It’s pretty fair to say that Tucker Carlson is not the world’s leading ethnographer. Given how regularly he spews anti-immigrant vitriol on Fox News, he likely doesn’t know the difference unless it suits him.
On Friday, he found such a reason to do so when he questioned whether Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a woman of colour, sneering with his ubiquitous scowl of white grievance that, “There is no place on Earth outside of American colleges and newsrooms where Sandy Cortez would be recognized as a quote, woman of color, because she’s not! She’s a rich, entitled white lady.” He continued by saying that the democratic socialist representative was “the pampered obnoxious ski bunny in the matching snowsuit, who tells you to pull up your mask, while you’re standing in the lift line at Jackson Hole. They’re all the same. It doesn’t matter what shade they are.”
Of course, Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson, whose father married an heiress to the Swanson chicken empire, was likely projecting his own world onto Ocasio-Cortez when he was mentioning Jackson Hole. And he specifically said it to discredit Ocasio-Cortez’s experience as a Latina. But more importantly, it’s ludicrous for Carlson to police the racial identity of the congresswoman, who firmly identifies as a Puerto Rican, since Latinas don’t even agree on who is white and who is a person of colour.
Case in point. In 2010, 85 per cent of Cuban-Americans were likely to identify as white alone, according to a US Census report. Incidentally, many of these Cuban-Americans who identify as white are also more likely to vote Republican. Some white liberals were shocked at how many Latinos in south Florida voted for Donald Trump, who regularly called immigrants rapists and drug dealers, but others were not the least bit surprised.
There are also plenty of Afro-Cubans who face discrimination both on the island and in the United States. Neither is more Latino or Hispanic than the other and both are united by a country of origin before coming to the United States. But they have vastly different experiences in terms of how they identify when it comes to their race and how they experience racism in either country.
And it’s not even that simple when it comes to other Latinos. The rightward shift in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas in the 2020 election confused just as many pundits. But as Jack Herrera has written, Hispanics in Texas are more likely to identify as white and many do not think of themselves as people of color. As one Tejana told him, “I’m too white to be Mexican, and I’m too Mexican to be white.” In fact, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War specifically stipulated that Hispanics who became citizens be considered white, as Texas was a state where it was legal to enslave Black people. Growing up, my right-wing Ronald Reagan-loving dad used to tell me about the old saying, “if you’re white you’re all right, if you’re brown, stick around. If you’re Black, you go back,” which I took as only apocryphal until I heard a song by the bluesman Big Bill Broonzy that had the exact phrase.
Of course, this doesn’t dismiss the experiences of Latinos in Texas who do identify as people of colour, and a large part of American history centres around who is included in the category of whiteness. At different points, xenophobes did not consider Italians and Jews the types of white people welcome in the United States.
At the same time, in the 2020 Census, the number of Latinos who identified as white dropped to 20 per cent, while more selected “two or more races” jumped from 6 per cent to 33 per cent. Those who identified as “other” spiked from 37 per cent to 42 per cent. That is a shift from the 53 per cent who identified as white in the 2010 census. These Latinos are not a second-class version of Latino and it is likely that these identities will continue to shift as all racial identities do, as they are inherently political.
With all of these contentions about who and isn’t a person of colour within the Latino community, how can Tucker Carlson, who has said his Washington neighbourhood “looks exactly like it did in 1955”, possibly be the arbiter of such a complex and contentious identity? The answer is that he can’t. Rather, Carlson wants to somehow make a woman who had to work as a bartender to make ends meet seem like a symbol of the bourgeoisie elites that he consistently rails against while he positions himself as a true vanguard of the working class – despite being the very epitome of white privilege. Carlson wants to discredit the racial identity of a woman whose family comes from an island that the United States has not granted equal status because of colonialism and racism because he doesn’t want to admit his own privilege.
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