A member of a local Latino group was about to raise a concern at a meeting of a county commission in Memphis, Tennessee when exasperation over something else eclipsed it.
He listened as the Shelby County Commission earlier this week discussed whether a roofing company that had a majority of Latino workers was discriminating against African-Americans.
He detected an attitude, an anti-Latino tone, that didn’t sit well with him.
So Pablo Pereyra of the Hispanic Republic Alliance decided to push back, even though the roofing company matter was not what he had gone to the meeting to discuss.
“I see you guys smirking and laughing, like I’m not a minority,” Pereyra said to the commissioners. “I know what it’s like to be a minority. I grew up in Memphis, and I can tell you being a Hispanic in Memphis is definitely the minority of the minority.”
“Am I any less American?” Pereyra asked. “Am I any less minority?”
Commissioner Henri Brooks, an African-American whose pointed comments and provocative actions often have been controversial, was not going to let Pereyra’s scolding pass unaddressed.
She admonished him for what she saw as his attempt to put the problems of blacks and Latinos on the same level, according to a local CBS affiliate station.
“Don’t ever let that come out of your mouth again, because you know what? That only hurts your case,” she told Pereyra. “Don’t compare the two. They’re not comparable.”
“Your experience does not compare to mine,” she said. “What you are experiencing as a minority probably has been blown out of proportion here.”
She added that what Hispanics may experience do not compare with “a history where there is a pattern of intentional discrimination against black folks.”
“You asked to come here. We did not,” she told Pereyra.
Brooks, who is known for her stark comments on various issues, and for refusing to pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag before meetings, also directed her frustration at a fellow commissioner who expressed disagreement with her comments.
Turning to Commissioner Chris Thomas, who is white, she said: “Excuse me you over there mouthing something…You with the sheet, the white sheet on?”
Later, Pereyra and Thomas described Brooks comments, which she stands by, uncalled for and bigoted.
“I was really shocked that that type of terminology was coming from a community leader,” Pereyra said to reporters after the meeting.
Brooks, meanwhile, said he was shocked by how his fellow commissioner tried to shut down the debate.
“I took that as her saying I’m part of the KKK just because I disagreed with something she said,” Thomas told reporters.