My ex-husband used to tell me that when he was just a boy in his old LA neighborhood, the black kids were louder and more aggressive than he, and they would bully him until he ran home crying to his mama. What my husband experienced in his childhood neighborhood painted a negative picture in his Mexican mama’s imagination of Black-Americans. To take an experience and create broad assumptions about a person or a group of people is so common to our human experience, it almost seems it would be a helpful practice. But we all know deep down, that this typically does more harm than good to ourselves and to others. To paraphrase Chimamanda Adiche, the Nigerian writer, lecturer and feminist, when we tell these single stories to others or to ourselves, even though they may have some truth to them, they are often incomplete. I argue it is in that incomplete space where we languish in stereotypes and where hate festers. In these times, we cannot afford to languish.
We live in a world at a crossroads. The new vehicle of social media allows us to galvanize across gender, culture and ethnicities to affect much needed change in our neighborhoods, our country and our world.
We are at a point where we have unprecedented momentum to move toward upending policies that have hurt Blacks and Mexicans, and other minorities for hundreds of years. We have access to more information, to our histories, to our stories, than we ever have. This excites me to no end. After all, it is a fact that no revolutionary change has come to America without radical protests, without radical activists behind these movements. From the Boston Tea Party, to the abolitionists movement against slavery, to the women’s suffrage movement, to the civil right’s movement of the 50’s and 60’s, and the farm worker’s movement led by Caesar Chavez. Without the benefit of an iPhone to record and without the immediacy of Twitter to organize, these movements altered the course of our history for the better.
Today’s social justice movements have a new heat. Beginning with the Arab Spring in the Middle East, the climate change movement across the globe, and the BlackLivesMatter movement happening in the streets and media of America, we have already seen what happens when we use our present day resources to bring us together to fight for justice. The populace is gaining strength, we are making strides. While the momentum is strong and accelerating, there is this dust that hangs in the air that threatens to choke the life out of the potential of these movements – in particular, the BlackLivesMatter movement. It is the division of regular Black folk and the Latino population that is a threat. There is a distrust, a belief in a single story about one another. Or perhaps it is the competition to be seen as full citizens that keeps us clinging to the patriarchy for approval and looking at one another as the enemy. As an African-American woman who married into a Latino family, it is my deep desire to bring our two cultures together, for the sake of my children, and because I know our communities hold immense power, and together, rather than divided, we can bend the arc of the moral universe closer toward social justice.
One of the first tasks we face in coming together, not in pockets here and there, but as a united front, is to vanquish the single stories about one another. We need to become educated about our pasts and how they intersect. Here, in “This Is What It Means To Be Afro-Latino,” for instance, are stories of Afro-Latinos and how they have walked through their lives with two identities. You can read how only 450,000 Africans, of the 11.2 million who survived the Middle Passage and landed in the New World, came to the United States. Where did the rest go? You will find that our pasts intersect in more ways than you knew. Read about, or travel to Afro-Latino places on the planet. Read Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza – and remember how our borders began, and be inspired by how Anzaldua broke down barriers to live free. You will find we have the same desires, share the same struggles, and envision similar futures. We are more alike than we are different.
Our young people are dying at the hands of unscrupulous police officers. Officers who were fired from one department because they were found to be unfit, are moving to other departments, and as in the case of Tamir Rice, are the ones pulling the triggers on our young brown and black youth. Anonymous 911 callers have called the literal shots on our young people, in an unprecedented fashion, where police officers react to the callers’ presumptions, rather than following any on the scene protocol. We can make a difference. Let us not let the dust of our fears and prejudices allow us to miss this opportunity to force the hand of the corrupt system that allows state-sanctioned violence to continue to cut down our youth, and obstruct the rights of individuals to the due process of the law that we all deserve.