In a recent posting to National Review Online, long-time columnist John Derbyshire (right) attacked the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), for the last two words in its name, which Derbyshire translated as “The Race.” With that, Derbyshire joined thousands of other Americans who use the organization’s name to claim — entirely without foundation — that NCLR is a race-based, supremacist organization.
Said Derbyshire: “The idea, as I had it explained to me, is that by blending the European race with the Mesoamerican, Mexico has brought forth a new race, the mestizo or bronze race, which is claimed to be superior to both the contributing races, I suppose by dint of hybrid vigor. This bronze über-race is ‘La Raza.’”
Next time, Derbyshire — who has described himself as a “racist,” albeit a “mild and tolerant” one — might want to consult a dictionary, or perhaps a linguist, before he goes public with his proposed translations of the Spanish language. If he had, he’d have learned that “La Raza,” in the context of the organization’s name, doesn’t mean “The Race” at all. In fact, the term is much more commonly translated as “the people” or “the community” and it is intended to be inclusive, encompassing the blending of European, African, and indigenous peoples in the Americas.
Derbyshire might even have paid a visit to NCLR’s website, which includes a nuanced explanation of the term: “While it is true that one meaning ‘raza’ in Spanish is indeed ‘race,’ in Spanish, as in English and any other language, words can and do have multiple meanings. Translating our name as ‘the race’ is not only inaccurate, it is factually incorrect. ‘Hispanic’ is an ethnicity, not a race. As anyone who has ever met a Dominican American, Mexican American, or Spanish American can attest, Hispanics can be and are members of any and all races.”
The NCLR site continues: “The term ‘La Raza’ has its origins in early 20th century Latin American literature and translates into English most closely as ‘the people,’ or, according to some scholars, ‘the Hispanic people of the New World.’ The term was coined by Mexican scholar José Vasconcelos to reflect the fact that the people of Latin America are a mixture of many of the world’s races, cultures, and religions. Mistranslating ‘La Raza’ to mean ‘the race’ implies that it is a term meant to exclude others. In fact, the full term coined by Vasconcelos, ‘La Raza Cósmica,’ meaning the ‘cosmic people,’ was developed to reflect not purity but the mixture inherent in the Hispanic people. This is an inclusive concept, meaning that Hispanics share with all other peoples of the world a common heritage and destiny.”
Had he bothered to check it out — rather than simply grasping for an argument to support his angry nativism — Derbyshire also would have found that the NCLR site clearly condemns ethnic separatist organizations. The group even has repeatedly disavowed certain founding documents of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Aztlan (MEChA), a fellow Latino rights organization that is not a racist separatist group but did, more than 40 years ago, publish what NCLR characterizes as “inappropriate rhetoric.” NCLR publicly condemns Voz de Aztlan, a virulently anti-Semitic outfit that has long been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
But none of this prevented Derbyshire from characterizing NCLR as a hotbed of racism, with “published material [that] shouts an ethic of racial triumphalism.” He argues that NCLR publications belong on the library shelf next to materials from bona fide hate groups like the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations. In employing this kind of propaganda — almost identical to what groups like the Klan falsely claim about organizations such as the multiracial NAACP — Derbyshire sounds similar to many on the radical right. For example, the hate group American Patrol, whose leader Glenn Spencer has spoken at several white supremacist events, regularly refers to the NCLR as the “Race Mob” or the “Tan Klan.” His close friend and fellow racist Barbara Coe — who is a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that has described blacks as “a retrograde species of humanity” — characterizes NCLR similarly.
It’s not much of a surprise that Derbyshire has taken up against NCLR, given his attachment to organizations like the anti-immigrant hate website VDARE, named after Virginia Dare, said to be the first white child born in the New World (see, for example, here, here and here for 2008 posts). In 2005, Derbyshire took up for the rabid British xenophobe Enoch Powell, who warned in his infamous 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech that mass immigration would destroy the United Kingdom. Derbyshire also has called those who support multiculturalism “pod people, whose nervous systems have been taken over by alien intelligences.”
In his latest diatribe, Derbyshire rages at the acceptance by the mainstream press and many corporate sponsors of NCLR. “How,” he fumes, “do they get away with it?”
That question might well be directed to Derbyshire, a British native who became a naturalized American citizen in 2002 — after having illegally overstayed his own visa here by nearly five years.