Written by: Mira
Edited by: Noor
Visual by: Gladys
Two weeks ago, nine tedious years of work as the President of the Los Angeles City Council came crashing down after a year-old recording of Nury Martinez’s racist rant was leaked.
In a meeting with the other members of the city council, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, Martinez can be heard verbally assaulting her colleague Mike Bonin’s black adopted son by calling him a monkey and stating that he deserved a “beatdown” for being “raised like a little white kid” (Paz). She also declared that the Los Angeles district attorney George Gascón should not be supported because he was “with the Blacks” (Planas) and went to attack other minorities, calling the indigenous communities in Oaxaca, Mexico “ugly” (Paz) as well as making anti-Semitic and anti-Armenian comments (Brassil). This audio recording abruptly ended Martinez’s political career, as she resigned from her council position approximately one week after the audio was leaked. But more importantly, her blatant and unapologetic racism created irreversible damage to community trust as it violated her image as a “trailblazer for Latino political representation and power” (Paz) and set her as a prime example of the hidden racism present in American politics.
On the surface, Martinez seemed to be a powerful advocate for Latino interests, as she has advocated for the redrawing of districts in a way that would provide more voting power to Latinos since the beginning of her political career. However, these policies would intentionally diminish the political power of other minorities such as Black Angelenos within the community. Hence, Martinez’s willingness to tear down the minorities around her in pursuit of Latino political dominance highlights that political agendas that appeal to race often lead to further divisions among ethnic groups.
The harmful narrative that America is perpetually made up of “monolithic racial blocks” (Brooks) which are locked in a never-ending struggle to achieve political power has encouraged systemic racism rather than racial diversity, embodied through political representation and consequent racial divisions. These political leaders, who specifically appeal to the races of their supporters, create an even wider rift between various racial groups as their political ideals utilize marginalization to provide more power to one racial group over the other.
In Martinez’s case, her plans of politically carving up the city were fueled by hostility towards other minorities which were hidden under the curtain of her avocation for redistricting plans to allow the Latino community to grow. This is demonstrated through Martinez calling the immigrants from Oaxaca “little dark short people” because many of them were living in Koreatown, a location that she and her colleagues wanted to carve up for redistricting to prevent giving council member Nithya Raman “the majority of voters in Koreatown” (CBSLA Staff).
Yet, what made Martinez’s words so hurtful was that they highlighted her continuous use of covert racism which has become a foundation of her political agenda as a minority leader. Being the first Latina council president, many saw Martinez as a powerful ally that could be an inspiration for other minorities and help enact change within the city for more diverse political representation. However, the leaked audio highlighted that although she is a person of color, she is not an ally.
Her extreme racial bias and hidden racism are a betrayal towards her supporters of the ethnic groups and nationalities she demeaned and serve as a stark reminder of racism’s prevalence in all parts of society: not only on political grounds but also among ethnic communities. This can be seen through Amir Whitaker, a senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California who expressed his widely-shared disappointment toward the council members in an NBC News article: “[this] laid bare the true colors of four of the most influential Latinx leaders in the country, whose collective power affects nearly 4 million Angelenos. They aren’t for the people, solidarity, children, or diversity–not even for democracy itself.”
The scandal behind Nury Martinez and her fellow council members illustrates that society still has a lot of progress regarding being aware of and addressing various forms of hidden racism. Yet, the meaningful discussions and debates that have sparked as a result of this are encouraging as it illustrates how Martinez and her colleagues are being held accountable for their actions and their inaccurate representation of the people in Los Angeles.
As many communities work to recover from the emotional pain Martinez’s racism has caused, there is hope that the city can move forward by beginning the journey of healing deeply ingrained racial divisions and finding a political leader who could better uphold the values of the city.
Brassil, Gillian. “After 3 Days of Pressure, LA Council Member Who Made Racist Remarks Resigns.” The Sacramento Bee, 13 Oct. 2022, http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article267228997.html. Accessed 22 Oct. 2022.
Brooks, David. “This Is What Happens When Race Is Everything.” The New York Times, 13 Oct. 2022, http://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/13/opinion/la-city-council-racism.html. Accessed 22 Oct. 2022.
CBSLA Staff. “Councilmembers Planned to Divide Koreatown, according to Leaked Discussion.” Www.cbsnews.com, 10 Oct. 2022, http://www.cbsnews.com/losangeles/news/councilmembers-planned-to-divide-koreatown-according-to-leaked-discussion/. Accessed 25 Oct. 2022.
Paz, Christian. “How a Secret Recording of a Racist Conversation Upended Los Angeles Politics.” Vox, 14 Oct. 2022, http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/23404926/los-angeles-city-council-racist-recording-scandal-explained. Accessed 22 Oct. 2022.
Planas, Antonio. “Former L.A. City Council President Resigns amid Uproar over Leaked Audio of Racist Remarks.” NBC News, 13 Oct. 2022, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/former-l-city-council-president-resigns-seat-uproar-leaked-audio-racis-rcna52005. Accessed 22 Oct. 2022.
Whitaker, Amir. “What Los Angeles Needs More than Resignations after Leaked Racist Audio.” NBC News, 14 Oct. 2022, http://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/los-angeles-nury-martinezs-shocking-anti-black-remarks-hurts-deepest-l-rcna52207. Accessed 23 Oct. 2022.