Ugly Racial Litmus Test

Ugly Racial Litmus Test

By Ruben Navarrette - October 25, 2009

SAN DIEGO -- Are we post-racial yet? Not so much.

Recently, there have been some ugly racial skirmishes. And we're not talking about the hate crimes, ethnic harassment and racial discrimination that get so much publicity. Sometimes, the harshest attacks are intra-racial. They occur within the family.

Some people of color have this ridiculous and destructive habit of judging each other's racial and ethnic authenticity. It's both comical and sad, since the people who do it often have deep insecurities about their racial and ethnic credentials.

I've been on both ends of the sword. In college, to mask my own doubts about whether I was Latino enough, I used to judge my fellow Latinos as culturally inadequate. Since then, the same thing has happened to me. A perusal of liberal Web sites informs me that I'm a "vendido" (sellout), a "Rethug," (Republican thug), a "coconut" (brown on the outside, white on the inside), and a "fake Hispanic" -- all, no doubt, to the delight of white liberals who prefer that Latinos like me refrain from thinking for ourselves.

Sometimes, it's my appearance and background -- light skin, middle class, poor Spanish, etc. -- that cause fellow Latinos to view me with suspicion or even hostility. More often, it's the things I write. The Latino left attacked me when, during the immigration debate, I came out in favor of workplace raids, sped-up deportations and more resources for the Border Patrol. They were no more pleased when, on other fronts, I opposed bilingual education, racial preferences and Latino boycotts.

Curiously, they think I'm wrong even when they agree with me. Case in point: Recently, I went on CNN's "Newsroom" and criticized Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Liberal bloggers applauded -- then turned around and attacked me for also defending, at one point, conservative Latinos Alberto Gonzales and Miguel Estrada.

This isn't just a Latino thing. African-Americans have also been known to bash each other. Black conservatives Clarence Thomas, Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams and others know what it's like to be deemed inadequately black. So does Bill Cosby, who was raked over the coals by academics and other members of the African-American left for sharing uncomfortable truths about what ails the black community.

Another person who has done that effectively and has the bruises to show for it is my friend Juan Williams, a Fox News contributor and analyst for National Public Radio.

Recently, during an appearance on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor," Williams defended Rush Limbaugh's free-speech rights and criticized NFL owners for caving into racial intimidation tactics. Left-wing radio talk show host Warren Ballentine, who was also on the segment, disagreed with Williams and said that Limbaugh's comments were offensive to "real black people." After Williams pushed back with another rebuttal, Ballentine -- clearly out of ammunition -- landed a cheap shot, telling Williams to "go back to the porch."

The inference: That Williams is an Uncle Tom.

This isn't Williams' first rodeo. The arbitrators of blackness went after him in 2006 for his insightful book "Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America -- And What We Can Do About It." They did it again in 2007 when he defended Bill O'Reilly for an innocent comment that O'Reilly made on his radio show about how he had visited a restaurant in Harlem and "couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference" between the black-run establishment and others in New York City. Professor Boyce Watkins of Syracuse University responded by calling Williams a "happy Negro" during an appearance on CNN.

Lovely. Maybe besides the racial litmus test, there's some professional jealousy at work here since Williams has such a large audience.

It turns out that these rigid standards of what it means to be black can also be applied to children's toys. Mattel Inc. recently released three new African-American Barbies -- Grace, Kara and Trichelle -- to fill a void for young black girls who have, for generations, had to play with dolls that don't look like them.

African-American women have begun to complain that the black Barbies aren't black enough because their hair is straight and light brown. The critics said they would have preferred more natural black hairstyles such as Afros and braids.

Funny. Kids I've seen quoted in news articles say they like the dolls. They don't seem bothered by the controversy. That's very grown-up of them. Then again, as we've seen, in these uncivil wars, sometimes it's the grown-ups who act most like children.

Copyright 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

Ruben Navarrette

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