hat makes Rosa Parks and her actions at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement significant is not just a matter of color and race, but of sex and power. After all, this was a black woman defying the law of white men who, for the most part, ran the government and industry of this nation. The real issue was as much about the threat to the testosterone-driven economics of the ruling class as anything else. Indeed, it was the have-nots knocking on the door of the haves, as a group. It just so happen that the haves were white males and have-nots were everyone else, from the darker complexion, who could trace their roots mostly to Africa, instead of Europe (although some Latinos trace their roots to both, in addition to Latin America and the Caribbean), to women of all races and color. However, “naturally,” white women, as the spouses and children of the ruling class, already shared in some of the comforts and privileges (if not political or economic power) of society through the inheritance of social capital. They would be the first to enter the sanctified halls of government and boardrooms in any significant number before blacks and Latinos.
We need to be careful here, however. Arguably, skin color is simply just that -- skin color. The color barriers have blurred on the surface (somewhat), and we all seem to be "just getting along." However, the issue of class struggle and politics runs deeper, where the only color that matters is green (proverbially referring to the US monetary denomination, which is, ironically, more colorful these days in an effort to deter counterfeiting). Who controls the green is not a new battle at all. Some may argue that the skin color struggle was a distraction; others firmly believe it there was a direct correlation.
At the end of the day, the few have far more than the masses, and this has been an on-going issue for centuries -- and continues to be an issue today. We have been taught through the educational institutions that these are the ways of the world and we need to adapt. Rosa Parks, along with many others who have played a significant role in the evolution of our society, refused to adapt. Instead, she decided to carve out a new path and a multitude followed her.
|In carving out a new path for the rights of blacks and others, Rosa Parks dealt as hard a blow to the
distribution of wealth as she did to civil rights and race relations.
In the winter of 1955, as part of a movement already simmering, Rosa Parks, (42 at the time), a seamstress and active member of the NAACP, boarded a Montgomery City bus to go home from work. She sat near the middle, behind the 10 seats reserved for whites. According to the standards of segregation, when the “white” seats would fill up, the seats immediately behind them would have to be given to a white person (once again, this is the United States we’re talking about, not South Africa under British rule). So when the bus eventually got filled and there was a white man standing looking for a seat, the driver insisted Rosa Parks and three other black folk move to the back. Quietly, Ms. Parks just sat there. And with that peaceful act of defiance, Rosa Parks took the Civil Rights movement from a simmer to a boil.
From then on, the list grew. Suddenly, a multitude of blacks and Latinos got up and said, “Hey, we want some of that too!” And, as the rapper DMX put it, “I'm gonna do like hungry do and get a hungry crew.” Once again, it was simple economics. The crew would grow into a movement that would, quite literally, change the face of the United States of America.
But in carving out a new path for the rights of blacks and others Rosa Parks dealt as hard a blow to the
distribution of wealth as she did to civil rights and race relations.
To really get a sense of the "Barbarians at the Gate" dread the white ruling class would be experiencing from that moment on, we need to examine what was going on around the rest of the world at the same time. For it so happens that Rosa Parks added fire to a movement in the middle of other movements that were forming for pretty much the same reasons: fair and equal rights, opportunities, and representation. Again, the bottom line was the bottom line: dinero -- the bedrock of our free market society.
Some have argued that the longest running joke that has been played on our people (black and Latino) is that politics have anything to do with democracy and justice. Instead, the struggle to control the movement and distribution
of wealth among states and the social classes is what politics is really all about. Civil rights as euphemism for a "piece of the action."
Even before that December day in Montgomery, Alabama, the
white man knew that if he gave up a seat in a bus, then soon he
would have to give up a seat in a community board, in the city council,
in the state capital, in Congress, in the Senate, and (gasp!)
eventually in the most sacred place of all: the corporate boardroom.
|Today, a bus seat; tomorrow, a chair in the corporate boardroom. Photo: Corbis-Bettmann
And of course, dark-skinned people that can trace their roots directly to Africa were not the only ones getting ready to do battle with the forces of white and green (no, not the Jets). Although pale-skinned Latinos may have been able to shield themselves somewhat from discrimination, their darker brothers and sisters fell in the same boat as those of more linear African descent. Today, they still do.
When we view history from this broader perspective, the significance of Rosa Parks can truly be appreciated, for she was the embodiment of all the battles being waged against the ruling class: race/color, sex, politics and economics. The have-nots initiated a soft coup d'état against the status quo. They wanted to break into the other side –- the side where the rules are made.
These battles were not only taking place in the streets, but on television as well. Just four years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, a redheaded white woman challenged a major Hollywood studio to allow her Cuban husband play a major role -- as her husband, no less -- on national television. Although Desi Arnaz, who went on to play the role of Ricky Ricardo in “I love Lucy,” had a heavy accent, he was the “right,” skin color. However, that did not buy an automatic ticket into the world of national television, which surprisingly enough, was controlled by white men. CBS, the studio that produced “I Love Lucy,” had a difficult time letting Lucille Ball bring her Cuban husband to the show in a “mixed marriage.” The race and sex issue weighed heavily on the studio, with the idea of this Cuban in bed with a redheaded, “red-blooded American" (as opposed to green-blooded Latinos...anyway, "live long and prosper") in front of women and children all over the United States not sitting well with the white producers and government censors. However, it was a sitcom, and Ricky Ricardo was more a caricature than anything else, so the race and sex “threat” was played down, and the studios and the government censors allowed it. However, the producers avoided the bedroom,
although "Little Ricky" was created during the show's run. Of course, had Desi Arnaz been a few shades darker, it would never have happened. But this would not be the last time Cubans and “redheads” mix it up.
|"All-American" gal Lucille Ball jumping on Cuban Desi Arnaz was not so cute to CBS producers. The idea of mixed-race marriage was a taboo both Desi and Lucille managed to break through back in 1951. Photo: CBS Broadcasting Inc.
| ...had Desi Arnaz been a few shades darker, it would never have happened.
In 1951, when “I love Lucy” began to air, Cuba was a favorite vacation spot to the United States, and although Carlos Prío Socarrás was president at the time, the return of Mafia pal Fulgencio Batista to power in Cuba was already on paper. With the help of the US Government, Batista would ensure ‘friendly’ relations throughout the 50s, while millions outside La Habana lived and died in poverty. But in 1959, that all changed. The following years would prove to be a social and political Twilight Zone to the established, white ruling class. And once again, CBS would take a bold leap and tackle the fringes of our experiences with that groundbreaking television series (the Twilight Zone) which, incidentally, began airing in 1959.
Indeed, the first half of the Cold War era was like traveling through another dimension of both sight and sound. Rock and roll music became the soundtrack of an impending doom, like screams from a dark dust cloud of invading barbarians, moving closer to the happy prosperity of the upper and middle classes. In crazed fear, the United States fought everywhere to desperately maintain the status quo. At home, Senator Joseph McCarthy created a "black" list of suspected Red (Communist) sympathizers (also known as Pinkos) in Hollywood and abroad. Among the blacklisted, comedy king Charlie Chaplin and actor, athlete, and activist Paul Robeson threatened to move the United States into dreadful servitude of godless dictators, according to the rhetoric [see the movie, "Good Night and Good Luck"].
The United States fought or supported heated battles against the spread of “Red” throughout the world: in Angola, Zaire, Namibia, Ethiopia; in Iran; throughout Latin America, from Argentina, Peru, and Colombia, to the Caribbean and most of Central America, including numerous CIA covert operations like PBSUCCESS that overthrew the democratically-elected President of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in 1954. Of course, the hottest spot of the Cold War was the one closest to home.
|Red soldiers in greens. Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Fidel Castro, in black & white, insured the 60s would be a multi-cultural revolution.
When Fidel Castro and Ernesto "Ché" Guevara came to power in Cuba in 1959, Washington not only lost a vacation spot, but an ally. While Ché and Castro were fairly light-skinned individuals, they threatened to spread more green to black, brown and white people alike. And it would be this aspect of the Cuban Revolution that would not fall well with the United States, since it meant a restructuring of land and wealth distribution, which would ultimately affect the preferential trade deals with the United States.
Before the fall of the pro-US Batista regime, US interests had owned four fifths of the stakes in Cuba's utilities, nearly half of its sugar, and nearly all of its mining industries. At any given moment, the United States was capable of altering the economy in Cuba, and this did not fit in well with the idea of a sovereign nation. At the same time, Castro’s government sympathized with the socialist and Communist guerillas fighting throughout Latin America, and vowed to create a state modeled after Red ideology to better serve the masses of the Cuban island. Seeing Red 90 miles away, the United States could only figure out two things: cut them off and prepare to invade. And on April 17, 1961, approximately 1300 members of a CIA-supported invasion force landed on the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, with orders from President John F. Kennedy to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government. The Cuban military forces made mince meat of this operation. The US Government, unable to fully commit an outright invasion due to international pressure and the Cold War with the Soviet Union, went back to the drawing board.
Kennedy then initiates another attack on Cuba in 1962, this time in the
form of an economic embargo. History would prove this to be another
failure — albeit measured in decades instead of days.
In order to bring a more balanced trade arrangement, the Cuban government invited Soviet financial and military investment, while altering the management and distribution of US assets on the island. President Kennedy then initiates another attack on Cuba in 1962, this time in the form of an economic embargo. History would prove this to be another failure — albeit measured in decades instead of days.
To the United States, Cuba became an economic and political orgy, with white, black, green, brown and Red mixing it up just 90 miles away from Florida! To make matters worse, the Soviets brought missiles to Cuba. The real threat was not nuclear war, but black and brown people waving big, long, Red missiles at the United States, where women and children could see in plain view. This is what really drove white men in the US Government crazy. The real Missile Crisis was about ego and the power of the white male being threatened. Nuclear devastation and mass death was also a concern.
Although the United States splashed cold water on that aspect of the Cold War, black and Red would rear their ugly heads on a grand scale once again. In 1980, the Soviet Union put not only the first black man in space, but also the first Latino -- Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez.
Back on terra firma, riding a bus with black people sitting wherever they wanted took some getting use to. So on August 28, 1963, hundreds of thousands of black people demonstrated their bus-riding abilities and headed to Washington. The fact that hundreds of Latinos were a part of that caravan and subsequently attended Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech is often left out of the history books.
Protesters on Beale Street in Memphis in 1968 walk quietly past a row of National Guard riflemen with bayonets, wearing signs that say simply, "I am a man." Tanks skirt the marchers on the other side. If we were still trying to figure out if black people deserved the same space and rights as whites in as recent as 1968, how do we measure "equal rights" when the white man had around a 200-year head start in gathering wealth and real estate? Photo: Corbis-Bettmann
The Black Panthers and the concept of “Black Power” came from the ashes of Malcolm X, who was assassinated in 1965. Suddenly, the challenge to the white ruling class became very real. As this movement affected all dark-skinned people, the Latino community augmented the struggle for equal rights at home and at work. To the west, Cesar Chávez and the United Farm Workers lead the Mexican immigrant struggle for better working conditions throughout the farms of California, the 5th largest economy in the world; to the east, the Young Lords Party is formed to help Puerto Rican, Latinos, and blacks fight against poor and abusive government services in their communities. The Young Lords modeled their initiative after the Black Panther Party and socialist ideology.
While race, politics and sex contributed a great deal to the Civil Rights Movement, there were many, less talked about elements at play during that era. For example, the center of population gravity, that is, the age group which at any given time constitutes both the largest growth and the fastest-growing age set of a given population, dropped to about 16 or 17 during the mid 1960s, largely due to the “Baby Boom” after World War II.1
So splash discrimination, the politics of race and money, and the double standards of sex into a caldron filled with youth rebellion, and bang, a mass sociopolitical orgy begins. Groups like the Black Panthers and Young Lords were born into a new, colorful world of resistance and change.
|If we were still trying to figure out if black people deserved the same space and rights as whites in as recent as 1968, how do we measure “equality rights” when the white man had around a 200-year head start in gathering wealth and real estate?
However, we have to believe that Congress at the time suffered from mass depravity, with a tinge of sadomasochism (maybe more than a tinge), for this brew was not enough. The pièce de résistance was a cold plate of war, which was served with more than 1.2 million blacks, whites, Latinos and others fighting a “Yellow” man with a “Red” hand in a green land called Vietnam. More than half of the US forces were 21 years of age or younger, and did not even know where Vietnam was on the map. More than 11,000 blacks and Latinos never returned, and of those who made it back, more than 40,000 were wounded (over 58,000 US soldiers died in total, more than half under the age of 21. And over 9,000 of the deaths were result of suicide).2
For dessert, the United States Supreme Court rules that prohibiting interracial marriage was unconstitutional,3 and NASA thrusts a big, white rocket into the black space to stick the Red, White and Blue on the moon. It would top all other orgasms, and put the feral 60s to rest.
In the refractory period of the 70s, we relaxed and reveled in a new, more colorful world. At first, things looked a little weird. We sprayed color everywhere: on TV, on subway cars, and on flashing lights in places called discos, where people dressed in Polyester fruit salads. Just by looking at fashion, the color of furniture, automobiles, etc., it was clear we had no idea what to do with all this color all over the place. We began to break through, and now it was time to learn how to make things work -- and make it look good.
Although our colors today move freely and in more style, the powers that be continue to struggle against the forces of change. For example, some brown guy with a red shirt with lots of black gold is now causing rifts in a white house, and all the green in the blue world may not stop what’s coming next. But it’s okay, there’s no need to worry. Just as there was no need to fear a black planet, there’s nothing to worry over a brown one as well.
Thank you, Rosa Parks. Pa’lante, siempre.
RAFAEL MERINO CORTÉS
1 Peter Drucker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
2 Combat Area Casualty File, Center for Electronic Records, National Archives, Washington, DC
3 Loving v. Virginia, June 12, 1967
|Written by Gilberto on Thursday, January 18, 2007|
Wow, this article opened my eyes! Thank you, Mr. Merino, for writing such a powerful tribute and engrossing essay. As a computer science major in my first year at Oswego (SUNY) I had little interest in looking up Latino and African history (I’m both) since I figured there’s no money in that. This article and the rest of your site is mad interesting though. The whole I Love Lucy thing was wild. Thanks.
|Written by Alberta Jackson on Tuesday, January 09, 2007|
This is a wonderful perspective. Thank you, Rafael, for writing this piece. I will make copies for my students (6th grade) to read.
|Written by Javier Fergos on Thursday, January 18, 2007|
This is good work. What is clear to some is not even a thought in so many. Many of the building blocks of this great nation are stained with the blood and sweat of so many abused and forgotten souls. Progress has been wonderful for the majority but the existing imbalance has a long echo indeed. And I don't think affirmative action was a bad idea but it shouldn't be the only idea addressing the legacy of inequality, institutional racism and discrimination in this country.
|Written by Designer23 on Wednesday, April 25, 2007|
Thanks for the essay Rafael. I learned a little from this well written essay. I would like to note that Rosa Parks was not an individual who made a decision. Rosa Parks was a part of a movement that was already in progress. The decision to sit in the front of the bus that day was an organized decision by a movement in the south.
People of color should work together to accomplish the goal of equal rights for all people (including whites). We have a long way to go in communicating with whites as well as with each other as people of color. Jesus may come back before we see this come to pass.
|Written by Guest on Monday, June 04, 2007|
I, too, think this is an interesting article. However, I would like to clarify a bit about Rosa Parks from Designer23's statement. She was not a pawn. She was a part of a movement. It was a strategy. A Black woman was going to be far more sympathetic than a Black man; even by the (low) moral standards accorded to Blacks by Southern Whites. Moreover, Rosa Parks had a long history of organizing before linking up with the NAACP and other organizations and the now famous Montgomery Bus Boycott. She was truly ahead of her time in many respects. Her space on that bus was a long time coming. But let's not forget the importance of Emmett Till and his death which truly galvanized the various groups organizing for civil rights in the South as well as the rest of the nation.
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