Senator Ted Cruz has made the news recently for all the wrong reasons. Two weeks ago, when the electrical grid in Texas failed after one of the worst winter storms in their history, Cruz decided the proper response was to take his family on a vacation to Cancun, Mexico. While Cruz was jetting south, Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate he defeated in 2018, was organizing his campaign’s volunteers to make wellness calls to 150,000 Texans. Rightfully, the media and political world responded with indignation. In several critiques, his actions were highlighted as the epitome of white privilege.
There is only one small problem with this analysis.
Ted Cruz isn’t white.
Ted Cruz’s actual name is Rafael Cruz. He is the son of a Cuban immigrant. According to presently accepted categories, Cruz is Latino. He could list himself as such on the census. He and his children could receive whatever benefits – however meager – being in that minority group might provide. Indeed, during his campaign, when speaking to primarily Hispanic audiences, Cruz was quick to claim this heritage and identity. He was also equally quick to avoid these connections when speaking to the white population of Texas. He needed his white audiences to see him as white.
This desire is not unique to Ted Cruz. For centuries, people have hoped to be seen as white and to receive all of the benefits thereof. In a recent post, How To Keep America White, I explored the historic instances when the definition of whiteness was expanded to include new populations. When whiteness is threatened by demographic shifts, one of its defense mechanisms has been to allow some previously excluded group to join the club. This strategy has allowed whiteness to remain the majority and protect its supremacy.
Italians are an often-mentioned example of this dynamic. Pre-Civil War, Italians were not considered white by most Americans. They were treated as an inferior race and discriminated against throughout society. Only with the growing fear of black emancipation were Italians redeemed and claimed as members of the white race. They responded by becoming some of the more ardent anti-black racists of their time.
That Donald Trump was able to garner about 25% of the Latino vote in the 2020 election is startling evidence of this new manifestation of white expansion. It is one of the explanations for how Latinos could vote for a person who consistently said derogatory things about them. Simply stated, many Latinos no longer see themselves as Latinos. Many – like Cruz – identify more with American whiteness than their ancestral roots. These new recruits to whiteness – in order to prove their worthiness – are often the most ardent proponents and defenders of white supremacy.
Ted Cruz is the epitome of this tendency. Rather than express solidarity with other Latinos, Cruz consistently champions policies that do significant damage to people of his ancestry without any remorse. For example, he is an ardent opponent of birth right citizenship which has been the path of citizenship for millions of Latinos. Many of his other positions would make it more difficult for minorities to vote, receive government assistance and avail themselves of their civil rights.
While Cruz would argue his positions are conservative rather than racist, he was not shy in claiming Jesse Helms, one of the most racist Senators in US history as his political idol. Cruz often brags of sending the Helms campaign a $10 donation at the age of 10. At an event honoring Helms shortly after his death, Cruz said, “The willingness [of Helms] to say all those crazy things is a rare, rare characteristic in this town, and you know what? It is every bit as true now as it was then. We need a hundred more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate.”
Why would a Latino boy send money to Helms and adopt him as his hero?
If you want to be seen as white, identifying with the most racist white person you know is a good place to start.
This is why I fear Ted Cruz. Again and again, in US history, white supremacy has weaponized its newest recruits to defend white supremacy. After the Nate Turner rebellion, poor white sharecroppers were recruited into whiteness and helped build the societal structures that made slavery an exclusively black institution. In 1863, white supremacy inspired Italians to rampage through New York City, targeting and killing hundreds of black people. In the years since, whiteness has invited Caucasian featured Asians, Latinos, Native Americans and even lighter skinned blacks to understand themselves as whiter than a targeted minority.
Sadly, Ted Cruz is not an example of a Latino man rising to the heights of national power and prominence. Ted Cruz is a Terminator. Like in the famous Terminator movie series, Cruz is a tool of white supremacy disguised as a Latino man, but sent to destroy those who look like him in order to protect his masters.
We can only hope that – as in the movie – the Terminator is ultimately defeated.