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- Growing Up Bronx
In a past life, I was heavily involved in promoting right wing politics. Yes, you heard that correctly, a Latino from the South Bronx who not only wrote for, had a talk show, attended rallies, went on Fox News, and spoke at events in support of the right wing. What the hell was I thinking? Geez!
Oddly enough, and much to the surprise of my right leaning colleagues, due to my conscience, I actually ended up voting for President Obama both times! Once as a Democrat, and once as a Republican. However, that’s an entirely different story for another time.
Following is an article that I wrote for one of the largest, most notorious right wing websites out there, WND. I had tried to get other pieces posted, but they never made the cut. However, this one where I, a Latino speaks in a way that appears to be disparaging to my own people’s struggle, well, of course that one made it through! Go figure!
It is a piece that I am highly ashamed of given my current world view. However, I think it is worth revisiting and speaking to it based on my current world view. We can examine the evolution that I went through, and find out what has changed. Perhaps through understanding what happened to me, we may be able to reach others out there who may be just as confused as I once was. Considering that quite a few Latinos voted for Trump, I’d say that there are many out there as confused as I was.
I will be keeping the article exactly as it was originally written, and I will add my comments and thoughts on those portions that require it. Having written this article embarrasses me greatly, but this was part of my evolution. I embrace the process of growth and change. If you learn new facts, yet you refuse to evolve, then you have a problem. However, a person who realizes their mistakes, and then adapts, that is called being human.
Stop pointing the finger at Whitey.
I’m a Puerto Rican man, born in Puerto Rico but a resident of New York City since I was 5 years old. I am what many consider Nuyorican, a life-long New Yorker who came from Puerto Rico.
I grew up in the South Bronx, during the 1980s. This was the era when all the subway trains were covered in graffiti, artists competing for the best tagging spots that would provide the most exposure. Heroine syringes, crack vials and violent gangs were part of everyday life. During the summer, the fire hydrants would serve as our swimming pools. It was not uncommon to see kids hanging out in front of the building until the wee hours of the morning. They were good times and they were bad times, but those times undeniably shaped who I am today and what I wanted to be then.
I look back on those times with a mixture of nostalgia and loathing. Nostalgia because during those times is when I forged lifelong friendships. Watching my son grow up today, in a different environment, I know that he will never experience the types of connections I did growing up. On the plus side, he will not experience some of the really bad things I experienced in those years.
These days when I see people complain and blame the government or the white man for their problems, I think back to those days growing up in the South Bronx. You see, my family was poor; we had welfare; we received food stamps when food stamps were actually stamps; we got on the cheese line; we had Medicaid and Section 8 housing assistance. This is how I grew up, not any different than the way these folks complaining are coming up. The difference between us is that I refused to remain in those circumstances: I wanted to be a man who stands on his own two feet; I wanted to provide more for my son, and I did not want to be constantly surrounded by violence.
This last paragraph is where I begin to examine my former thought process. If the right wing had their way, most of those programs I mentioned above would disappear. Many who criticize them (and minorities who use them) fail to acknowledge that just as many, or even more poor whites are on those very same programs.
Could there be fraud and abuse happening? I’m sure of it. However, those programs were instrumental in providing my siblings and I the help we needed to get ahead in life. Sometimes, due to the circumstances we are born into, through no fault of our own, we require a helping hand. Most of us did not want to receive government assistance, and as soon as it was feasible, we got off it. However, the helping hand was instrumental to us in achieving the end result.
When I hear a man that is my age and physically healthy complaining about a lack of opportunity, complaining that he had no chances in life, and in some cases telling me I am privileged, it makes me sick to my stomach. Many are quick to blame the white man for all of their problems. They say that the white man put drugs in their neighborhoods to kill them all – genocide. They say that the white man put guns in the neighborhood so they can kill each other. They say that the white man forces them to live in this squalor and prevents them from advancing. It’s so easy to blame someone else for your own shortcomings, isn’t it?
Well, I have come to realize many things in this regard. Let’s start with the privilege aspect of it. I have come to accept and acknowledge white privilege. Even though I’m not white, and though I faced many of the same struggles that my black brothers and sisters have, I have come to understand that my fairer skin does grant me some privilege. I will never allow a person to negate my efforts, and all of the hard work I put in to become successful in life, but I acknowledge that I am not as threatening while walking down the street to some folks as others may be. I also acknowledge that police are less likely to target me based on racial profiling.
About the drugs and the guns, let’s be real here. Papipto usually doesn’t have access to all that high level stuff. He is a pawn in the grand scheme of things. The United States declared a “war on drugs,” but really, who was that war against?
Latino and black people receive much harsher sentences for the same drug related crimes than white people do. The system also tends to focus the war on our neighborhoods as well. Therefore making our people more likely to get caught committing a drug related crime, thereby receiving that already harsher sentence. It’s practically a setup against us. Nowadays, I think that the government knows where the drugs all come from and who the key players are. Yet for some odd reason, they focus the war on us? I wonder why that is? It wouldn’t have anything to do with keeping those prison filled with brown and black bodies now would it?
I prefer to call things as I see them. When I was growing up not once in my entire life did I encounter a white man who offered me drugs. Not once did a white man offer me a gun. The only white people I encountered growing up were the Mormons that would come to help out the elderly and disabled. Those guys and the police officers were the only white people I ever encountered – oh, and some teachers. I will repeat that none of these individuals ever put guns, drugs or any other form of contraband in my hands.
I had not yet realized how oppressive systems set us up for failure and lead us down these destructive paths. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in personal responsibility, but I acknowledge that the odds are stacked against us. These oppressive systems may not have been implemented by the white person sitting next to you, or your white buddies, but rest assured, they benefit from it. It is this oppressive system that our country was built on, and it still affects our communities to this day.
On the other hand, Papito, a Latino man, offered me a job selling marijuana. When I turned down the offer, he called me a p–-y wanna-be white boy. Followed by a “you’ll never make it in the white man’s world.” Neighborhood thug Tyrone and his buddies beat me up and hit me in the face with a gun because I was going to school.
I am a firm believer that we have choices. My choices involved going to school and doing the right things. Guys like Papito and Tyrone made different choices that led them to prison and in some cases death. Those were personal choices made by these individuals. Papito didn’t get drugs from the white man; he got the drugs from Hector, a fellow Latino. Do you see my point? Tyrone and his friends beat me up because I wanted to go to school. They called me a nerd. They took away anything nice that I ever received and abused me at every opportunity, because I wanted to do the right things.
A friend of mine who insists that I’m white said that this was a reaction to the systemic oppression that Papito and Tyrone had experienced. Mind you, I get that, but I don’t entirely subscribe to it. As I mentioned before, I’m a firm believer in personal responsibility. Those guys beat me up because they said I looked and acted white. Does the systemic oppression they have suffered (as have I) make it okay to beat me up because I have fairer skin? Even if I were a white man, is it okay to beat me up because of that? I understand their thinking in this case, at least much more clearly that I did back then, but I still strongly disagree with this. I don’t see oppression as a valid justification for exacting violence on someone based on appearance.
I understand now that Hector, the guy Papito got the drugs from got them from someone, and on and on it goes up the chain of command. Guess where the buck stops? I maintain that those guys made their own choices, while simultaneously recognizing that the odds were stacked against them. It’s not an excuse, and I don’t support them, but I understand that they may not have been as mentally strong as I was. In order to resist the easy money, the peer pressure, and so on, one requires a strong will and discipline. Obviously, not everyone had that strength. Yes, I am humble bragging here, it really hurt physically and emotionally to get beat up everyday while trying to keep your grades up and staying out of trouble. You have no idea, how hard it was to stay out of gangs for protection, etc. That’s why I get so angry when people say that I had it easy. They have no idea what I went through.
Today Tyrone is still in the same neighborhood, asking the government for handouts and complaining about how the white man ruined his life. Instead of accepting and taking ownership for his own decisions, pathetic Tyrone insists on blaming the white man and the system for his failures in life. Upon being released from prison, Papito returned to his mother’s home where his wife and five children stayed during his incarceration. Can you believe that he has the nerve to complain and blame the white officer who arrested him for ruining his life?
I realize that my examples above are gross oversimplifications of the situation, but these are real examples that I experienced. I changed the names and details slightly, but the point is one and the same. These individuals made their choices, and they must live by the consequences of those choices. I, too, made choices growing up, and those choices led me to where I am today. This is why I despise it when someone says that I am privileged – because my skin is light I have been told that I have white privilege. Never mind all the hard work I put in, never mind that I turned down the fast money that comes with drugs and crime, never mind that I endured the beatings from Tyrone and his friends just to get to school … my blessings are because my skin is light.
Give me a break. My skin color has absolutely nothing to do with my station in life today. My decision to continue going to school even though I was getting beat up for it, my decision to remain broke while I was becoming educated, my decisions and only my decisions are the reason I am where I am today.
Not much has changed when it comes to my views regarding personal responsibility. I still believe that we are ultimately responsible for the choices we make, but I acknowledge that these choices are much easier for some people. If you are born into a family who is well off, odds are that you will do better in life than someone who is born into poverty and crime gripped neighborhoods.
White privilege. I have come to see that it does exist. In fact, someone unfriended me on Facebook for stating as such. Yes, I have light skin, and yes, I’m certain it’s made my life easier to an extent, but I will not allow my skin color to discredit the hard personal choices I made. Many friends who looked just like me, and were even fairer with light eyes ended up in prison or dead just the same. Why? Personal choices. There is no substitute for that.
I consider welfare and any form of government aid as a stepping stone to get you back on your feet. It is not a way of life; it is not the way you survive. It is a stepping stone while you get your life in order, not a long-term solution.
I cannot deny that without these government programs, I would not be where I am today. Financial aid, tap, food stamps and Section 8 were all programs that helped me get here. They were stepping stones. I understand that some people encounter hard times, and I am for assisting individuals in those situations. However, this should not be an indefinite way of life. Get an education, resist the temptations, and work hard so that you can stand on your own two feet.
This statement here still rings true. The programs are stepping stones, and not meant to be a way of life. Of course, if someone is incapable of working due to a disability, be that physical or mental, then we must do our part to help them out. Absent that, well, they may do what many others do and turn to a life of crime, and this knows no race or color barriers. It applies across the board.
I never will support blaming someone else for an individual’s own choices. You chose to sell drugs. You chose to be violent. You chose to drop out of school. You chose to hang out all day – you and only you made all of these choices.
Choices, yes, I believe in personal responsibility. But I can now see that we are part of a system which treats us unfairly. A system which sets up latinos and blacks for failure right from the start. Your choice factor in, but it really sucks that the odds are stacked against us so many years later.
Stop being a coward and blaming someone else, own your actions, and make the changes that are necessary. Stop blaming the system, stop blaming the tea party, stop blaming the Republicans, and stop blaming the police for your choices. Those of you that genuinely need my support, you have it; my tax dollars are hopefully helping you make a better life for yourself. Those of you like the people I mentioned above are leeches, disgusting parasites of society, and you make me sick. I will fight hard to ensure that nothing I contribute to the system goes to people like you, who keep blaming the white man for your poor personal choices in life.
I don’t blame white people as a whole, we have many white allies, and I am grateful to them. I do blame the oppressive system that was built on the back of slaves and other minorities. I blame the bogus “war on drugs” which should be called the “War on minorities.” I blame the institutions that have been put in place by white supremacy over hundreds of years. Choice, personal responsibility will always factor in. However, the systemic oppression that is and has been in place for hundreds of years, it cannot be ignored or denied!
Growing Up Bronx