Editor’s Note: This story is part of a collection of work by Xochitl Gonzalez that was the finalist for the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.
On Monday, L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez took a “leave of absence” (in disgrace) from her position following a leaked audio recording of Martinez making racist and homophobic statements to a group of fellow political leaders. I’m not sure if hate language from a public official can be considered in grades of “better” or “worse,” but I’d venture to say that what made Martinez’s remarks particularly horrible were that they focused on a child—specifically, the Black son of fellow L.A. City Council member Mike Bonin, who is white and gay.
In addition to calling the child a repugnant, racist epithet, Martinez takes the opportunity to deem Bonin the “fourth Black member” of the city council. She then goes on to criticize the L.A. district attorney, George Gascón, by describing him as being “with the Blacks”—the implication being, of course, that if he is “with the Blacks,” he cannot be aligned with Martinez’s interests. And, of course, the further implication being that he can’t be aligned with her Latino constituents’ interests.
I would love to say that I’m surprised by this incident, but I’m only surprised by how retrograde the nature of the racism was. Anti-Blackness, and specifically anti-Black racism, has followed most U.S. Latinos from their home countries, where the violent “mixed” origins of our very existence—the result of a white Spanish colonizer enslaving and raping indigenous and African peoples—have long elevated white skin such as mine in the social pecking order. But, more often lately, when issues of Latino anti-Blackness arise, they are discussed as an intra-community issue pertaining to the bias against, and erasure of, Afro-Latino identity amongst our own people. Martinez’s clear-cut, “us against them” hatred feels so simplistic and lacking in nuance, it feels of a bygone era, like stuff out of a ’90s movie about race relations.