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ERIN AUBRY KAPLAN

Hot, hot, hot? Not, not, not

Schwarzenegger's apology notwithstanding, his remarks show a disturbing streak of crudeness and racism.

September 13, 2006|ERIN AUBRY KAPLAN

WARNING: THE column you are about to read is hot. Real hot. McDonald's-drive-through-scalding-coffee-see-you-in-court hot. Given the state of the world, which erodes almost daily because of the seemingly unlimited ineptitude of certain politicians, steamy has been my default state of mind for many years now. The latest fuel on my fire is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's tape-recorded assertion last week that Latina women with black blood are "very hot."

He has no idea.

Let's be clear: This was not a compliment. His supporters may argue that Schwarzenegger was expressing a kind of admiration for feisty women of color, but there is a strong current of crudeness, lewdness and racial fecklessness in his remarks that also marred his career as an actor and bodybuilder. And the governor's prompt apology, offered to "anyone out there that feels offended by these comments," doesn't exactly make up for it.

Reading his analysis that Cubans and Puerto Ricans "have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it," I got not a glow but a chill. Allegations and anecdotes reported three years ago of groping, sexual harassment and racist incidents came back to me in a rush.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 14, 2006 Home Edition California Part B Page 15 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 19 words Type of Material: Correction
Erin Aubry Kaplan: Erin Aubry Kaplan's e-mail address was misspelled on her Wednesday column. It should have read \o7ekaplan@latimescolumnists.com.

I especially recalled -- with a cringe more intense than Arnold's, I assure you -- the story Schwarzenegger himself told a porn magazine in 1977 about how he and other bodybuilders "jumped" on a black woman at Gold's Gym in Venice; asked if it was a "gang bang," he said yes. The colonialist notion that blacks, especially mulatto women, are notable only for their sexual prowess and availability is hardly new -- which is why it's so disturbing to detect it in the remarks of the governor of California in 2006. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Even more uninspiring is the so-what response by some Latino and black politicians to this whole affair. Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia of Cathedral City, the Puerto Rican lawmaker who was the subject of his remarks, is a Republican before she's a Latina, so she can be expected to accept (or decline as unnecessary) his apology.

But it's discouraging to see Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier) blow off any negative implications of Arnold's remarks. Is the price of success for Latinos the sense of ethnic identity and common destiny that fueled their rise in the first place?

The black acquiescence bothers me even more -- because we know what Arnold meant. The media led with the Latino angle, but the governor's most incendiary comment was that it's "black blood" that makes the difference. Such a worldview calls to mind Jim Crow, the Southern legal system based on strict percentages of "black blood" -- also known as the one-drop rule -- that segregated public facilities and governed daily life for much of the 20th century.

His supporters will protest that the governor was referring to positive differences, like the edge blacks have over everybody else on the dance floor or the basketball court. Uh-huh. Let's just say that certain praises are better left unsung, especially by public figures with a past like Arnold's.

Yet the only criticism from California's black elected officials came from Rep. Barbara Lee, an Oakland Democrat, who called his comments "disgusting." State Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton), the presiding elder of California's black politicos, dismissed the governor's gaffe as the "usual political banter" and suggested that former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, a garrulous African American, was guilty of worse. All of which obscures the issue at hand and makes me wonder if this is a locker-room guy thing more than anything else.

So I'm left with the question I'm increasingly left with these days: Who will stand for me? I've reached zero tolerance for entitled types like Schwarzenegger. As a black woman of Louisiana Creole descent (i.e., hot) who fantasizes about radical social change (hotheaded) but who shops compulsively in the meantime (for hot fall fashions), I'm looking for a party to get into. And I don't mean the kind you dance at.

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ekpalan@latimescolumnists.com

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