Cepeda column: Backlash against Castro spotlights America’s double standard for people of color
CHICAGO — As I was chatting with the young man ringing up my purchases at a big-box store last week, he forgot to scan the microwave in my cart. I told him that although I would love his mega corporation to give me a free appliance, I’d be paying on this day. We shared a chuckle.
Moments later, the greeter stopped me at the exit and asked to check my receipt. My husband, who is white, said to me, “What are the chances that the greeter would have checked your receipt the one time you accidentally hadn’t paid for a big-ticket item?”
My response to his naive comment was: “Only someone who rarely gets asked to validate a purchase would say that — I almost never get out of this store without having my cart items checked against my receipts. Do you want to guess why?”
I don’t usually have to play a spirited game of “Spot the White Privilege” with my husband or sons — they’ve seen the disparities in how we’re treated in countless situations.
It’s everyone else — those who aren’t in a group that our president encourages his fellow white citizens to look upon with suspicion or plain outrage — who needs double standards and inequities pointed out.
Here’s the most annoying one of the past week: the uproar over former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro’s so-called attack on former Vice President Joe Biden during last Thursday’s presidential debate.
In a stunning case of projection by everyone from political commentators to “straight” news reporters, Castro was accused of ageism for questioning if Biden was backpedaling his Medicare stance. At issue was whether Biden would require those who want Medicare coverage to have to “opt in” to the plan or if they would be automatically enrolled and have to “opt out” of the program.
USA Today declared Castro’s end of the back-and-forth an “attack” as did Politifact, MSNBC, The Washington Post and countless other media outlets.
Several of those stories included quotes from scandalized innocents who couldn’t bear to witness a youngster “talk back” to an elder, on a debate stage.
Paul Begala, who served as a senior aide to President Bill Clinton, tsk-tsked, calling Castro’s questioning a “cheap shot.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick called the instance “unnecessary.” The Democrat added: “There are differences in how the candidates view their policy choices and their policy proposals, and that is all fair game, but it doesn’t have to be trivialized.”
Fellow presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota piled on: “I just thought that ‘this is not cool.’ … I thought that was so personal and so unnecessary.”
Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill.
The exchange wasn’t even all that heated, frankly. But when Castro uttered the words, “Are you forgetting what you said just two minutes ago?” the commentariat clutched its pearls, because it assumed ill will that Castro never explicitly voiced, and subsequently denied. “I wouldn’t do it differently. That was not a personal attack,” Castro told CNN the next day.
Would anyone have even blinked had former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke or South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg couched their comments similarly?
It’s doubtful. So much candidate-to-candidate pushback has gone on for the past few months that most people hardly notice or care when it happens.
I’m here to cheer for the Latino backlash to the non-Latino backlash against Castro, which clearly illustrates that the moment a person of color fact-checks someone in real time, they will have projected onto them sinister intentions, unfair play and aggression.
Mayra Macías, executive director of Latino Victory Project, which has endorsed Castro and works to get Latinos elected to public office, told NBC News that Castro’s role in the primary campaign has been to push the conversations deeper and hold candidates accountable. Macias noted that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has done it time and again, without scandalizing the masses, as have other candidates.
“When a brown man is calling out a prominent white man, why is there this backlash that I don’t think would have happened if Sen. Sanders was the one telling Vice President Biden if he forgot?” Macias said.
The answer is clear: A double-standard against brown people.
In this country, people of color hold certain places in the collective mind. If they aren’t criminals, they are subservient; glorified if they “work hard” to overcome systemic racism to scratch out a living.
Rarely are they perceived as smart, energetic and powerful.
All I can say to that is: America, get ready for your worldview to be rocked.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.
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