this sentiment, she posited that the emphasis on lack of intellect showed just how difficult it was for a woman to be judged on par with male colleagues. But not too terribly long after Sotomayor became Justice, Elena Kagan, a white woman, went through her own confirmation hearing, during which she was characterized as talented and “scary smart.”

In popular imagination, we’re all sassy but vacuous Devious Maids; dopey and unintelligible Sofia Vergaras; or variants of Lupe Ontiveros' goodhearted, but undereducated, domestic worker (a role the talented actress played 150 times in Hollywood movies). There is no other Latina image, no matter how brilliant its exemplar, that approaches the amount of face time given to the stereotype of the intellectually challenged Latina.

Being dismissed as second-rank isn’t limited to Latinas of course, it is something that every woman of color faces, to lesser or greater degree, across almost every field of endeavor. The original hashtag of #solidarityisforwhitewomen was born precisely because this weaponized dismissal of credibility and authority is used so frequently against African-American women.

But, I’m a journalist as well as a Latina, and it’s galling to see my mainstream colleagues at NPR leaving Latinas wholly out of a serious discussion of the intersectionality of race and feminism. It indicates that they have closed their ears to the Latina voices so richly in evidence on the same platform where they noticed #solidarityisforwhitewomen trending.

Here are some Latina voices, in addition to Aura Bogado, that the folks at Code Switch should pause to hear:
  • Veronica Arreola, who explores exactly the intersection of feminism and “Latinidad” on her web site Viva la Feminista 
  • The collective MalintZINE — “radical mujeres, some of color and some queer, based in Tucson, Arizona” — who use twitter, tumblr, facebook and their web site to call attention to disparities of power and to decry the silencing of Chicana voices in feminism and within male-centered Chicano activism through art and commentary. 
  • Afrolatina Rosa Clemente is a Hip Hop activist and journo with political cred, who is outspoken about race, feminism and dozens of other issues. 
  • Trans woman and mujerista Voz who has long spoken and blogged — unequivocally and unapologetically — about the way cis feminism excludes and endangers trans women of color. Her insights are sometimes hard to hear, but are invaluable for cis women who too often shut their trans sisters out of the conversation.

There are many others, of course. So many varied, intelligent and thoroughly engaged Latina voices out there, speaking about all manner of issues. I invite NPR’S Code Switch to — as labor activist Dolores Huerta once said — get off the sidewalk and walk with us into history

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