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Racist remarks by Los Angeles City Council president overshadow years of work toward solidarity between Black and Latino communities, experts say

<i>Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images</i><br/>Nury Martinez resigned Monday as president of the Los Angeles City Council after she made comments about the Black child of a fellow councilmember. Martinez is seen here on August 30 in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag
Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Nury Martinez resigned Monday as president of the Los Angeles City Council after she made comments about the Black child of a fellow councilmember. Martinez is seen here on August 30 in Los Angeles.

By Jalen Brown, CNN

Nury Martinez resigned Monday as president of the Los Angeles City Council after she made disdainful and racist comments about the Black child of a fellow councilmember.

“As someone who believes deeply in the empowerment of communities of color, I recognize my comments undercut that goal,” Martinez said in a statement.

“I have already reached out to many of my Black colleagues and other Black leaders to express my regret in order for us to heal.”

Her remarks sparked outrage in a nation still reckoning with the 2020 killings by police of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and reignited a yearslong conversation about race relations in Los Angeles’ multicultural population.

The comments were part of leaked audio that was posted anonymously on Reddit and obtained by the Los Angeles Times. The audio details a conversation between Martinez, Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera, according to the newspaper. CNN has not independently verified the audiotape.

When talking about redistricting maps, the councilmembers discussed the need to “ensure that heavily Latino districts did not lose economic assets” in the once-in-a-decade process, according to the Times. The councilmembers then discussed White Councilmember Mike Bonin. In clips of the leaked audio posted by the Times, Martinez is heard recounting a conversation and says, “Bonin thinks he’s f**king Black.”

Martinez says Bonin appeared with his son on a float in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade and he “handled his young Black son as though he were an accessory.” The boy is 8 years old, according to a Facebook post by his father.

The Times reported that Martinez also said of Bonin’s child, “Parece changuito,” or “He’s like a monkey.”

Councilmembers de Leon and Cedillo — alongside former president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor Ron Herrera, who also resigned Monday — were all negatively implicated in the recording. Though Martinez has stepped down from her role as president, advocacy groups and Democratic leaders across California continue to call for her resignation from the council, as well as the resignation of the other councilmembers.

“The comments by these individuals are abhorrent and raise serious concerns over whether they are fit to serve the diverse communities of Los Angeles,” the California Legislative Diversity Caucus said in a statement on Monday.

“Each individual was heard making, agreeing with, and amplifying racist and homophobic remarks, and must be held accountable.”

Los Angeles mayoral candidates Rick Caruso and Karen Bass also urged the councilmembers to resign on Monday, and current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti echoed this in a statement sent to CNN, saying, “There is no place for racism anywhere in L.A. Everyone in our city deserves to feel safe and treated with equal respect.”

Working toward solidarity in Los Angeles

The controversy surrounding the resignations undermines the arduous work that has been done to build bridges between communities in Los Angeles, said Manuel Pastor, a professor of sociology and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California.

“One of the things that’s tragic about the conversation that was recorded and revealed to the world is that it erases the political progress that got made, all that community building, and instead the story that’s being told is just about the division between communities. These divisions exist, but there are tremendous bridges, as well,” said Pastor.

“There’s been a tremendous fortune of political alliances between communities of color in Los Angeles and in California,” he said. “The movements to raise the minimum wage, to address environmental inequities, to improve education — particularly by providing college prep in South L.A. and in East L.A. — have been the result of … coming together to actually engage in political struggle for things that will improve their communities.”

Pastor is the co-author of “South Central Dreams: Finding Home and Building Community in South L.A.”

In it, he chronicles the changing relationships between Los Angeles’ Black and Latino communities through the years and how this relationship changed the demographics and identities of specific Los Angeles neighborhoods.

Black and brown kids were and are still going to school together and experiencing similar oppressive structures, according to Pastor, who added that those shared experiences and continue to lead to an emergence of organizing and alliance-building in South Los Angeles. This history is essential to understanding the relationship today.

Despite the ways in which these two communities work together for equity and justice, the idea that Los Angeles is some multicultural utopia is misplaced, according to Tanya K. Hernández, a comparative race relations expert and professor of law at Fordham University.

Hernández is the author of “Racial Innocence: Unmasking Latino Anti-Black Bias and the Struggle for Equality,” in which she coined the term Latino Racial Innocence Cloak — describing a common misconception that Latinos can’t be racist due to their multicultural identity.

“We in the United States tend to think of anti-Blackness in very parochial terms; it’s only something that happens within the United States as committed by white English-speaking Anglo people against English-speaking African Americans. That’s it. It’s a narrow picture,” Hernández said. “In fact, many other communities can be just as complicit in harboring anti-Black bias.”

Her commentary is supported by analysis from the Pew Research Institute in 2021, which found 53% of Latinos ages 18 to 29 say they hear racist or racially insensitive comments or jokes about other Latinos or others who are not Latino from their Latino friends and family.

Fifty-nine percent of Latinos say that having a lighter skin color helps at least a little in the ability of Latinos to get ahead in the country these days, while 62% of Latinos say having a darker skin color hurts their ability to get ahead, according to the study.

“It’s the best of times and the worst of times. You can have this sense of linked fate and common desire to be in community, and then you can also have longstanding, deeply entrenched anti-Blackness seeping through as well,” she said.

“Both of these things can be true at the same time.”

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