Latin American political power in the United States is an enormous topic, and one of its biggest flaws reared its ugly head this Oscars season. Some prominent Latinx folks (as well as other non-black people of color) took issue with Chris Rock “failing” to mention the erasure of Latin peoples at the Oscars as many black celebrities were attending a benefit for the ailing children and people of Flint, Michigan, who are still fighting for clean drinking water as of this writing. Although many other writers have drawn attention to the need for solidarity between black people and Latinx folks in the United States, it is necessary to re-articulate the nuances and history that these groups share in struggling towards their liberation from white supremacy and capitalism. However, we must first break down why these groups have common interests and yet still struggle to properly form coalitions to counter the forces that discriminate against, marginalize, imprison, and otherwise outright murder them. Only then will we be able to build the partnerships necessary to harness the latent political power within American minorities.
The most vital factors to take into account when discussing racial politics are the concepts of solidarity and horizontal aggression. Solidarity is the term most frequently used by activists to describe behaviors that acknowledge and are materially active towards dismantling oppressive systems. What do we mean by “materially active?” Some privileged folks do not quite understand that there is more to allying themselves against the systems they benefit from than posting a supportive Facebook status or recognizing that racism exists – there needs to be some kind of work going on that represents one’s solidarity. Horizontal aggression, by contrast, is hostile behavior between members of the oppressed that can take the form of insults, violence, victimization or silencing. This is what we saw during and following the #OscarsSoWhite conversation, which the originator, Reagan Gomez, explicitly states to be inclusive of all people of color. However, she strongly advocates that other members of the oppressed create their own spaces for challenging white supremacy and its associated institutions – this resentment against the horizontal aggression of other American minorities led to the creation of another hashtag on Twitter, #NotYourMule, a confrontational demand for solidarity. #NotYourMule, excellently explicated in this particular thread, arose out of frustration; the only way to address such emotion productively involves self-reflection and education.
We who are not oppressed in one respect, may of course be marginalized in another. Marginalized peoples face structural challenges to their everyday lives and the practices of their respective cultures; an ongoing conversation in post-colonial scholarship talks about how race, gender, and other intersecting identities are weaponized by the dominant set of societal power relations. As Black Lives Matter continues to remind the public, black people are the direct subjects of a tumultuous, hostile relationship with the police that traces its origins back to the slave patrols in the American South. For us today, we have Whiteness combined with unequal wealth distribution in the United States, which allows for people with these privileges to navigate through cultural institutions like schooling, housing, policing, and voting without certain state and societal discrimination. For those without such privilege, it would seem obvious that the most progressive and radical route would be to band together to dismantle the system that has been designed against them. Unfortunately, that proves to be very difficult precisely because of how white supremacy is designed to pit minorities against each other.
Why did we see some people of color react with hostility to Chris Rock’s monologue? One explanation is internalized racism – the voices who cried “identity erasure” may be detracting from the overall political discourse because their worldview is skewed towards ideology that either implicitly or explicitly supports whiteness as a system (this develops for many different reasons, which may or may not be related to their individual identities). People of color are consistently exposed to a society upholding Whiteness, with mainstream media and schooling that prizes White narratives above non-white narratives, and they begin to see everything else with respect to Whiteness as a standard. But although that explanation might help us understand a bit more, it’s only one component- we need to consider how weak cross-racial coalition-building has been since the destruction of the Black Panther Party, the Chicano Movement, and other associated radicals in the 1960s at the hands of the Federal Bureau of Investigation via the COINTELPRO protocols. As uncomfortable and conspiratorial as it might sound, we should be careful not to assign too much blame for the massive amount of misinformation and lack of organization between people who suffer from racial discrimination.
Most prominently, the Black Panther Party understood the value of allying itself with other minorities and organizations that sought to radically challenge America’s capitalist and racist identity. The organizers of the Chicano movement (still alive as Xicanx movement, having adapted postcolonial language), among them notably the Brown Berets, first formed their “Rainbow Coalition” in July 7, 1969. Less than twenty years later, this kind of cross-racial organization was emulated by the Reverend Jesse Jackson when he attempted a “Rainbow Coalition” of his own. The 1988 election cycle saw young progressives of all colors band together in an ultimately failed bid to realign the Democratic Party towards the Left; that focus still shapes the modern elections as both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns are competing to say who is more legitimate in representing minorities, to varying modes of success and failure.
However disappointing this history might be, the Black Panthers and Berets’ continued influence in the year 2016 should inspire us to do the work necessary to forge relationships filled with active listening and mass mobilization in order to challenge the political status quo. By listening to ongoing conversations and confronting prejudices (especially anti-blackness) in our communities, we can avoid horizontal aggression and instead, direct that energy towards dismantling oppression.