I have always believed that the Europeans who invented racism should have been hanged, drawn and quartered and their bodies hung on a tree and left to the vultures because the devastation that their false concept has wreaked on the planet has been incalculable. I agree wholeheatedly with Neelly Fuller that 'racism is the only problem' on the planet and if we solve racism we will solve problems related to war, to housing, to health, to poverty, etc. The following articles about Latin America illustrate perfectly how perverted society becomes when racism is not only denied but allowed free rein. 500 years ago, because of racism, Black people were the majority population in Latin America. Because of racism, they have now been reduced to a minority and the problems that they continue to face on a daily basis are due to racism. So, it is good to see that Africans in Latin America are finally waking up and realizing that if they truly want their rainbow coloured society to become a reality, the monster of racism must no longer be given free rein but must be tackled head on and destroyed. Hort
Let’s Celebrate Afro-Latin Identity All Year Long
Posted on May 26, 2008
Afro-Latin people are constantly negotiating identities, declaring loyalties, defining themselves, being inaccurately defined by others and living an “either/or” existence rather than accepting the complexities of a multi-layered identity. Afro-Latinos are not half Latino and half Black. They are both fully Black and fully Latino. This can present a host of identity issues. An Afro-Latina may choose to deny her negritude or her latinidad as a means of survival, or she might elect to accept and validate her identities through difficult navigation process. The success of this navigation depends on self-acceptance and pride, the development of which necessitates learning an accurate version of history. Today, Afro-Latin Americans, past and present, are invisible in Latin America. The problem of selective historical amnesia can be resolved when we replace or supplement the official history with the history of the African community in Latin America.
Although African history remains the root of many beliefs, practices and customs within Latin American societies, the history of Black people has been virtually obliterated. In many instances, Afro-Latinos themselves lack the deep historic understanding needed to develop an impermeable self-identity. African Americans in the United States may be the most acknowledged and recognized Blacks in the Americas. However, only about 5 percent of all slaves brought to the New World were sold in the U.S., which entered the slave trade much later than other nations in the hemisphere. Approximately 95 percent of enslaved people stolen from Africa were sold in Latin America and the Caribbean. The majority, some 60 percent, were sold in a single country: Brazil
In various Latin American and Caribbean nations, Africans outnumbered Europeans. In 1570, enslaved Africans outnumbered Spaniards in Mexico three to one, but were reduced to only 10 percent of the population by 1810. On the Caribbean islands, Blacks outnumbered Whites by as many as 23 to 1.
Some Latin American countries do not even minimally acknowledge the existence of enslaved Africans, much less Black heroes. In Mexico, emphasis is placed on being mestizo, the cosmic race. Dismissed is the existence of significant numbers of Black Mexicans in certain regions throughout that nation’s history, including an Afro-Mestizo president—Vicente Guerrero—in 1829. The city of Morelia in Michoacán state and the states of Morelos and Guerrero are named after Afro-Mexican heroes, José María Morelos y Pavón and Vicente Guerrero respectively. In contrast, other countries are beginning to embrace their African heritage. Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, readily cites his African ancestry. He also provides much needed assistance and attention to Black Venezuelans—until recently, the forgotten faces in the country. In many Latin American countries, such as Ecuador, Black citizens themselves are continuing a tradition of researching and honoring their African heritage, even while still largely ignored by media, academia and other institutions. They have founded think tanks and cultural resource centers that disseminate information about Afro-Latin Americans throughout the region.
This information and much more needs to be discussed and celebrated. Afro-Latinos in the U.S. are in the privileged position to be able to publicly celebrate and commemorate Afro-Latinidad each year both in the month of February, Black History Month, and from mid-September to mid-October, Hispanic Heritage Month. From my west coast perspective, few if any Black History Month celebrations include Afro-Latin historic or contemporary icons. During Hispanic Heritage Month, very few celebrations feature Afro-Latin heroes. How wonderful it would be to have a list of Afro-Latin celebrations during both months, but also in our communities throughout the year and in our homes every day. Here are some suggestions for ways to commemorate our rich heritage on an ongoing basis:
• Host Afro-Latin movie nights featuring films which address issues of identity
• Host an Afro-Latin book club
• Write Afro-Latin children’s books
• Continue our storytelling tradition with your children
• Tell your children about historic Afro-Latin heroes
• Create an Afro-Latin Saturday Academy in your community
• Write letters to newspaper editors, to Univision and Telemundo, or other media outlets when this misrepresent or omit Afro-Latinos
• Engage African Americans in dialogue about our shared history
• Educate non-Afro-Latinos about our history
• Contact your local community center or cultural organization and offer to host an Afro-Latino events during those Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month
• Write reviews of Afro-Latin books, films and music for your local paper
• Form a community group or research committee that will encourage local colleges and universities to include Afro-Latino- specific books and resources in Spanish, African American and Latin American studies courses
Our backs are bridges, but we don’t have to carry a burden. Let us look at our place as Afro-Latins as a divine role with which we have been entrusted. You probably know the saying, “God made me Black because He knew I could handle it.” Well, God put the Afro in your Latino because he knew you could handle it. Let the celebration begin.
Jameelah Xochitl Medina, a Ph.D. candidate at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., is the author of “The Afro-Latin Diaspora: Awakening Ancestral Memory, Avoiding Cultural Amnesia.” For more information, visit www.afrolatinbook. com or contact Medina at lapazenmi@gmail. com.
Afro-Colombian Rights are Human Rights
Posted April 15, 2008
Racial discrimination, poverty and social exclusion are structural problems that have affected Colombian ethnic minorities for decades. Among these minority groups, Afro-Colombians experience the highest level of poverty.This is clearly demonstrated by their limited access to education, health, employment and other social services. In fact, most regions with an Afro-Colombian presence endure the worst socio-economic indicators. And the main victims of the internal armed conflict are Afro-Colombian communities.Human rights violations against Afro-Colombians have been committed by both state and non-state actors, although they are prohibited by the new Constitution, approved in 1991, and human rights treaties ratified by the state. However, their effects on Afro-Colombians have not been extensively explored.
There is no doubt that significant economic, cultural, social and political benefits for Colombia would accrue from the implementation of public and private strategies to eliminate human rights violations. But little has been done to address them, as evidenced by the lack of documents analyzing their noxious impact on Afro-Colombians. One obvious indicator of the exclusion of Afro-Colombians, who comprise some 30 percent of the total population— more than 12 million people—is their lack of access to key decision-making institutions. Another indicator is their lack of access to labor markets and basic services such as shelter, safe drinking water and suitable sanitary conditions.
Racist practices are the main causes of this disadvantageous human rights situation, which has worsened as a result of the internal armed conflict Official sources confirm that there is an enormous difference between public health services in the “Afro-Colombian” areas and the rest of the country. The access to such services is more restricted for Afro-Colombians, who usually have to face other problems such as deplorable treatment and uncomfortable health centers. This situation has been confirmed by Afro-Colombians throughout the country, clearly indicating that the socio-economic differences increase when considering ethnic background.
Most inequalities in Colombia are caused not only by the illiteracy or poor quality education of the nation’s ethnic minorities, but mainly because of the racist practices of which they are victims. This is why it is not surprising to see that inequalities decrease only slightly, when comparing Afro-Colombians and others with the same education level. Racism and racial discrimination against Afro-Colombians have persisted in spite of the domestic human rights framework protecting them as an ethnic minority. The undeniable racist environment has produced an extremely noxious impact on Colombian society at large, stunting development for the nation and resulting in evident losses of economic productivity, as numerous documents and reports from international financial institutions and social development experts indicate. It should be pointed out that for the last 17 years, both the state and the society have maintained the same historical, racist idea of “white” and “mestiza” supremacy at both public and private levels. Afro-Colombians are excluded from important positions. Also, they are largely excluded from loans and scholarships to pursue advanced studies.
Some universities have financial resources to create affirmative action programs and promote the education of Afro-Colombians, but these institutions are not interested in doing so. They neither see racism as a problem nor as a grave human rights violation. Despite the existence of anti-racist, human rights laws, Colombia’s new generations continue being “educated” under the influence of an education system that reproduces racial stereotypes and constantly discriminates against Afro-Colombians. It teaches students racist practices. The racist ideology affecting the nation is also fostered by many Colombian families. What makes the Afro-Colombian case more complex is precisely the fact that most people do not see racism as a human rights violation. This is why racist prejudices have been perpetuated, reinforcing Afro-Colombians’ exclusion at all levels.
In order to overcome racist practices and other human rights violations affecting Afro-Colombians in the context of the armed conflict, both activists and government officials should demand that the actors involved in the war stop targeting Afro-Colombiancommunities. Afro-Colombians also need the current government to implement an effective strategy to end racism in order to build a real democratic multiculturalism that protects the ethnic diversity proclaimed in the National Constitution.
Leonardo Reales is an Afro-Colombian activist, community leader and storyteller. He is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the New School for Social Research in New York. He has worked with the Afro-Colombian National Movement Cimarrón and the Union of Afro-Colombian Organizations for 10 years. Leonardo can be reached at leonardo_reales@ yahoo.com.
Always Black, Always Puerto Rican
Posted on February 28, 2008
While growing up in Puerto Rico it was normal to be called out as the Black guy. At school or the playground, it was not uncommon for people to refer to me as el Negro. Whether these comments were made with a positive or negative connotation, it was clear to me as well as everybody else that I am a Black person. I self-identify as Black- or Afro-Puerto Rican. But interestingly, my Blackness has constantly been challenged since I relocated to the U.S. mainland 14 years ago.
For example, it is not uncommon for somebody to ask me:
"Why do you say that you are Black? I thought that you were Hispanic."
My usual reply is: "What does being Hispanic have to do with whether or not you are Black?" Many people do not seem to understand that it is logical and acceptable for a person to self-identify as both Black and Hispanic. Among Latinos in the U.S., there is a preference to emphasize cultural and national identities rather than racial identities. Despite such classification preferences, the fact is that all these ethno-racial identities co-exist and they should be understood and embraced rather than ignored and mismanaged.
"Why do you say that you are Black? I thought you were Puerto Rican."
What does being Puerto Rican have to do with whether or not you are Black? The existence of a Black segment within the population labeled as Hispanic is not commonly considered in our society. I usually have to scratch my head whenever facing limited choices in a questionnaire that reads:
Please, select ONLY ONE of the following:
- Black or African American (not Hispanic)
2. Hispanic (regardless of race)
In this case, there is no need to read between the lines. Just read between parentheses. In our society, a person having a Latin American cultural background is continuously discouraged from claiming his or her African ancestry. Individuals may be considered Black as long as they are not of Latin American descent. If they come from a Latin American culture, the system is not interested in whether or not they are Black.
Within the U.S., there seems to be no place for Latin Americans of African ancestry or Black Americans with Latin American cultural backgrounds. For these people the question becomes: Should I mark the box for Black, Hispanic or Other? Some Afro-Latinos do not find this question an easy one to answer.
"Why do you say that you are Black? You speak Spanish!"
What does speaking Spanish have to do with whether or not you are Black? Why are people comfortable if I claim my Latin American cultural heritage, but not when I claim my African ancestry? Why is it that only the offspring from 5 percent of the Africans brought as slaves to New World—those brought to the U.S.—are considered Black, while the offspring of the remaining 95 percent are expected to adopt this Hispanic label that only acknowledges the European component of the overall culture?
Latin Americans and U.S. Latinos are racially mixed. Both the terms Hispanic and Latino refer to European cultural ancestry, while African, Native American and other ancestries within the pan-Latino community seem to be disregarded. Hispanic is not a race. U.S. government guidelines for the collection of data on ethnicity and race recognize that there are Blacks of Hispanic origin, Afro-Latinos, as well as Blacks not of Hispanic origin, African Americans.
The recognition of an Afro-Latino ethno-racial identity is government policy, but society-wide acceptance of the Afro-Latino concept remains to be seen. This process is likely to gain momentum as U.S. Hispanics of African ancestry become more comfortable self-identifying as Black and begin to celebrate their African ancestry, both genetic and cultural.
Afro-Latinos must understand that, given the changes in the demographic landscape, it will become critical to self-identify as Hispanics of African ancestry. Being recognized as Afro-Latino could have significant socio-political implications in such arenas as anti-discrimination law, corporate diversity practices and healthcare management. Embracing our full identity may also lead to an examination of socio-economic disparities along racial lines among Latinos.
As U.S. Latinos, we will not be successful in our demands for inclusion into the mainstream if we do not practice it within our own community. Hispanics who are Black still face various forms of discrimination based on skin color, in addition to discrimination based on cultural background. For this reason, the overall Hispanic community must advocate for the inclusion of Black Latinos and other Latino minority groups in all aspects of U.S. society.
Promoting inclusion and advocating for the rights of Afro-Latinos is essential to reach our social goals as a unified pan-Latino community. The community will grow stronger when all members feel included and supported. All Latino voices should be heard.
José Méndez-Andino, Ph.D., works as a medicinal chemist in the pharmaceutical industry in Cincinnati. José can be reached at mendezandino@ gmail.com.
Boricuas vs. Nuyoricans—Indeed!
A Look at Afro-Latinos
By Miriam Jiménez Román
Photographs in a controversial video feature smiling fair-skinned beauty contest winners and fashion models contrasted with images of scantily dressed, full-bodied, dark-skinned women in public spaces ---"evidence" of the cultural and aesthetic differences between "real" Puerto Ricans and those who make illegitimate claims on that identity.
These are the verbal and visual claims of a controversial video making recent rounds on the Internet, explaining the alleged differences between Puerto Ricans on the Island and those in the United States. The two-minute video, which has repeatedly been yanked from YouTube, informs the viewer that “Puerto Ricans come from the island,” are overwhelmingly “blancos” or mestizos of Taíno and European ancestry, and “typically VERY classy and/or preppy or as we say in Puerto Rico ‘fino’.” Island Puerto Ricans are also highly educated, the video asserts. In contrast, Nuyoricans are “3rd or 4th generation Puerto Ricans that are usually mixed with African Americans, CAN NOT speak Spanish or speak it very badly!!! They act very, very trashy and ghetto or as we say in Puerto Rico cafre!!!” Nuyoricans are Afrocentric and one is more likely to find them “in prison than in college.” Indeed, Nuyoricans—a misnomer since it encompasses the entire Puerto Rican diaspora—often seem to be a target in this video and beyond for anti-Afro-Latino sentiment. Nuyoricans come under fire for their apparent obsession with race and racism and, most particularly, their identification with African-Americans and blackness.
I first encountered this view of Nuyoricans decades ago when I followed my parents' dream and took the guagua aérea back to the land of my birth. I quickly learned that to be from the States was to suffer from a social disability, a condition that the island-bred believed I had best overcome for the good of the Puerto Rican nation, if not my own accommodation. That was in the 1970s, when Puerto Rico was being invaded by a seeming horde of return migrants. The children of the diaspora were already perceived as a problem, one that taxed the island's already scarce resources and presented perspectives that seemed antithetical to long-cherished ideas about Puerto Rican identity. Throughout my many years living and working in Puerto Rico there was rarely a reference to los de afuera that wasn't, on some level, derogatory, so that even compliments (¡Ay, pero tu no pareces ser de allá! ) only reinforced this sense of undesirable otherness.
The image of Nuyoricans as immoral, violent, dirty, lazy, welfare-dependent, drug-addicted felons was not restricted to the United States; to this day, both countries produce media images that depict stateside Puerto Ricans as overwhelmingly engaged in some type of objectionable behavior. Even by the most sympathetic of accounts, it's assumed that living in what José Martí referred to as the “entrails of the monster” ruins Puerto Ricans, robs them of language and culture, and leaves them susceptible to destructive foreign influences. One aspect of this alleged foreign influence is the Nuyorican attitude toward race. Yet many foreign ideas have found fertile ground in Puerto Rico. For instance, despite initial skepticism about the feminist movement, by the late 1970s, the Island boasted a number of feminist organizations, as well as the official endorsement of the Commonwealth government. At the Comisión Para los Asuntos de la Mujer, for example, programs and literature developed in the United States barely underwent any alteration in their transfer to Puerto Rico; most were merely translated into Spanish. Not only were these "foreign ideas" acceptable but so too was the format—neither message (middle-class feminism) nor messenger (in the main, white women) met with the easy dismissal affected against Nuyoricans who talked about race and racism. Nor were those islanders who espoused the new ideas about women's place in society any more receptive to the new ideas about race than was the general population. Thus, when I described my own research on racism in Puerto Rico to the then- director of the Comisión, I was assured that "we don’t have such problems here.” Little wonder, then, that more than twenty-five years after Isabelo Zenón Cruz published his biting exposé on racism in Puerto Rico, Narciso descubre su trasero, there is still no official acknowledgment of its existence on the island. Newspapers, magazines and the broadcast media continue to ask if racism exists, rather than acknowledging that it does, a tactic followed by the island's Civil Rights Commission in its rare publications on the subject. Nor is it surprising that Black Puerto Rican women, so long ignored as women and as Blacks, found themselves compelled to establish their own organization, La Unión de Mujeres Puertorriqueñ as Negras, as a vehicle for fighting the silence, invisibility and abuse that marks their participation in la gran familia puertorriqueñ a.
This reluctance to engage racism as anything other than an imported "gringo" problem is consistent with the exceptionalist posture typical throughout Latin America, where the myth of racial democracy has continued to dominate national discourse despite well-documented evidence to the contrary. Puerto Rico, identifying as culturally “Hispanic,” has looked for its models to an increasingly Europeanized Spain and to other Spanish-speaking countries. The prevalent tendency is to ignore the neighboring Caribbean islands, full of “negros de verdad,” and instead to focus on a Hispanoamérica ostensibly full of mestizos, indios and blancos—all bound by the same reluctance to acknowledge its strong African roots. Puerto Rico as a “Latin” country exempts itself from racism even as it distances itself from its Blackness, identifying “real” Blackness as somehow inconsistent with Hispanic history and culture—or with history and culture, more generally. This perspective has become the official line, made real by repetition rather than concrete experience or the historical record. The contradictions have provided space for and encouraged the creation of a Taino revival movement overwhelmingly composed of second and third generation stateside Puerto Ricans who, by laying claim to indigeneity and thus the most “original” roots, propose to out-authenticate the islanders. It is a view that leaves unexplained why a people ostensibly so proud of their racial mixture overwhelmingly reject mixed race classifications. Revealingly, and to the consternation of many, more than 80% of islanders self-identified as white in the 2000 census.
It is to this white identity that our amateur video-maker pays homage, citing census figures and the mitochondrial- DNA studies of University of Puerto Rico biologist Juan Carlos Cruz Martínez to buttress his argument that “real” Puerto Ricans owe their genetic and cultural mestizaje to European and indigenous peoples. And it is this understanding of a de-Africanized mestizaje that many Puerto Ricans cling to when they first arrive in the United States.
It permits a scenario in which Puerto Ricans, defined as neither Black nor white, arrive in the United States devoid of racial prejudice only to be accosted by it in their new home. Puerto Ricans are presumably taught racism in the U.S. and forced to choose between Black or white identity, to the detriment of their "true" cultural selves. This perspective, prevalent in the scholarship produced since the 1930s, is also expressed in the autobiographical novel Down These Mean Streets, the dark-skinned Piri Thomas anguishes over being “caught up between two sticks.” Yet, it would be more accurate to say that Thomas and the others are actually stuck between the myth of racial democracy with its implicit preference for a bleached mestizaje, and the reality of African descent as a liability. The choice, if choice there were, is not between Black and white but between the myth of race-free color blindness and the reality of anti-Black racism. It is this fundamental contradiction that provided fertile ground for new ways to understand race.
The generation that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s saw what earlier migrants have seen from the beginning of the Latino presence in the United States. Since the turn of the century people such as bibliophile and historian Arturo Alfonso Schomburg have confronted overt racism. However, the open acknowledgment of its existence, also provided the political space to fight against racism. The shared experiences of racial discrimination and the concrete conditions flowing from it—deficient educational, health, and employment opportunities— confronted the more subtly phrased, but no less destructive ideology of racial democracy, learned from our parents and our community, and it became clear that something was off kilter. The very language of racism—"pelo bueno," "pelo malo," "Negro pero inteligente, "—which we heard in Spanish and English, left little doubt that the similarities between us were actually greater than the differences. The anti-racist, egalitarian ideas that flowed from the Civil Rights movement affected all those in the United States who were racially subordinated— African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Native Americans, Asians, etc.—in the United States and throughout the world. Nuyoricans were particularly receptive to the ideas and values that arose from these struggles because, located at the very bottom of the social and economic hierarchy of the City, they realized that it is of crucial importance to give due attention to the role of race in our lives.
The effect of the US antiracist movement on Puerto Ricans in the island has received less attention but there is ample evidence of those influences. It extends far beyond the short lived trendiness of the African-inspired dress and hairdos or the continuing fascination with the musical innovations that we know as "salsa" and reggaetón, or even the growing intellectual interest in identifying the African influences—or, at another level, foundations—of Puerto Rican culture. Less obvious, or at least less commented upon, is the effect on the educational life of Puerto Rico, where the astounding growth of post-secondary educational institutions on the island can be directly attributed to programs implemented under federally-mandated Affirmative Action guidelines. Inter-American University, Sagrado Corazón, and the countless technical colleges that opened their doors in the 1970s were able to develop precisely because all Puerto Rican students—whether on the island or in the States—qualified for federal assistance programs. Yet even as Puerto Ricans, especially on the island, rejected the stigma of racialization, they still accepted—indeed, actively sought out—the benefits of this racialization. That so many of the beneficiaries have often been the children of the more economically privileged sectors of our various communities does not diminish the significance of those race-based reforms. At the same time we would be remiss if we ignore the ways in which ideas about race and class continue to influence the actions taken by university admissions officers, corporate boards—and disgruntled video-makers.
But of even greater importance for those concerned with social justice has been the steadily growing chorus of voices raised against the Latino myth of racial harmony. For decades, stateside Puerto Ricans have been among the most active supporters of the Afro-Latin@ movements in Latin America and the Caribbean. In recent years the transnational dimension has gained momentum as Black Latin@s, and those who simply affirm their African ancestry, have organized in cities across the U.S. and across national borders. In addition to university-based organizations and cultural institutes, grass-roots groups such as The Afro Latin@ Institute of Chicago (ALIC), ENCUENTRO in Philadelphia and ENCUENTRO “Voices of AfroLatinos” in Boston are working to bring visibility to issues affecting African-descendant Latinos. Such efforts are also taking place on the island; in defiance of the silencing ideological and psychological controls of the rainbow/mixed race nation construct a group of people in the towns of Aguadilla and Hormigüeros (“Testimonios afropuertorriqueñ os: un proyecto de historia oral en el oeste de Puerto Rico),” have joined forces to “pursue a collective agenda so that Afro-Puerto Ricans no longer remain at ‘the bottom of the barrel.’” Black Puerto Ricans are demonstrating that when it comes to class and race matters it’s definitely not a question of Boricuas versus Nuyoricans.
Miriam Jiménez Román is director of afrolatin@ forum, a research and resource center focusing on Black Latinos and Latinas in the U.S. She was the Managing Editor and Editor of Centro: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies. For over a decade, she researched and curated exhibitions at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where she also served as the Assistant Director of the Scholars-in- Residence Program. Currently, she is a visiting scholar in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University.