Monday, November 9, 2009

Racismo-- Let's Talk About It

I was reporting for jury duty and doing what every would-be juror does before being interviewed-- waiting; waiting for my name to be called, waiting for the badges to decide which group goes on which floor, waiting to get cell phone signal again just so I could call my baby and complain some more about process and procedure. But why I'm sharing this with you is less about the modus operandi of picking jurors, but more about what can happen when complete strangers are put together in one room, or in this case a courthouse corridor. See, this Dominican woman had been bullying one of the vending machines into dropping the bag of chips she had bought adroitely enough for her to reach down and take it. It had somehow gotten stuck between the metal coil that held it, to begin with, and it was hanging loosely yet seemingly too stubborn to release itself. So this sista was doing everything she could to get her chips. She even tried getting her coins back but her quarters weren't stuck. They were secured, as in the case of so many quarters in city pay phones that suspiciously make the dive but miss the call. I fully understood her frustration; and I would've made an attempt to negotiate with the machine on her behalf, had the security guard hadn't called my name. So as I walked away I made a kind of hand gesture to her. The kind of offering one makes when you want to help but for whatever the reason or situation, you just can't right there and then. I even made my face look apologetic, because getting played by a vending machine is a common thing. We've all been there. Banging on the glass or kicking its legs so its arms can let go of the yummy. Some of us have even gotten gangsta about it and just picked up the damn thing, though I have a more sophisticated way of going about it. But that's another scoop. I want to tell you what happened as the White guard--and there's a reason why I'm naming the color--began escorting me into the interview room. She called me the N word for not helping her; and she made sure not to roll her 'r'! She sent it like a dagger, quick and direct like my name was on it from way past. At least it felt that way because her eyes were full of hatred for the color of my skin and perhaps the red, black and green that I was sporting on my head.

Now, let's put this in its proper context since a Latina calling a Black man nigger is the kind of racismo we hardly talk about yet experience it every day, be it at a courthouse or bodega or in a classroom or an elevator, or in the bedroom, even. Because loving Black dik and not necessarily the man behind the dik is yet another form of racism, if not the worse kind. But the saddest kind is when Brown disses Black in front of White, knowing fully well that there wouldn't be a conga without the African. There wouldn't be sugar without the African. There wouldn't be healthy new Latino babies without that nigger midwife. No Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Hector Lavoe; no Fat Joe, Big Pun, J-Lo, Selma Hayek, Ricky Martin, Shakira, Selena, Lumidee; no Julio freakin Iglesias, Jr. trying to bring sexy back, and definitely no Reggaeton without the Black! So why would Brown dis the very person who taught her how to fight? Because like every one else, she bought into the hype that Black is not to be respected, especially American Black. This bizness of hating the one you admire the most is merely an extension of White on Black racism that many Latinos and Hispanics have adopted, either by their parents and grandparents or the media itself. And we should make the comparison between Latino and Hispanic, by the way, in order to understand how these labels are used for their convenience and to our detriment.

According to Random House dictionary, a Latino is a person of Spanish-speaking descent, specifically from California while an Hispanic, also a person of Spanish-speaking descent, represents regions like Texas and Florida; and that the term Hispanic, to Latinos, is often considered offensive. Now, that's the anglo definition; and we already know what happens when an ousider comes to your home and starts telling you who you are and where you should put your furniture! But here's our definition. Here's how it feels to Black folks, in general--

Latino means closer to anglo and Hispanic means closer to us, as in Hispaniola; as in the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. If you pay enough attention, you'll notice the tendency of both Latinos and Hispanics to prefer anglo over nubian, and how this plays out in social interactions, though they're usually less overt about it, prefering to keep it only for dinner table convo. It's a vibe you get when you walk into a room. A look that tells you they've already attached a hundred assumptions onto you by the mere shade of your skin. The very same assumptions that were placed on them by Europeans before their native tongues and names were taken from them. Much like us, but without the burden of having an even darker complexion. Sometimes they'll slip up and say things like, You don't look Black or You could pass for Dominican, and you walk away thinking you're a better Black. That's how tragic skin color politics can be. It's yet another form of post-slavery psychosis that plays out in our everyday lives, whether we're conscious of it or not. We had a saying in high school. Hispanics are Black when it comes to a street fight and White when it comes to politics. In other words, depending on skin shade, our Spanish-speaking cousins play both sides of the field. Black when they need us, White when they see an opportunity for advancement. How they balance this dance is actually quite ingenious. It takes skills to know how to pass one paperbag test while ducking another. Remember when they voted for Bush like he was their Obama? That was the Spaniard in them talking. And after Bush fucked them over with his immigration laws they decided to let their African be by betting on Black eight years later, and this time they ducked the gringo instead!

It's not as complex as it sounds, though. As a matter of fact, it really comes down to basic survival skills. In kindergarten terms, let's say, for example, that orange people have all the power and that the System dictates that everyone look orange and subscribe to orange customs. Those who aren't orange will do whatever they can to at least be orange-like so they can be accepted. Those who are just too off to be validated can put on orange peels to try to pass, while the rest dream of being orange! You feel what I'm saying? Whether it's having to master a color code, partake in cross-dressing or hide behind down low behavior, people have a natural desire to pass. Because no one wants to be the odd man out. No one wants to be Black.

I dated an Equadorian once. Her family was cool with me until they found out we were a couple. She was forced to split with me because their message to her was clear-- You marry up, not down (marriage wasn't on my mind, but I got the point!).

Look, I don't mean to turn this into a social science course. But it's important for Black folks to understand how racism works and not just how it feels, so that we can cope with it, if not overcome it. So here's a quick overview on why that Dominican sista felt she had a right to call me out my name:

1. Europeans don't necessarily get along, but one thing that kept them united before the Euro was the slave trade, and the gold and other natural resources that came with that;

2. Hundreds of years of indoctrinating Tainos and other native americans, from the cutting off of noses and testicles, and forced abortions to establishing color codes where light was right and black, get back;

3. The separation of Blacks to one side of Hispaniola (Haiti) and Browns to the other (DR);

4. Extending the color code across the Caribbean and onto the mainland (U.S.), so that light-skinned Blacks feel superior to dark-skinned Blacks and, thus, introducing the good hair/bad hair syndrome;

5. The deliberate dismissal of inventions and other contributions by Blacks to give the appearance that we're nothing but freed slaves;

6. Pushing the image of Latinos or Hispanics as only light-complexioned Spanish-speaking people, while ignoring the reality that Brown comes in different shades;

7. Viewing anything that celebrates Black pride, as in the wearing of a red, black and green cufi, as a sign of terrorism

So this is what this obviously disturbed woman threw at me. Generations of miseducation made to give her and those like her a false sense of pride. It was bad enough that the White guard and other would-be jurors had to witness post-slavery psychosis at its near best (the best is when brothas call each other nigga and dog), but what hurt me was that in all my 48 years on this plane I've never been called nigger by a White person. Not to my face, at least. That it took my own kind to make me feel like I didn't belong in my own country cut right thru my soul, particularly since I take pan-african solidarity to heart. Still, we were both in a courthouse. Not the kind of place any Black man wants to show his ass! And while I couldn't help calling her pendera--I made sure to roll my 'r'--I took the Sidney Poitier route by showing my class instead and removed myself from her sphere altogether.

Here's the good news. The new generation of Browns are rejecting the racismo fed to them when they were children. That old, tired feud between Dominicans and Puerto Ricans is over. Everyone eats platanos now! And hermanos like George Lopez are openly discussing the racismo that's never talked about, Reggaeton (a mixure of Reggae and Salsa) is the latest musical trend, New York's Sen. Ruben Diaz' dark skin didn't stop his voters from supporting him, and Platanos and Collard Greens (a love story between an African American and a Latina) is still a hit play.

Here's the bad news. Racismo is still alive and thriving. Just take a look at Latino TV shows. The actors don't even look Caribbean or Central American, but more like Spaniards. The image of the professional Latino or Hispanic siren is almost always anglo-looking. Employers prefer hiring lighter-skinned Latinos versus darker-skinned Hispanics. The American Southwest is still shy about the role of Blacks in their history books. And if you visit Miami; if you're a dark-comlexioned person, especially male, visiting Miami, Florida you're often greeted with discouraging looks by pseudo-White Spanish-speaking folks, rude waiters and taxi drivers who take after Manhattan yellow cab drivers when it comes to passing over Black waving hands. It's not until you're in Little Haiti that you get love.

How we get rid of Brown race-ism is the same way we do away with White racist behavior. We start with the school system, by telling the truth about what went down with the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. We tell little Brown boys and girls the atrocities Christopher Columbus committed in the name of providing Spain gold and human bondage. We explain how native American, Spaniard and African created the beautiful combo called Hispanic and not place either of the three DNA's over one another. You teach them that Brown music is not the only place where Africa is to be given her props, and to honor the wide nose and full lips if that's what you see in the mirror; that it's beautiful, not a curse. And you tell them too that marrying up is liking the one you love and that marrying down is sleeping with someone you don't respect. Otherwise it's not pride nor power. Just the illusion of pride and power. Like making fun of someone you haven't even met yet.


ROD (aka BIG ROD) said...

Yo K,

POWERFUL brutha POWERFUL!! I learned so much about the Black and Brown social dynamic!

So much knowledge was dropped in this essay! THANK U brutha man!


Michele said...

Um, gee, K., don't hold back, really...share how you REALLY FEEL! No, seriously, it was a very thoughtful and heartfelt, piece. OK, a few quick points, as a diversity trainer, I've done several workshops on identity and shadism (discrimination based on skin color, rather than by race) because it's so rarely talked about, but exists throughout the African and Asian Diasporas as well as in Native American communities. Yeah, it ain't just a Black/Latin thang.

The situation you experienced seemed to be more than shadism, but also racial discrimination because it sounds like this sista who you identified as Dominican (not sure how you know that) was pissed off at a man who she identified as Black American. You coulda been the same shade as her, maybe even lighter, but there's a real issue of how our brothers and sisters (from Latin America, but also parts of Africa and even the Caribbean), think less of African Americans.

I just think that there was a hiercharchy set up during slavery and colonism establishing the social order amongst oppressed non-white peoples (e.g. Spanish-speaking white-brownish folks on top, followed by french-speakers, etc. with African Americans being at the bottom because US slaverowners treated their slaves the worst).

I slightly disagree with the differentiation between Hispanic and Latino (no disrespect to the dictionary). In the world of diversity training, the difference was more a matter of which term was current (e.g. comparing African-American to Negro or Black). Most of the educators in my circle (inc. very socially-conscious, African-centered ones) would use Latino over Hispanic cuz it was more current like using people of color vs. colored people. I personally didn't like Hispanic cuz in my mind, it just sounded like "His Spic" (offensive) or like it came from the word "Hispanola" which was the European word for my island-nation, Haiti & DR, not the original name that the Arawak and Tainos called it. So, for all of those reasons, I never embraced the word, "Hispanic". I always use the word "Latino/a/s". It just sounds more empowered and, to me, more like "one of us". But maybe, that's just me.

Lastly, I wish I could agree witcha that the kids are losing some of those racist tendencies, but I got kids who are Latina/o, could pass for White (if you didn't see their last name), and every other word out their mouth is Nigga (with an "a"), but they don't think of themselves as Niggers (with an "e") and don't understand the impact of that word. In the same vein, I get called in to do workshops in Bushwick, Sunset Park and part of the Bronx cuz the PRan & Dominican kids get together to beat up the Mexican or Ecuadorian kids.

Progress? Really? Over the past 2years, they've been countless bias attacks in Bushwick & Long Island, particularly against Ecuadorians and the majority of perpetrators have been other people of color.

Yeah,I ain't sure how much progress we've made cuz all of my kids know Sean Bell, but none of them know the name of the Ecuadorian brotha who was killed in their own neighborhood (by a Black man) for walking arm-in-arm with his brother. The sword cuts both ways and we still ain't unlearned massa's lessons from slavery and colonization.

K. Koromantee said...

Thanks, chele. but i don't think the equadorian brotha was murdered cos of his Brown, but cos Black Trash--and we got our own Trash--mistook brotherhood affection for homo love. either way, it was a tragedy. and you're right about racismo still going strong with even the new generation of Browns, cos i was on the train this morning and three latinas were talking bout bleaching their hair blond to look more like carmen diaz. and this after the news of baseball player, sammy sosa switching skin shades!

K. Koromantee said...

And to answer your question, how did i know she was dominican? by the way she clung to the white in her red, white and blue!