January 13, 2021   5 mins

If you stumbled into one of the protests that enflamed America last summer and came across Enrique Tarrio — a dark-skinned, Hispanic man, clearly a “person of colour” — you’d immediately assume he was on the side of Black Lives Matter. If you looked closer, at his attire and the guys he was holding court over, you’d realise, to your complete and utter surprise, that Tarrio is actually aligned with the Proud Boys — the white supremacist larping troupe that’s been battling Antifa and BLM for the better part of a year. Tarrio is, in fact, the Proud Boys’ leader.

Last week he was arrested (then released) in Washington DC, after burning a BLM flag stolen from a black church, once again confounding white Americans with his supposedly distorted racial identity. I found it hard, as I do every time he pops up in the news, not to roll my eyes at the media’s portrayal of Tarrio as some great instigator of racial discord. Because, like me, he’s a Cuban-American from Miami, which is to say that I’ve seen plenty of Tarrio-types in my day.

Tarrio is what I’ll call a petty Miami schemer — the kind known to anyone who lives in the city, which was built on schemes and grifts in its days as a swampland backwater. In Miami, guys like Tarrio, from the personal trainer who tries to sell you steroids after your first session to the sleazy foreign investors who buy up entire high-rises, are a dime a dozen. The Proud Boys leader was first convicted, of theft, at the age of 20; nine years later, in 2013, he was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for rebranding and reselling stolen medical devices. Before that, he spent some time in North Florida and ran a poultry farm. And let us not forget Tarrio’s failed 2020 congressional run.

That Tarrio leads a white supremacist group can be explained not by national race relations, but by the fact that he grew up in Miami: a place where “whiteness”, as it’s defined by the woke media class, simply doesn’t exist – for the simple reason that there are basically no white people here. It’s the only American city where Hispanics completely dominate the political and cultural landscape, and the few white people who remain no longer feel themselves to be “culturally white”. Everything in Miami, including racial dynamics, is filtered through a Hispanic lens, not an American one. Miamians don’t even consider themselves Floridians, because the rest of the state resembles Miami as much as Zimbabwe does. Those who grew up here are unrestrained by traditional ideas of race.

As a Miami cliché, Tarrio isn’t remarkably interesting. He’s merely an opportunist with some street smarts, who, due to his urban look, cuts an imposing figure. What he represents to the media class — and how they frame him — is far more interesting. The conversation about race in America always revolves around the supposed animus between blacks and whites, with other POC automatically siding with African-Americans due to some assumed melanated kinship. The fact that Tarrio is even a member, not to mention the leader, of a white supremacist group is inconceivable to most liberals. Their paradigm, in which all POC are locked in an interminable struggle against their white oppressors, removes all possibility for the fluidity and nuance with which POC, and especially Hispanics, navigate ideas of race and colour.

In Miami, the main animus Hispanics have is with other Hispanics. The Puerto Ricans and the Dominicans have beef with one another. The Chileans and the Argentinians despise each other for reasons beyond just soccer. Hell, my people, the Cubans, have issues not only with other Hispanics, but with each other! The Cubans who immigrated shortly after Castro took power view themselves as entrepreneurial hard workers; they look down on the “newer Cubans” as lazy dope dealers and Medicare fraudsters.

These disparate Hispanic demographics, in order not to have to deal with one another, have segregated themselves into neighbourhoods where they only associate with themselves. The idea that anyone in Miami is thinking about white supremacy is preposterous; to someone like Tarrio, the “spectre of whiteness” — or any other concept used by the Left to explain American race relations — is completely foreign. Herein lies the problem with a term like “people of colour”; something as surface level as pigmentation doesn’t bind distinct subgroups into some kind of coalition.

If liberals find the impossibility of Hispanic solidarity distasteful, it’s only because they believe that kinship between groups is only achievable if all animus ceases to exist. People who live in cities where cultures are constantly clashing, Miami being the greatest example, get that a utopia in which every single group loves each other isn’t necessary. It’s only those suffering from white guilt who advocate this communal POC lovefest, because they are convinced that “whiteness” — and not natural and historic differences between groups — is what’s keeping the utopia at bay. One of the only things Hispanics seem to agree on, though, is that merely tolerating one another is often all the tolerance that’s needed. Some may find this “division” disconcerting, and maybe even sad, but if there isn’t a deep affinity among disparate Hispanic groups, there is in Miami a begrudging camaraderie that permeates personal interactions and animates the culture, and the city.

Steeped in this culture, a figure like Tarrio, despite all his petty idiocy, has a more acute understanding of American racial dynamics than any African-American Studies major from an elite institution. The race-obsessed commentariat — the same people who’ve pushed the word “Latinx” on Hispanics in the hope of inducing an inorganic solidarity — would be mystified by the Hispanic view of blackness, if they ever bothered to listen to it. To white liberals, if a person looks black, they must automatically identify as black, which isn’t necessarily the case. A Dominican friend of mine, who is very dark-skinned and would be considered “black” by an outside observer, bristles if you jokingly call him so, quickly saying, “I’m Dominican.” Like a lot of Caribbean islanders, he’s not invested in the African-American racial project as understood by those who dominate the race conversation.

Of course, some would argue that this is a result of internalised anti-blackness. Whether that’s true or not — I don’t buy it — the fact remains that in the Hispanic world, black isn’t always black. Which goes a long way in explaining why a guy like Tarrio, who personally identifies as an Afro-Cuban, seems to suffer no cognitive dissonance in leading a white supremacist group.

What his opponents fail to understand is that Tarrio, in a twisted way, is a post-racial man. If I had to guess — and as I said, I’ve known many like him — he truly isn’t concerned with thoughts of colour and race. The only colour that matters to him is the green of the American dollar. In his albeit disturbing quest for finding the ultimate grift, he would’ve fit in just as well with Black Lives Matter as he does with the Proud Boys. He just so happened to have fallen down one internet rabbit hole and not the other.

After the recent events at the Capitol, groups like the Proud Boys will certainly be monitored more closely — and possibly even be forcibly disbanded. But Tarrio, a nasty Miami grifter through and through, will just move on to his next scheme.

Alex Perez is a Cuban-American writer based in Miami, and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.