Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Andrés' response to my last entry ... another reality spoken for ...
Received this email from my friend. I've received his permission to share this note with you.
Betty: I have certainly also thought about the issues you raise in your comments and I would have to say I try to not think nationalistically. First of all I am convinced we are one species, the human species. Race is an artificial social construct just like religion and nationalism. I also, as a person of Mexican ancestry, am a product of colonial "racial mixing." The Mexican nationality is wrapped up in an idealization this "mestizaje", or racial mix, that is the contemporary Mexican. At the same time the "Indian" heritage is revered and yet still they remain at the bottom of the social and political ladder.
Every country in Latin America and in North America is still grappling with the continuance and legacy of the injusticies of the colonial systems. Racialization is one of these issues because it becomes a proxy for economic segregation. The varieties of "racial admixtures" will become rare remnants. In the meantime, economic issues will be argued in terms of these artificial constructs whose only reality occurs when people buy into them.
In Brazil, which has more "African Americans" than the US, more Japanese than any country outside of Japan, the largest Arabic population in the Americas and various ethnic European population groups, Afro-Brazilian people identify the opposite of the US. It is not the degree of blackness that defines one, but the degree of whiteness. This is a result of Brazil's own experience with these same forces, which include even a higher degree of "miscegenation" for a longer period of time. A survey was done by a university in Brazil in the 1990's and they asked several thousand Brazilians to define themselves racially. They received over 250 self descriptions.
The book, The Brazil Reader," has that essay. Also, Nicholas Vaca's book "Presumed Alliance" about African American/Latino political conflict in the US lay out important issues to initiate just the dialogue you suggest.
Food for thought ... .
Indeed it is, Andrés. Realized as I wrestled with the issue that I've lived most of my life within a 30 mile radius. With a family that has been on this soil since the late 1700's, I have no real connection with any other land - except theoretically and politically. Were I dropped off somewhere on the West Coast of Africa I'd undoubtedly feel as alien as I sometimes feel here at home, despite a fairly sophisticated grasp of the issues. There's a cost to being "everything." You have flashes of being nothing. Maybe I envy your strong cultural identity at a time when mine is being diminished day by day. It may be as simple as that.
Andrés speaks from a far deeper place in himself that resonates with a homeland and home culture that is at least a psychological "back door" in the event that retreat is ever necessary. Perhaps that explains why I cling to nationalism while he speaks authoritatively from an international perspective. Maybe. Reading his response made me feel embarrassingly provincial, but the feelings of justification for those feelings remain despite all.
Maybe it's irrational. Purely emotional; but just maybe those are feelings shared widely enough with other African Americans that they need to be taken into account. There is an emotional component that may be buried in that place in me that waits for recognition of wrongs done in times past to those who preceded me on the planet and whose genes I'm ferrying through this life, and to wrongs I've had to live through without recourse. A legacy from slavery? Is there some invisible x mark on my forehead or buried in my DNA?
But even more important is the frustration that I feel when confronted with the need to distinguish between the displacement of black service workers and immigrant's rights. The discussion invariably falls into the subject of race rather than hold to the economic considerations. I can readily agree that race is an "artificial social construct." Whether or not we "buy into the concept" is not an option, but a factor of our existence. That simply doesn't get me beyond the fact that the service worker industry has changed complexion now and that race was a critical factor in this dramatic transformation -- to the advantage of immigrant workers and to the detriment of African Americans. What makes it even more insidious is the fact that one reason we can't get a handle on the problem may not be because it's a race thing at all, but is actually based in the superficiality of skin color, alone. And maybe the irrationality is not in me at all, but in the European colonialist psyche.
I'm just glad that my feelings about the racial aspect of it are enough in check that they don't spill over into personal relationships. I know that the fault lies elsewhere and not with other people of color. I simply don't know what to do with them except to express them with candor, with hope for understanding, and enough companions without that mark of unresolved pain to help by bearing some of the pain of my growth.
Left photo: Mother's eldest brother, Herman Allen and wife, Marie Gaudet Allen sitting in the large expanse of meadow where the Mueller's dairy cows were often pastured (Circa 1917). When I was a little girl in the 20's and 30's the iron foundries moved in and replaced these greenlands. I'm glad that I knew them as the staging area for my childhood.
Right Photo: Aunt Marie seen here near Papa George's little bungalow on 75th Avenue in East Oakland -- in the shadow of what is now the Oakland Coliseum. This Creole woman could as easily have been the aunt of Andrés. She surely reinforces his arguments about the nature of the artificial social construct. (Click the little photo open to enlarge.) (Circa 1918)