By CLARENCE MCKEE
Thanks to former Florida State Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, D-Hialeah, the scab covering black-Hispanic tension in South Florida has been ripped off.
In case those outside of Florida missed it, Artiles, a Cuban-American, was bold, arrogant and dumb enough to launch a racist and sexist tirade in the presence of two black senate colleagues at a favorite watering hole of the power elite in the state capital of Tallahassee.
Before he finished ranting, he had called Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville “girl” and “b***h” and, referred to Republicans who had elected Senate President Joe Negron – who is white – “n****s.”
His remarks led members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus to seek his expulsion. Before that could happen, he resigned.
The dirty little secret that you won’t get from mainstream media, the black and white Democratic liberal and Republican establishments: the resentment that many blacks feel to having their problems, needs, interests often relegated to second place in favor of Hispanics who are considered the new favored minority by both political parties, the media and businesses.
In South Florida, after the fall of Fulgencio Batista – and into the 1960’s and 1970’s when blacks were fighting for civil rights in historically segregated Florida, blacks saw Cuban refugees receive preferential treatment over black immigrants from Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean as well as immigrants from central and south America. During that period, they were able to take advantage of civil rights and affirmative action laws originally meant to rectify hundreds of years of racial discrimination and violence against blacks because they, as Hispanics, became a “protected” class under federal, state and local civil rights laws, policies, and government programs. “White” Cubans particularly benefited from these, causing some blacks to refer to this as “the complexion connection.” This led to an undercurrent of resentment, which few will publicly admit.
A black woman recently said to me, her voice rising, as she added forcefully, “Why should we have to learn ‘their’ language in order to get or keep a job in our own community.”
She added, “I bet he wouldn’t dare call one of the Cuban female legislators a b***h!”
Breaking into a huge grin she also said, “Just think of how many of his colleagues and buddy-buddy power brokers up there (referring to Tallahassee) use the same words about blacks in private; they are just mad at him because he was stupid enough to do say it in public and in front of blacks!”
Tension between blacks and CubanAmericans in South Florida reached a peak in 1990. Nelson Mandela was snubbed by the Cuban-American leadership in Miami when Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, later joined by four other Cuban-American mayors, demanded that Mandela denounce Fidel Castro as the price of being welcomed and being given a proclamation.
When Mandela refused, the proclamations were rescinded and the CubanAmerican leadership withdrew from all appearances and ceremonies.
That led to a boycott of Miami by blacks and black groups which lasted three years – 1,000 days – at an estimated cost to the region of up to $50 million.
Those events of nearly three decades ago have not been forgotten and are recalled in discussions of Artiles’ outburst and CubanAmerican’s relationship with and attitudes toward blacks – including black CubanAmericans.
When I discussed this issue with a wellrespected black businessman in South Florida, he said “where are the “black Cubans” and why do they remain virtually invisible in the Miami power structure? I see no black Cuban-American elected officials in Miami-Dade County or the legislature – why?”
It should be noted that, to their credit, South Florida’s Cuban-Americans have historically had the political wisdom to be in both parties and, as a result, hold many powerful positions in the leadership of Florida’s Republican legislature including President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Speaker Pro Tempore of the House as well as chairing many key Senate and House Committees. They also have one of their own, Marco Rubio, in the U.S. Senate.
Hats off to them and their constituents for not putting all of their political eggs in the Democratic basket as is the case with blacks.
Unfortunately, Artiles epitomizes the stereotype which many blacks have of white Cuban-Americans. That is sad because I personally know many who do not harbor such views and consider Artiles’
comments disgusting and not reflecting South Florida’s Cuban-American community or leaders.
I would recommend that, given the Artiles debacle and embarrassment, members of the Cuban-American legislative leadership and the legislature’s Black Caucus should have an off the record and closed meeting, or series thereof, to have frank discussions of these issues, and to bridge the black Cuban-American ethnic/racial divide in South Florida. It could be a model for blacks and Hispanics at the national level.
Will it happen? Time will tell!
Clarence V. McKee is president of McKee Communications, Inc., a government, political, and media relations consulting firm in Florida.