How Anglo Bias & Rusty Talking Points Are Hurting 4 Million Americans

by Sep 24, 2014Headlines, Status0 comments

To anyone who follows the debate of Puerto Rico’s status it is known that the US media has very little knowledge about what happens in the US territory of 3.6 million American citizens. If you didn’t know, the past few weeks have made it painstakingly clear how true it is that the US media has an “anglo bias” when it comes to self-determination, and last night I was reminded of the fact by The New York Times’ Josh Barro.

You see late night Twitter is an interesting phenomenon where different topics get thrown around for discussion, and @KStreetHipster was leading one on the undemocratic status of the District of Columbia. The issue is how Congress blatantly ignores the effective disenfranchisement of a territory with more population than some states, mostly because of political agendas.

As it turns out, DC and Puerto Rico both face the same fundamental problem: inaction in Congress, stemming from the lack of political power they both have from not having representation in said Congress. Hence I jumped into the conversation, mentioning the Caribbean islands from which I hail.

Then, Josh Barro jumped in with this absolutely incorrect tweet:

You see, Puerto Ricans voted for statehood. And they rejected the status quo. I like Barro, and normally I think his positions are well grounded on facts and appropriately backed up by evidence. But on this, he is dead wrong.

Assuming for a second that a status conceived out of an inherently discriminatory interpretation of the Constitution that allows for the creation of “unincorporated” territories, where citizens cannot avail themselves of the same rights afforded to those on the mainland, can be validated by democratic support, Josh misses a key point: 54% of voters in Puerto Rico rejected the status quo in 2012. And if that direct question isn’t enough, look up what happened when a correctly defined status quo was put on the ballot in 1998 (#spoileralert: it got a tenth of one percent support.) There is no consent of the governed to be subjected to this undemocratic arrangement that creates a second class citizenship. Even Americans living abroad are able to vote for Congressional representation and the President, while Americans living in a territory that has belonged to the United States since 1898 are not. It makes no sense.

Like with DC, Puerto Rico and the other territories are subject to laws, treaties and policies in which they have no say, and even if the people express their rejection of that situation, nothing will happen until Congress acts.

To Barro, this is somehow acceptable because of this:

Now let’s be clear: the 2012 plebiscite is clear as can be in that the majority does not want the status quo. Furthermore, since we can only ascertain the intent and preference of those who actually voted, we know that 61% prefer statehood. How the media has decided that these results aren’t clear enough because they knew (perhaps through intuition?) that statehood does not have a majority is beyond me. Unfortunately for those of us who want to see this issue resolved, these pervasive misconceptions among pundits, politicians, and decision makers hamper any effort to reach a solution.

And still when you confront them on this, their reactions are something like this:

Couple things: Barack Obama wasn’t rejected by a majority of voters in a previous question. Secondly, from Barro’s reaction, I don’t think he is aware the plebiscite had two questions, which is important given the context, as it also determines the next steps. Supposing Congress isn’t satisfied with the results from the second question, and it chooses to ignore them (and it shouldn’t), the path forward is clear: allow a vote choosing only viable status options, which are only statehood or independence, with perhaps a variation on the latter.

But that doesn’t work for Barro either:

And a lot of Americans favored Mitt Romney to become President. That doesn’t mean they get to stall the process endlessly and trump the electoral majority. We respect the rights of the minority, but they do not get to veto the majority’s choice. That runs counter to the very essence of democracy. And to see this kind of argument from someone who in the same conversation was complaining about the undemocratic nature of the US Senate is startling.

Even more troublesome, is that this kind of thought leads individuals to believe nothing can or should be done to address this issue. And it’s reflected every time something happens in Puerto Rico that catches some online editor’s attention. Last month The Daily Caller had a piece republished on Yahoo, calling Puerto Ricans immigrants, framing the exodus from the territory to the mainland as part of the immigration debate. They corrected the original article, but the fact that they published a piece with such a glaring error speaks volumes as to the level of ignorance there is nationally about Puerto Rico and its status. Even publications dedicated to Latino issues sometimes fall victim to republishing press releases and wires from the sometimes highly inaccurate Associated Press San Juan Bureau without investigating, as VOXXI did last month when it stated Puerto Rico’s economy was improving. Really all it takes is a Google search to see that isn’t true.

These are just some examples of the many instances in which Puerto Rico is misunderstood, when incorrect statements are published as fact, resulting in the stagnant state of affairs we see today. So with all due respect to @KStreetHipster, I cannot agree to disagree. Allowing misconceptions like those espoused by Josh last night perpetuate the status quo, and that is simply unacceptable to literally 99.9% of Puerto Ricans. The state of our democracy might be questionable, but it doesn’t mean it’s not worth fixing. I say we start with DC and the territories.