Beneath Black, White--and Brown--Skin


Laura Cadena, a fifth-generation Tejana, recalls a story about when her grandmother moved from Laredo to Dallas, Texas: "She remembers getting on a bus and the sign saying 'Whites Only' or 'Blacks Only,' and she didn't know where she was supposed to sit."

Javier Elizondo, who moved to Texas from Mexico when he was 15, points out that some restaurants in Texas used to display signs saying, "No Mexicans or dogs allowed."

And those are just two of several stories captured in EthicsDaily.com's new DVD, "Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism." Though many first think of black-white relations when "racism" is mentioned, the new DVD also considers ways in which "browns" have been targets of racism.

"Anti-immigration has become anti-Hispanic, so therefore it is a form of racism," says Cadena in the DVD. Her comments are echoed by Elizondo, now executive vice president and provost of Baptist University of the Americas in San Antonio, Texas.

"The whole dialogue about immigration now, and the whole sentiment of anti-immigration, is definitely a brown issue," says Elizondo. "There are a lot of other undocumented immigrants in the United States that are not brown, and they have remained invisible through this whole dialogue. And they will continue to be invisible, because the way that the discussion is framed, it is a brown problem. It is the browning of American that is a problem."

Hispanics in the United States total 45.5 million, or 15 percent, of the population, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and Pew Hispanic Center. And an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, from various countries, live in the United States. The Hispanic community is vast and differentiated, and to speak of it as a single entity ignores its complexity. For example, our interviewees have backgrounds that include Mexico, Texas, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

Yana Pagan is associate pastor of Upper Merion Baptist Church in King of Prussia, Pa. When asked if she had ever encountered racism in the church, she cited an incident at a former church in which someone said, "It really is distracting when your accent comes on so strong."

Miguel De La Torre, associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colo., also tells a story about one of the first churches he served as pastor. "No one called me 'Miguel,' which is my name. Instead they called me 'Mike' or 'Brother Mike.' The refusal to even use my name," he says, "was still painful."

"Beneath the Skin" includes other stories of prejudice and institutional racism involving Hispanics. They involve repugnant incidents inside church walls and other religious organizations. We also cite statistics about education, incarceration and compensation—negative figures for blacks and browns much more so than for whites.

We believe "Beneath the Skin" will nudge viewers toward deeper reflection on the ways in which our prejudices bubble up, even in the church, and harm our brothers and sisters.

A fellow church member, says Elizondo, once went up to him and said Elizondo was "the kind of Hispanic" the church wanted. "They think they're complimenting me," says Elizondo. "They're insulting me, because any kind of Hispanic should be welcome in the church of the Lord. Any kind of Hispanic."

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com. He co-produced/directed the new DVD "Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism."

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Tags: African Americans, Baptists, Beneath the Skin, Cliff Vaughn, Documentary Filmmaking, Hispanics, Latinos, Race, Racism


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