Unpacking our Relationship to Anti-Blackness
by Marjua Estevez
When we accept our Blackness in totality, what could that mean for the African diaspora and the liberation of Black bodies across the globe?
Art credit: “Power” by Alexis Peskine, 2017. Moon gold leaf on nails, earth, coffee, water and acrylic on wood, 195 x 250 cm.
There are generations upon generations of children like me. Whose realities and way of life were forged inside the walls of Black and immigrant households set in these United States of America. We, the descendants of machete-wielding gods, cotton-field martyrs and sugarcane soldiers, have long had to scale bridges and live between cultures and languages, while constantly negotiating relationships with our homelands—if we know them at all.
We learn to code-switch and translate, while people like my Dominican parents and those before them know the quiet violence of silence in order to endure the ramifications of involuntary migration.
Diasporic agents of nation-building, like the lineage of matriarchs who raised me and kept our families together, are spiritually tethered to a struggle forced upon people who were stolen and then deprived of their indigenous land, tongues, identities and cultures. If you look like me – high yellow/red/black daughter of the yam, crowned with hair that defies gravity, propped up by hips that boogaloo – then you know how we got here.
Ours is a story of displacement. Of a centuries-long battle for survival. Of manifesting our destinies in the face of genocide and pillage, of white patriarchy and capitalism, and of systemic racism and neocolonialism that spills over into today’s political climate—a place in modern history defined by starkly anti-Black and anti-immigrant ideologies, ones that are continuously reinforced by the people sworn to serve and protect us, the very architects and pioneers of societies around the world.
How then, do we, the collective African Diaspora, most effectively join arms in the age of Black death, or the extrajudicial murders carried out disproportionately against Black women and men?
How do we, the products of a vastly expansive and enrichingly diverse Black diaspora, whether you’re from the barrios of Harlem and Los Angeles, or the campos of Haiti and Cuba, or the ‘hoods of South London and Toronto, begin to really turn the page in the book of Black liberation and freedom for all?
How do Black and Brown people reclaim ourselves in a world where the genius of White supremacy is regenerated from one generation to the next?
What many of my colleagues and I, who live both in the States and in places throughout the Caribbean and all of Latin America have come to understand, is that by not accepting and therefore centering our Blackness, we fall to the perils of indifference. And what has indifference always been if not an age-old friend of the enemy and ally to the oppressor?
“If we truly wish to see change and stand beside our fellow Black Diasporic siblings, we have to challenge the systems that wish to create division from them. Latinidad’s function is to do just that,” theorizes Dominican writer and poet Melania-Luisa Marte. “It not only erases our racializations but it also strips us of the cultural gems that our ancestors have left us and gives white Latinxs more access and privilege to claim what rightfully belongs to us.”
Marte is warranted in her beliefs. She and many others of us in the struggle have all bore witness to said acts of appropriation, expertly upheld “through erasure in media, music, and art.”
“We can’t scream Black Lives Matter and then identify with a system that erases our race under the guise of unity,” she emphatically continues. “Latinidad needs to go and something more colorful that honors the hues and diversity of who we are needs to take its place.”
For TOBi, a Nigerian rapper and recording artist based in Canada, reckoning with our collective negritude means first amplifying the most marginal of voices within the Black community. “We have to center and uplift our women, LGBT folk, destigmatize mental illness, and tell the stories that we don’t often hear,” he explains, pointing to the critical need for us to “rewrite our narratives and explore the many dimensions of Blackness.”
The many dimensions of blackness TOBi is referring to can also be found in the streets of Loiza and favelas of Rio de Janeiro; in the sacred drums of Palo and refrains of Santeria; in the passages of Vodou and languages of Garifuna; in the songs of Yoruba and rhythms of Reggae; in the staples of fufu and bacalao, and in the delicacies of ackee and green bananas.
bell hooks reminds us that “we have known, and continue to know, the rewards of struggling together” in order to “change society so that we can live in a world that affirms the dignity and presence” of Black people. Now, more than ever before, we must live that struggle in practice and not just in theory.
“Think of it as the distinction between those who advocate for the advancement of people of African descent versus black people who are only concerned with their own social advancement, regardless of the consequences to other Black people,” offers Pan-African activist and founder of In Cultured Company France Francois, in response to what it means to be politically Black.
“The African Diaspora primarily comprises the generations of children born of the force dispersal of more than 15 million Africans enslaved by colonial European and American enslavers during the 15th to 19th centuries,” defines Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute. “The processes of immigration and migration due to the continued colonial intervention that persist in our root countries, has further expanded the population of African descendants to different geographical locations throughout the world.”
While I, and many like me, by virtue of rape and massacre, carry the real-life privileges of being a light-skinned Black person that can leverage to their advantage being ID variously depending on where we are on the map – irrespective of language – it would be egregiously irresponsible not to mention that the face of this Afro-Descendant movement, of this global reckoning wave of African tradition and collective unification of pro-Black nations, is not mine. Not really. Not someone who is palatable in some rooms and not in others. Instead, we need to wholly function as a direct reflection of those who are actively disallowed in any and every space in the world that so-call fears our discernibly and unmistakably Black sistren and brethren.
As someone who is of African-Caribbean genealogy, someone who was raised by a gang of Black women teachers and griots between the Bronx and Tampa Bay, I know too well what is at stake when even just some of us negate our black roots and predecessors.
We fail to understand and assume our rightful place in the politics of solidarity and the politics of Blackness, at the detriment of other Black folks.
“One time for those of us who don’t think we are complicit through our silence,” writes author of The Poet X and Clap When You Land, Elizabeth Acevedo. “One time for those of us who pass in this society and don’t think these issues affect us because we live under the guise of: latino, hispanic, light-skinned, trigueño, indio, mestizo, or any other term that doesn’t mean shit because they will come for us too.”
That’s who we have been from inception. So how do we begin to overcome said tradition of silence that gave way for ahistorical narratives all while being historically stripped of our license to even communicate?
I have more questions than answers, but we can perhaps begin by rolling up our collective sleeves and doing the proverbial work of understanding the politics of our identities—how we got here, who named us, told us how we should pray, eat, dance, live. We can begin by holding ourselves accountable; by doing away with the labels and terms that came out of colonization. We can begin by decolonizing the language we use in our everyday political frameworks; decolonizing the literary canon by telling our own stories; decolonizing our attitudes toward the racial politics of blackness; decolonizing our kitchen talks about who we should and shouldn’t bring home in marriage.
The work is really in excavating our hardest truths. As original peoples. The ones that don’t make the history books. Then, and only then, will we know about the cloth from which we are truly cut.