The black experience has been written about in many great books, especially such classics as “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin, and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. Other strong black authors include Donald Goines and Robert Beck, also known as Iceberg Slim. In America’s prisons and ghettos the work of these two men continues to resonate.
The sacrifice and struggles required to be accepted in America is real, not just for blacks, but also for Asians, Latinos, Native Americans and other minorities. It is an everyday struggle to overcome prejudices, internally and externally.
The United States was founded on democratic principles established by white men who were considered revolutionaries. They opposed a system run by a king, a monarchy, yet ignored and discriminated against women and minorities when the country was first established in 1776.
This exclusion persists 244 years later, and with Donald Trump as president, divisions and hatred continue to exist based on race and ethnicity.
I learned a great deal about race and class issues while I was an undergraduate student at Occidental College, a private, liberal arts college attended by such individuals as President Barack Obama and Jack Kemp, a nine-term Republican congressman and former secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the H.W. Bush administration.
Obama continues to be perceived as a progressive and Kemp was pegged as a staunch but well-regarded Republican conservative who was recognized for his compassion for working class people.
The Obama/Kemp ideologies seem to have been lost in the current political discourse and our everyday treatment of other human beings. People continue to be judged by their gender, sexual orientation, skin color, physical disabilities, and age. Just look how Bernie Sanders is being grilled and questioned regarding his health because he is 78 years old. Age discrimination is pervasive and endemic in our society, unless you are a billionaire like Mike Bloomberg. His $60 billion makes him seem younger, even though he is also 78.
This leads me to wonder: How does one who is biracial or multiracial navigate the discrimination and prejudices held by so many members of our society? I have been denying my own genetic makeup for decades. I was born in Los Angeles, then deported as a baby to El Salvador with my mother. I grew up there until I was 5. Then we migrated to South Central Los Angeles, which was predominantly African American at the time.
I confused my teachers. They would simply stare and wonder where this pale looking boy came from.
It’s four decades later and I am still confusing the hell out of people. In East LA many assume that I am white. In Glendale, some people assume that I am Armenian or of Middle Eastern descent. The truth is I grew up in South Central always seeing myself as Latino, but not necessarily fitting the stereotypical physical profile. Some African Americans even assumed that I was a lost, curly haired Jewish boy — hanging out in the ghetto.
The point is people judge other people based on skin color, not on character. Yes, people do judge books by their cover and humans judge other humans based on how they look, how they dress, what kind of car they drive, how big their house is, and how much money they have.
Iconic leaders have advocated for fairness and equality among human beings, but they have perished as a result of misunderstandings, intolerance, envy, jealousy, and simple human hatred from their own race or people sharing their ethnic backgrounds.
You can give your heart and soul in advocating for your community and in return one of your own may end up murdering you. That is what happened to Gandhi, St. Oscar Romero, Malcolm X, Tupac Shakur, Notorious BIG, Nipsey Hussle, and countless other leaders and activists.
Yes, America is still perceived as a binary white and black nation, while the others continue to struggle to be included, seen and heard. It is definitely a daily struggle to promote tolerance and understanding among humans.
I continue to identify as Latino. It is an exhausting journey since I may look or fit into different race/ethnic categories — I get profiled all the time.
I could have conveniently chosen to remain in Minnesota after high school and somehow blended in. But I decided to return to Los Angeles to become involved with political organizing and social justice issues.
Over the past 25 years, some things have changed for the better, some for worse. Race and ethnicity issues continue to tear our country apart. We are a divided nation that mainly worships the almighty dollar, above all else, and not necessarily the character and intellect of an individual.
The current crop of presidential candidates seems to be missing the magic of Abraham Lincoln, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Bernie Sanders seems to be the closest to the dreams we held dear as a nation during the 1960s and were extinguished through the murders of iconic leaders. He may represent a last flicker of hope for young voters.
Yes, political fires are still burning throughout our nation, even as racial and ethnic tensions continue.
We may choose to be agents of division or agents of positive change. What kind of change are you choosing to be? The choice is yours to be a uniter or a divider.
In my case, I will continue to work toward social justice, unity and tolerance — even if it kills me.
Randy Jurado Ertll is the author of the novel “The Lives and Times of El Cipitio.” Visit his website RANDYJURADOERTLL.COM.