Pablo Quintanilla: Words Matter

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Pablo Quintanilla says words matter, especially when they threaten to undermine the relationships between marginalized communities.

Early last week we heard what discrimination sounds like. Three Latino members of the Los Angeles City Council, caught on a leaked audio, expressed classist, colorist, homophobic, anti-Black and anti-Indigenous comments. Their message was nothing short of one of exclusion.

The words uttered on the recording are harmful. They threaten to weaken Latino and Black partnership built over so many decades in LA and elsewhere. They endanger opportunities to build a diverse political coalition, a hallmark of democratic governance. They’re a reminder of how hard it is to build something, and how easy it is to lose it.

The recording also reminded me of the destructive effects of colonialism and internalized racism lurking in the community.
As a boy growing up in Mexico City I remember repeatedly calling my cousin a “naca” – a classist, colorist, anti-Indigenous term - because she has dark, brown skin. Years later in college in the U.S. I invited a Black woman whom I dated at the time to visit my extended family in Mexico. I still remember one family member asking me if I had thought about what a mixed child might look like.

And even today, it’s well known that some fans continue to chant an anti-gay slur during Mexican National Soccer Team matches.
We can do better. Just because the Latino community is so often on the receiving end of exclusionary language doesn’t immunize it from doing the same to others.

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So, what to do?

One: We must acknowledge the harm. And we have to unlearn deep-seated biases, including classism, homophobia, colorism, and racist ideas. Standing idly by is tantamount to espousing them.

Two: We must step up to Ibram Kendi’s challenge of becoming anti-racists by always opposing exclusionary language.

Three: We must continue to nurture the friendships and collaborations we have created across racial, ethnic and class lines.
Words matter. Nobody is safe until we’re all safe. We’re in this together.

With a Perspective, I’m Pablo Quintanilla.

Pablo Quintanilla is the social impact manager for a major tech company.