Thursday, June 21, 2007

I just received word about a series of articles being published by the Miami Herald on Afro Latinos. The title of the series is A Rising Voice: Afro-Latin Americans.

So, I read through all of the articles that are currently up. The last one goes up this coming Sunday. The articles are somewhat simplistic, and definitely based on a U.S. lens on race and racial identity. Specifically, in their insinuation that we are (just now) going through a cultural and civil-rights awakening. What would you call the Haitian Revolution? And the struggles of garifunas along the Central American coasts for the last 500 years? And the struggles of indigenous first nations populations to maintain land? And the quilombos and other maroon communities THROUGHOUT Latin America? And Salsa and other music? Anyway...that's just my critique of articles that I was all to happy to read as well- -even as I muttered allowed.

In an article I wrote on Afro-Latina identity earlier this year, what I point out is that policies on race in Latin America, beginning before the Black Codes in French and Spanish colonies, but becoming solidified and extended through that process, actually put Blackness and Indigenous-ness at the center of criollo identity. Without a one-drop rule to segregate people into black and white, what you have is a society that is constantly defined by color/caste complexities that are based on African-ness and Indigenous-ness. For many folks from the U.S., it is difficult to understand how race functions within a Latin American context outside of the one-drop rule, and so it is difficult to understand the complexities of race in a context where everyone (or the majority) are folks of color.

And it's not so simple. Blackness is both a category of slavery and colonialism and a marker of resistance to slavery and colonialism. It depends on how the identity develops - and what it depends on are narratives of nationality, citizenship and political/social/economic participation. The Black Codes are primary policies influencing racial identity and relationships, but these were followed up by other state-enforced policies after the development of the nation state. So, while in the D.R. we did not have Jim Crow laws, we did have laws regulating identity. Plantation economy was at the heart of social-political-economic colonial relations during the rise of the nation-state, rather than the Western expanionism that defined U.S. colonialism. That is not to say that there were no designs on "expansion" among other colonial powers, but in the era of the nation state following the liberation movements of Latin America, U.S. expansionism has come to define a particular cultural/social/political reality that differentiates this country from the others in this hemisphere.

Therefore, the mere fact that one does or does not identify as "Black" specifically in Latin American contexts does not necessarily indicate self-hate or a denial of Africanity or Indigeneity. But a U.S. writer claiming that it is so does indicate a limitation in the analysis and understanding of how race formed outside the U.S.

Again, this is not to deny that racism does exist. It exists. And in really painful ways, as clearly illustrated in the articles in this series. And what it exists for is to maintain economic and political inequality.


Dolen said...

Fascinating. I'm going to check out some of those Miami Herald articles. Is your article available anywhere online?

While I understand (I think) what you are saying about the complexity of Latin American racial classifications, I do think that the U.S. and Latin America have one thing in common: the glorification of European-ness. In Latin America, I think this has been largely influenced by the Catholic church. If a Latino doesn't identify as black and/or insists that their heritage is mainly Spanish (and not even indigenous), then I do think there is a bit of self-hatred going on.

On another note, historical narratives of Afro-Latin identity are often ignored in those national contexts where it has not taken a place on center stage: namely, Mexico and certain Central American countries. As a result, Afro-Latins living on the west coast of the United States face many challenges of recognition that their counterparts on the east coast do not share.

Just my 2 cents.

Dolen said...

I meant to write in that second paragraph that if they insist on denying their African and indigenous heritage when they clearly have it, then there is a bit of self-hate. Of course, I did not mean to imply that ALL Latinos have African and/or indigenous blood.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post! I am working on these issues (hopefully some day I will get that book proposal out). Thanks for reminding African American scholars (of which I am one) to think outside of their own experience of blackness when trying to analyze the experience of those living in a different cultural context. What we have in common is profound. What we can learn from each other's differences is equally so!

Zorashorse said...

Firstly, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

I absolutely agree that considering a more complex narrative does not at all erase the very real implications of colonialism and white supremacy - across the board. I think, too, that another way to consider racialized experiences in Latin America is that it's slightly comparable to colorism in African-American communities in the United States. Which has everything to do with privilege and power, from my perspective.

And yes - when I lived on the West Coast I experienced racism AND xenophobia in really interesting, unexpected ways. The anthology, Telling Tongues (Edited by Louis Mendoza and Toni Herrera) includes several articles problematizing Latino identity and language, specifically, that asks us to consider how nationalism and racism conflict and collude.

The article I wrote about Afro-Latina identity is coming out in an anthology on Afro-Latina identities edited by a Dr Marta Moreno-Vega later this year. I will keep you posted!