by CarmenLeah Ascencio
When my mothers married in 1989 I did not know that their union as a (non-black) Nuyorican and a black American was an anomaly for blacks and Latinxs in the U.S. I knew that their queerness was deviant, but not their black and brown love. I grew up thinking that black and brown love was innate, as I saw it in my family, my community and the history of unified black and brown liberation movements in the urban North East. It was not until I was older that I realized how much anti-blackness pervaded Latinx communities. At age 14 I discovered that anti-blackness was also inside of me, when I felt gratitude for being light skinned so I could be cast in more diverse theatrical roles. When I realized anti-blackness was within me, a girl who deeply loved her black mother, addressing anti-blackness became not only about justice and equality, but also about love and family.
The most recent anti-black state supported violence committed against Mike Brown, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, Dante Parker and Marlene Pinnock prompted me to ask myself, how have I been accountable for addressing anti-blackness with my Latinx comunidad? Some powerful statements have been issued by Latinx organizations about anti-blackness among Latinxs and how to increase Latinx-Black solidarity. These articles have presented great large-scale ideas to change anti-black sentiment among Latinxs. And, if these systemic actions are not coupled with genuine relationships and solidarity on the ground, they don’t have as much power. The Young Lords Party did not begin their struggle through changing policies or mainstream media. They challenged people in their community about anti-blackness and built a relationship with the Black Panther Party.
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We Latinxs have got to do more to be in solidarity with our black familia, precisely because black people are OUR FAMILIA. If we don’t start acting like black folks are our family in our personal interactions, white supremacy will gladly continue to divide and marginalize black and brown people through state sanctioned violence. If we think we can make social change without addressing the anti-blackness that prevents the alliance of the 53 million Latinxs and 39 million black people in the U.S., we trippin’. So, here are four things that I do to address Latinx anti-blackness and move forward in la lucha with our black familia. I don’t always get it right, but I’m clear it’s my responsibility as a non-black Latinx to stay trying.
- I address anti-blackness when it comes up in my family and Latinx community. We’ve all had the experience. You’re sitting around enjoying the company of tu gente laughing and feeling some precious sense of belonging with your Latinx familia, when ¡PAO! – a friend or family member drops a line about those “negros”. You feel a pit in your stomach. Quick! Do you say something and risk losing that momentary sense of belonging you so rarely get to feel in white Amerikkka? Or do you glance at the floor in silence waiting for the conversation to shift, hoping the racist commentary does not persist for too long, so you can get back to that nice feeling? Como el refrán dice, “the revolution starts at home” mi gente. If we can’t address our own anti-blackness with family and friends, how can we possibly fight racism in a larger white supremacist society? It can feel hard, and yes, we risk possibly losing a sense of connection for the moment. But all freedom requires risk and not taking that risk comes at the expense of someone else. So with love I say something like, “Oye papi, que es eso? What’s that about?” And start a genuine caring conversation about anti-blackness that we too often avoid. The key for me is to say it with the love I have for both Latinxs and black people and not righteous indignation. In this conversation, I discuss how anti-blackness has been imposed by white supremacy, how we perpetuate it and highlight the commonalities of black and brown struggles in the U.S.
- I learn and share about the blackness of my history and culture, while recognizing my racial privilege. We usually associate Afro-Latinxs with Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. I am going to dare to generalize and say that most Latinxs outside of these countries would not claim African ancestry or cultural influence. Did you know that Mexico and Peru combined enslaved more Africans than the U.S.? Between 1502 and 1866, of the 11.2 million documented Africans brought to the Americas, only 450,000 arrived in the United States. The rest were brought to Latin American countries. In fact, almost every country in Latin America enslaved Africans, and many of them had sizeable African populations who influenced our cultures. I did not know about the breadth of our African ancestry until I was an adult. Not only do I now know this, but I also talk about it with other Latinxs.
Now if you are not Afro-Latinx you certainly should not go around claiming that you are black. All Latinxs are not black and do not face the same anti-black racism. As a U.S. born Puerto Rican of mostly Spanish (likely Arab or Berber) decent, I am one of the most privileged types of Latinxs in the U.S. I take pride in the fact that my culture has strong African roots, while not confusing racial and cultural identity. I do not face any anti-black racism and have race privilege because of this. It is my job to push back against this privilege by taking up less space and giving up power when working with Afro-Latinxs and black Americans.
I am visible about my solidarity with black people. I try to be visible about my unity and love with black family, friends, and community so my Latinx comunidad can see this unity. Visibility of authentic relationships is powerful (the key word here is AUTHENTIC). Have you ever seen the images of the Black Panthers and Young Lords working together? Or read their parallel 10 and 13-point programs? That shit had an impact on our black and brown communities then and it can now.
In order to be visible about solidarity I actually have to engage in real solidarity. And I don’t mean force my desire to have solidarity onto black people without asking if and how it’s wanted. Solidarity is not only my decision. It has to be met by another through our own demonstration of love and commitment. One way we can demonstrate love and commitment is by checking each other when anti-blackness arises con nuestra gente.
- I am clear that experiencing racism is not the same as experiencing anti-blackness. Erasing this difference does not help us deal with our anti-blackness. White supremacy and racism in the U.S. affects all POC. Yet it does not affect us the same, nor does state sanctioned violence affect us as harshly as it affects black Americans. I do not mean to create a hierarchy of suffering, but we cannot deny that black people are murdered by police, unjustly incarcerated, tried as adults when they are youth, and given longer sentences for minor crimes, at higher rates than any other group of people of color in the U.S. (with Latinxs coming in 2nd).
So when a non-black Latinx I know starts blaming black people for their struggles because this non-black Latinx has succeeded in spite of racism, I highlight our different experiences of racism and the white supremacist myth that if one “good” person of color can make it up the capitalist social ladder then we all can. I also share how my own privilege as a light skinned non-black Latina has provided me with advantages and almost eliminated my risk of being a target of state sanctioned violence.
This is not a comprehensive list, but rather four person-to-person ways I address anti-blackness with nuestra gente. What are your approaches? Anti-blackness costs both black and Latinx people OUR LIVES. When our numbers are divided, the chances we will be murdered, jailed or deported by white Amerikkka remain high. If we don’t deal with our own anti-blackness la raza’s no raza and palante’s patras.
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CarmenLeah Ascencio a public health social worker, community theatre facilitator, trauma-sensitive yoga instructor, educator and proud Boricua 2nd generation queer femme. She is currently the director of Get Free, a Black Girl Dangerous program, and is the creator of Freedom Labor Love, a consultancy business that helps organizations and schools be trauma informed, emotionally healthy and inspired social change environments. CarmenLeah facilitates BGD Get Free workshops at organizations and schools. To find out about booking CarmenLeah, go here.