Marcus Reeves, TellSpin
January 28, 2002
Fear of a Latin Planet: An African American's advice to our soon-to-be largest minority group
Dear Latin Americans:
I got the idea to write this letter after seeing the Puerto Rican Day
Parade on TV this summer. Nothing struck me as different about the event
until a Latina announcer commented, "In five years, Latin Americans
will be the largest minority group in America, 13 percent -- surpassing
"Damn!" I thought with a slight but concerned smirk,
"Where's that gonna leave us?"
I pondered the thought of African America's shifting relationship
with the mainstream. Would Hollywood replace the buffooning, politically
nonthreatening black sidekick used in buddy flicks with a Hispanic
counterpart? Would black people no longer have exclusive access to that
great political and economic tit called White Guilt?
But my thoughts and concerns were only fleeting because, priding
myself on being progressive, I realized that things change. So I
decided, in good faith, to write you a note. Sort of a passing on of
wisdom from the old guard to the new.
First: Don't change the name of your group every 15 to 20 years.
You've progressed from Spanish to Hispanic to the more appropriate Latin
American. Stick with that. Changing labels only confuses matters and
reeks of cultural and social schizophrenia. And it's embarrassing when
outsiders start asking, "What are youze people calling yourselves
now?" Hell, just look at our dizzying trek through names -- from
Colored to Negro to Ethiopians (if you were down with Marcus Garvey),
Asiatic (if you were down with Elijah Muhammad), to black to
Afro-American to Nubian to African American. Oh, and don't forget nigger
(which wasn't our idea), or nigga. Bottom line: Simplicity and
Next: Copyright all jargon, colloquialisms, and slang terms you
invent. Pop culture works from the bottom up, and it usually draws its
language from African-based minorities. Protect yourself and get the
whole enchilada. (Hey! You may want to start with that one.) If the
terms hit big, you get paid. If they stay local, at least you retain
control. God knows we'd be gazillionaires had we just copyrighted things
like rock 'n' roll, jazz, rappin', booya! and that greeting for the 21st
Since you'll be the top dog minority, universities and corporations
will start accepting more of you to "diversify" their
appearance. If you are the person picked, don't fully believe the
I've-made-it hype. You are a political and economic tool, so think and
move accordingly. Use the resources from that place to build something
lucrative for yourself and your people. And do it quick, before
Republicans start thinking they've paid whatever debt America owes you
and start taking shit away.
Also, nip that division along dark/light complexions in the bud.
Don't think folks aren't listening when, for instance, non-Dominicans
call Dominicans "the niggers of the Latin world," or say that
Mexicans are lowest on the Latin totem pole. In the mainstream's eye, a
nigger can be a spic, but all spics are niggers (you just got off the
slave ships a little early).
My final piece of advice has to do with politics. In the event of a
fight for civil or human rights in this country, don't let the media
pick your leaders. I bring up this point because when you become the
largest minority group, things will prove to be interesting. With your
numbers rising in states like California, the minorities (Latinos,
blacks, and Asians) become the majority -- and New York, Texas, and
Florida are soon to follow. When the "majority" starts to feel
the squeeze, look out for the backlash and the slipping away of rights
and services. After you start voicing your discontent, the media will
pick a moderate figure from your group -- someone who has no interest
and no connection to your angst -- to quote and put in the spotlight.
There you have it. I hope my suggestions are useful when you're
passed the scepter of "majority minority" in 2005. These
words, though they're premature, should help ease you through a future
you'll spend maneuvering through that double-edged and fork-tongued
acceptance by the mainstream.
When your day finally arrives, we'll simply set a bigger place at the
table and enjoy the company as we all keep white America guessing about
who's coming to dinner.
Marcus Reeves is the Publisher and Editor-in-chief of TellSpin.