Sebastian De La Cruz, an 11-year-old boy who can sing, is one of racism’s latest victims. A few days ago, he was tweeted about in the most disparaging ways by people who should have better things to do. This child was invited to sing at Game 3 of the NBA Finals and as a result of the ugly things that were said about him in the Twitter world, the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and their coaches invited him back to sing at Game 4. The audience loved him because he has a great voice and did an outstanding job. He is a mariachi singer and he wore an appropriate costume for his performance. He lives in San Antonio, where he was born. He is a citizen, though whether he is or not does not matter because one racist tweet about him is one too many.
For many decades, our country has complimented itself upon its willingness to take in the stranger and the pilgrims from places around the world, but that compliment continues to ring hollow in the face of our racial record. Too many times, the stranger and the pilgrim have been treated as less than human, and often they have become the recipients of great ridicule, hostility and violence. The same energy system that fueled the racist comments toward this child, Sebastian De La Cruz, undergirded the racism against African-Americans, First Americans and Asian-Americans decades ago and continues to be alive and well at this moment.
It is not good enough to dismiss these comments as simply being the mindless expressions of somebody using a medium to communicate that does not allow one to speak in complete sentences and that should not be taken too seriously. Anytime a comment is made that is designed to dehumanize another person, all of us who believe in the dignity of human beings should take issue with it and stand up to say that it is intolerable. It is wonderful that those teams and their coaches decided to invite Sebastian back for a second performance. After all, he is a child, and while ugly words can hurt anyone, they can be especially damaging to children.
Perhaps we will be smart enough as a country to take seriously the need to work out a decent and humane immigration process that can help create a way for the undocumented to have a normal and secure life among us. But regardless of what happens with immigration, all of us need to watch our tendency toward painting everyone with the same brush. The tweeters saw only Sebastian’s physical appearance and decided that they had the right to say whatever they chose to say about him, when the actual truth is that their comments said much more about them than they did Sebastian.
Sadly enough, racism always comes down to fear. Fear of those who are different. Fear of being displaced in some way or of losing some place that does not feel especially secure. This way of being in the world is very sad. And as we know from the history of our country, fear-fueled systems are quite dangerous and destructive for those who become victimized by them.
While racism must always be named and dismantled, in this case it is heartening to reflect upon the response that was made to it. Though it is a wonderful response, it cannot be allowed to mask all of the responses that have not been positive and all of the times that our Latino sisters and brothers have been dehumanized. We cannot afford to have any among us treated as less than human and expect that we will have a country of peace and harmony. We all need to stand together in saying that all people, and especially our children, will be respected.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.