This is the time to tell a story. When I was a graduate student at the University of Loyola, Chicago, I had my first academic paper accepted in a conference at Cleveland State University. After I finished my presentation, I wanted to celebrate my academic accomplishment. I walked out of the university and found a random pub in downtown Cleveland. I was enjoying a beer or two. A few white men were standing behind me. We cheered along as we all celebrated our happiness. After some time, another group of white men rushed to the bar where I was standing. One of the fellas came up to me and said, “We need space in the bar to have some shots, so why don’t you move along, spic.”
Truth be told, at that moment I felt confused. I did not understand this sudden aggressiveness toward my being. I felt violated and angry, however more defenseless than not. At that very moment, the guys who had been interacting with me intervened against the aggressor’s comment. He said, “What is your problem? This guy is doing nothing to you and you are behaving like an (expletive).” The aggressor replied, “It is none of your business” and identified himself as a police officer. This made the situation even worse; all of a sudden a brawl broke out in front of my eyes. I had two opposing groups, both American, fighting not because I was doing something wrong but because of the color of my skin and non-acceptance.
No escalations to a tragic realm, however. This simple story reflects the structural racism that occurs in the United States on a daily basis; furthermore, it is not new. There are individuals who see color and accept the other with all their differences. There are those who see color and neglect, violate and perpetrate the other because of being different. This is a critical point in the history of the U.S.A. This is only one of many stories about discrimination that I can illustrate growing up as a Mexican-American in the country that I love.
According to the Aspen Institute, structural racism is a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms perpetuate racial group inequalities. Among the conversations that I have endured throughout the years: “I’m not racist, I have Black or Latino friends” and “I do not see color, I see the person for who they are.” My intention is not to shame anyone; what I intend to do is invite people all around the world to see color – because we have different colors of skin and in many societies being Black or brown or yellow places you in a category of disadvantage, even before the individual opens his or her mouth. We need to recognize color and accept and dignify people of color. That is the tone of the conversation that in 2020, humans, who as a global society are experiencing a pandemic, should engage upon.
One of my biggest concerns is that I hear “when will things go back to normal?” George Floyd is just the straw that broke the camel’s back. … I really do hope that we do not go back to normal; this is the time to change and to begin a new social dialogue around the world, a dialogue that defends the ideology that being different is OK and that all human beings are ends, and never means.
Isaias Rivera works for Universidad Autonoma de Chihuahua; Corvinus University, Budapest, and is a visiting professor at the University of Nevada in Reno.