Black and Brown unite?

Having lived in California all of my life, hearing about the conflicts between Black folks and Latino/a folks is commonplace. I never understood how two wretchedly oppressed groups could direct so much hatred and distrust toward each other when there is so much potential embodied in a collaboration between folks who suffer (of course in different and nuanced ways) under the weight of our global economy. This is not just latent hatred and distrust … it has developed into open warfare, killings, violence and disheartening destruction. Recent jail wars in California have been attributed to race wars between Black and Latino gangs. In 2005, following fights between Black and Latino students at Los Angeles schools and accusations of Mexican gangs targeting Blacks, Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote an article that chalks up the problem to disagreement over immigration, political representation, jobs, and bilingual education.

In the LA Times a few days back, Tanya K. Hernandez, a professor of law at Rutgers University Law School gaves an analysis of why Black folks and Latino/a folks just cannot seem to get along. She looks away from a pure socio-economic analysis to argue that “longtime prejudices, not economic rivalry, fuel tensions:”


The fact is that racism — and anti-black racism in particular — is a pervasive and historically entrenched reality of life in Latin America and the Caribbean. More than 90% of the approximately 10 million enslaved Africans brought to the Americas were taken to Latin America and the Caribbean (by the French, Spanish and British, primarily), whereas only 4.6% were brought to the United States. By 1793, colonial Mexico had a population of 370,000 Africans (and descendants of Africans) — the largest concentration in all of Spanish America.

The legacy of the slave period in Latin America and the Caribbean is similar to that in the United States: Having lighter skin and European features increases the chances of socioeconomic opportunity, while having darker skin and African features severely limits social mobility.

White supremacy is deeply ingrained in Latin America and continues into the present. In Mexico, for instance, citizens of African descent (who are estimated to make up 1% of the population) report that they regularly experience racial harassment at the hands of local and state police, according to recent studies by Antonieta Gimeno, then of Mount Holyoke College, and Sagrario Cruz-Carretero of the University of Veracruz.

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So…is it just the carry-overs of anti-black racism in Latin America and the Caribbean manifested in American spaces or is it something different? Whatever the case may be, how do we bridge the gap? Do we bridge the gap? Is there a fear that unity between Black and Brown will assume the uniformity of unique experiences and needs? This was definitely a concern of Black feminists who saw uncritical unity with white liberal feminist as a threat to addressing the nuanced needs of Black women in America (and globally for that matter). Or maybe the mistake is in assuming that common socio-economic oppression is a good proxy for collaboration?
In thinking about this situation, I was reminded of two quotes:

Guillermo Gomez-Pena (performing artist and writer, from Warrior for Gringostroika, 1993): “The insidious colonial tendencies we have internalized–and that express themselves in the sadistic competition for money and attention, political cannibalism, and moral distrust–must be overcome. We must realized that we are not each other’s enemies and that the true enemy is currently enjoying our divisiveness.


Audre Lorde (educator, activist, poet, from Sister Outsider, 1984): “This kind of action is a prevalent error among oppressed peoples. It is based upon the false notion that there is only a limited and particular amount of freedom that must be divided up between us, with the largest and juiciest pieces of liberty going as spoils to the victor or the stronger. So instead of joining together to fight for more, we quarrel between ourselves for a larger slice of one pie.”

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Published on January 8, 2007 at 1:21 pm. 14 Comments.
Filed under history,inter-minority relations,racism.