Oct 11, 2022 - World

Los Angeles City Hall scandal casts spotlight on Latino racism

Los Angeles Councilman Kevin de León and Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez speak among themselves behind a microphone, both looking off to the side

Los Angeles Councilman Kevin de León and (right) Nury Martinez, who has resigned as the council's president. Photo: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The scandal that has rocked Los Angeles City Hall reverberates among many Latino communities in which anti-Black and anti-Indigenous attitudes prevail, experts tell Axios.

State of play: Yesterday, Nury Martinez resigned as president of the city council after she and two other councilmembers were recorded making racist remarks.

  • The secretly-recorded conversation, first reported by The Los Angeles Times, revolved around the councilors' frustration that the growing Latino population wasn't resulting in more Latino council districts.
  • In it, Martinez said a white councilmember handled his Black son as if he were an “accessory” and used a Spanish term meaning "little monkey" to describe the toddler.

The big picture: Latinos across the country are starting to gain more political power.

Yes, but: Latino politicians who get into positions of power must confront the internalized racism they may learn growing up, experts say.

  • Colorism, anti-Black and anti-Indigenous sentiments run deep among many Latinos who trace their roots to Latin America, where colonization and slavery took hold for centuries.

What they're saying: Raúl Pérez, professor of sociology at the University of La Verne, said he wasn't really surprised at the comments the council members made because it's the kind of thing he's heard his whole life.

  • "If you're Latino, you know this happens because we’ve witnessed it. We notice it at family gatherings, we notice it in everyday life with family and friends and communities."

Hispanic politicians who don't examine such ideas can "bring them into (a) position of power," said Pérez, who also wrote "The Souls of White Jokes: How Racist Humor Fuels White Supremacy."

  • "If there isn't any effort to resocialize this, then we play this out in our workplaces, in other communities."

The Latino community's failure to address systemic racism and colorism is why so many young Latinos, especially Afro-Latinos, reject Latinidad, said Cynthia V. Duarte, director of the Sarah W. Health Center for Equality and Justice.

"We have not reckoned anti-Blackness and anti-Indigenousness in our community," Duarte said.

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