Over the last few weeks, we have witnessed several Black folks — including Alton Sterling and Philando Castile — being murdered by police. In the wake of such deaths, activists — like the peaceful organization Black Lives Matter — took to social media and to the streets.
Days later, news started surfacing about several police shootings of Latinx people. Publications started chronicling the deaths of Vinson Ramos, Raul Saavedra-Vargas, Melissa Ventura, Anthony Nuñez and Pedro Villanueva.
Several of these began to seem like they were comparing the deaths of non-Black Latinx and the media coverage to that surrounding the deaths of Black folks. One publication even reported — in the most contradicting manner — “Latino lives matter too. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were tragic and unjustifiable. … Black lives matter. But there appears to be a narrative in this country where Latino lives do not exist. How else can you explain it, when FIVE LATINOS are shot and killed by officers … and the nation is barely aware of it?”
Twitter users even began tweeting the names of the five Latinxs that had been killed and co-opted the well-known hashtag #sayhername, a hashtag set aside to speak out about the deaths of Black women.
— lani (@thestrokeslwt) July 10, 2016
I think that some of us forget something extremely important: our liberation is not the responsibility of Black folks. Yes, we’ve experienced police brutality. We’ve died at the hands of police. But using this to distract folks from the BLM movement, or to shift the attention onto us, is anti-Black violence.
As Damone Williams explains in his Tumblr post, “Black people are not your mules, Black people are not your beasts of burden. So instead of getting salty because ‘no one’s talking about the (insert non-Black POC here) who was murdered by police!’ maybe you should rally your own, gather your troops, take to the streets and raise your voices.”
Williams goes on to say, “Don’t be mad at Black folks for knowing how to and effectively organizing, rising up, and making our voices heard. Save that energy and funnel it into your people… and your causes.”
The fact is, we are anti-Black, inherently, by default. Many of us even align ourselves with whiteness more than Brownness. We have assimilated. We have drank from our colonizers’ tea cup for too long. We do not, nor will we ever, experience anti-Blackness, and therefore we are complicit. It is no one’s job to educate us but our own.
Erasure is violence.
The erasure of Afro-Latinx is rampant. We perpetuate this by treating and speaking about Latinx as if it’s a monolith, when Latinx is an ethnicity. Just as important, we often tell Afro-Latinx that they’re “too Black” to be Latinx — that they should “pick a side” and perpetuate colorism.
All this, and yet we forget the prominent African roots of Latin America. My friend José García-Madrid wrote a post on their Facebook page after noticing the erasure that came with folks saying “Latinx in solidarity with Black Lives.” They penned it perfectly, saying, “How do you try to show support on one hand, to then only contribute to the borders between Latinx and Black, on the other? I prefer the term Brown, because … I am not treated [by police] differently than my Black fam because I’m Latinx, but because of my Brown skin. In many cases I’m further from violence and death because of my Brown skin. Brown people have to be more aware and real about our proximity to death [and] whiteness (power).”
For Latinxs, proximity to Black culture means everything — and nothing.
Many — but not all — of us grow up in close proximity to Black communities (i.e. low income areas), live in poverty, etc. Some of us tend to think Blackness is our to claim. This is wrong. Not to mention, by doing so, we pick and choose the parts of Blackness that we like, while rejecting those that we don’t.
This is nothing more than appropriation. We have stolen facets of art, music, culture, language, mannerisms and more from Black folks. This proximity means nothing. These things are not ours to take or claim. Similarly, proximity means everything. Because, as García-Madrid said, we need to acknowledge our proximity to whiteness, and further, to institutional power and privilege. This is especially true for those of us who are light-skinned, who align ourselves more with whiteness, as well as those of us who are white-passing.
Yes, Brown erasure exists, however, it’s not because of Black Lives Matter. It’s not because the news of Black deaths are taking up space. How is there a notion that Latinxs don’t exist (in general) when Latinx media branches far and wide. Why do we blame Black folks and the extensive work they’ve done to have their voices heard?
And, most of all, why do we expect solidarity from a community that we have had a hand in silencing, co-opting from, appropriating, speaking over, further marginalizing, and ultimately killing?
There is something we need to admit: we’re entitled. While this may be a tough pill to swallow, it’s necessary! We feel racial entitlement because of our proximity to whiteness. We need to acknowledge that we are a product of colonization. All these layers and intersections are important. While we didn’t choose this, the effects of colonization are very apparent. The choice that we do have, however, whether to stay stagnant and complacent.
We must stop co-opting, appropriating and infiltrating Black safe spaces, erasing Afro-Latinxs and stop thinking that our proximity gives us the right to steal pieces of cultures that don’t belong to us. It’s our job to do the grunt work of unlearning and educating ourselves on anti-Blackness, and building a strong movement to bring forth our liberation. Most importantly, it’s crucial that we hold our people and communities accountable for our complicity in the war on Black lives and Black bodies.
Familia, look down. There is blood on our hands.