We Added the "X" and Forgot the Why
Latinx people. Mi gente, we added the “x” and forgot the why: we’re not all the same. Each of us has different parts of ourselves (identities) that are having an impact on how we see ourselves, how others see us and how we are this world, specifically the United States. With the most recent acquittal of the murderer of Philando Castile, Officer Yanez, being a light-skinned Latino man, I’m inviting us to look into the why. To remember that we are not all being treated the same by eachother, systems and institutions, and we are not all responding the same either. While some folks have called out examples of our anti-blackness that was part of Philando Castile’s murder, as well as Trayvon Martin, my invitation is to take a closer look at anti-blackness and other parts that feed that beast, as well as what role masculinity/machismo and cis-gendered (someone who feels that their gender matches the sex organs they were born with) men in particular play in all of this.
Anti-Blackness Needs Pro-Whiteness
In my family, being first generation in the United States from Kiskeya, on the side of the Dominican Republic, there were certain things coming from my parents that I would later learn were part of being “the good immigrant” and respectability politics, where they knew we had to work 3 times as hard to get twice as far and, as immigrants, we couldn’t be like African Americans who had been here for so long “y no avanzaron” (they didn’t advance). My father would frequently come to my school when I was in trouble and he’d tell me, “I want to defend you but you have to give me ammunition, not the white teachers.” He may not have known it but he was giving me an analysis of who held power, and how, by making it clear that our job was to adopt white ideals and norms outside of our home so that we could survive and, hopefully, be successful. “Portate bien” (behave yourself) were often the last words my mother told me whenever we said goodbye. This meant, be quiet, keep your eyes down, don’t talk back, do anything the teacher tells you to and speak “good english” – no accent, no slang. It was about not being Black AND it was also about being white.
When my father learned more African American history from the perspective of this country, and saw how he was being treated as a darker skinned man, including the distinctions that his accent afforded him, his tune changed more and more and became about behaving in a way that would keep the gaze and punishment of white people away from us. Even if I was no longer receiving messages directly from my family about not being black, I was definitely still receiving them about being white. It also didn’t matter if these messages came from my family or not. In every novela, talking to other family members, being with friends in their homes, it was all around me: Pro Whiteness and Anti Blackness was already the water we were swimming in.
Yes, there are Anti-Black sentiments that pervade all of us, and are strong in my community and with my people. The level to which this has been exported across the world by the United States is disgusting and incredible, and has also reached each of our mothers’ lands in different ways and at varying rates. While we are all infected with this disease, we have to be taking a look at who within our communities have the ability to take up the invitation to whiteness, and all the power, privilege and resources they will gather from that, with the quickness. Our light/white skinned folk are able to, sometimes within one generation, “pass” and gain access to people, places and things that seemed beyond our wildest dreams. And, let’s be clear, it’s all in the name of safety and “elevating all of us.” See, the dangerous thing about Pro-Whiteness is that it makes you want it, crave it. You have a child and you want them to be safe and cared for and not shot by the cops, so it’s not enough to tell them not to hang out con los morenos (with Black people), you also have to keep pushing messages and ideals that gets us closer and closer to whiteness, “para advanzar y elevar la raza” (to advance and elevate the race).
To me this begs the question, in what ways are we all BOTH anti-black AND pro-white? What messages have you/I received pushing us towards white standards, ideals and ways of being that, historically, are not really of our people? How does this play out within our own ethnic groups and then across ethnic and racial lines? How would pushing us to be both anti-Black and pro-white serve the interests of white people in the United States?
Sirverle a Los Hombres Primero (Serve the Men First)
I grew up with my mother serving all of us food, and she would serve my father and brothers first. I’ve heard this story from many people: the men would get the best pieces of chicken and largest portions of food. Thankfully, my mother was also extremely subversive so, while she kept up this “tradition” I still got the pieces I liked too and some extra treat on the side. That’s for another essay though about the impact of feeling like our needs being met means military grade strategizing.
It seems that the conversation of machismo has fallen out of style within our “Latinx” community, even while we add the “x” to degender our language. The fact that the officers who killed both of these people are Latino men is an important factor.
I grew up with a lot of violence in our home. I’d fight with my brothers. They’d fight with each other. My father would fight both of them. Physically. And that’s just in the house! There’d be rumbles outside pitting blocks against each other. My mother had a few licks of her own she gave and took. Our family is full of leones (lions, literally. People who tend to get physically aggressive metaphorically). One thing that was clear when we were younger is you never call the cops. So no matter how much pain or blood, we would be more terrified of the cops showing up and killing the men than we were for keeping ourselves out of harm. This happens in so many communities of color where women, transgender people, queer folks, experience violence at the hands of cis-gendered men of color and swallow it whole because we are afraid of what can happen to them and/or us if the cops show up.
This is present whether men are light skinned or not. Add light/white-skinned privilege to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for getting away with some of the most incredible acts of violence, however it’s perpetuated. To me this is an important point of reflection to be aware all the infiltration that would attempt to divide us.
What role do masculinity and gender play in creating these killer, male, Latino cops? How do we push and elevate people in our families who feel like they can get us closer to whiteness to the frontlines to “bring us all across?” Where have we seen this play out in our mothers’ lands before?
When that light/white-skinned man in our family gets the jobs and pay and benefits that get the big house on Long Island, Queens or Westchester, where we can all finally come together for the bbq, we’re not complaining about anything they had to do to get us there. If anything, it becomes proof of what more of us in the family need to do to make it. We start to hear, “Debes de ser mas como tu primo such and such” (You should be more like your cousin such and such). We have to take a look a look a how that person gets created from that first best piece of pollo to being the one that gets chosen to “diversify” spaces while still keeping it male and/or light-skinned.
Y Entonce? / What are we to do? Love, Healing and Liberation
We get to call ourselves and our community in with a love that includes accountability. I struggle to be in spaces with lighter skinned folks of Latin American and Spanish speaking Caribbean descent. All of these systems and energies working against us seems so clear to me and I go into a rage when they tell me que hablo muy alta (I speak too loudly), or look at me with disdain when I suggest a chant for the rally that includes a curse word because their middle and upper class values feel like that’s vulgar. And yet, distancing myself from them leaves them to be organized by Republicans, or our own version of progressives that have nothing to offer our people but LiberationLite: a nice house, a nice car and “nobody bothering us” while we can still go to the parades and get excited when anyone who still claims their Latin American / Spanish speaking Caribbean roots does anything – even heinous (insert Marco Rubio anything here).
I get to call in the men in my community, light skinned or not, for the ways that they’re unchecked male privilege in our families and communities is literally killing us. The silence from them in the wake of Latino men killing Black men has brought me a lot of pain and moves me to write this for all of us.
The healing work is consistently acknowledging and working through my own wounds so that I can stay in community with folks for the long haul, to work through the pain that has been inflicted, and that will inevitably come. Mi gente, we are dying out here. Yes, I’m Dominican and always will be, AND holding on to my own ethnic identity so strongly that I am blind to the ways I am part of a much larger, global, Black and African family would have me miss out on so much about me and others, and ways we get to do this work for all of our liberation. And yes, I do have my people that hold me up so that when the emotional, spiritual and all kinds of impact come to me, I am grounded, clear and can go through to get past.
See the thing about this Afro Latinx movement is that it feels too much like white feminism. Like, let’s get our people free and then we’ll figure out how we can work with Black folks. For all the work we’re putting in with our people, why not make that one with the Movement for Black Lives? If we really understand how these systems would try to divide us by staying stuck in our difference, then we would know that the way forward is to be with the complexity of our identities and be part of a movement that is centering all Black bodies, including those that are challenging the machista ways.
So who’s the Yanez in your family? Where is the Yanez in me/us? What is the work that we get to do, in community, and centering love, healing and liberation once we acknowledge that these biases are already there and killing us when unchecked?
This is an invitation for all Latin American, Spanish-speaking Caribbeans who are already taking up this work, or who are being introduced to it, and would like to continue, to reach out to me, and other organizers, who are committed in doing this for Love, Healing and Liberation of ALL of our people.