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.

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)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Million More March ... was about ...

one of the cleverest ploys ever inflicted on a people. And it wasn't at the hands of Minister Louis Farrakahn, but can be traced back to those who came together more than ten years ago to reconfigure the way the census would be designed. Crazy? Maybe not. Inspired, depending upon the goals.

Under the new set of criteria -- black people would no longer be counted under the old "one drop" rule, but starting with the census of 1990, would be able to check multiple boxes for racial identity. I knew at the time that something truly revolutionary had occurred. I wrote about it for my boss. No longer would I need to claim my "Negro" or "African American" designation, but could now legally become other, or any number of exotic racial combinations. This could be a field day for those of us whose race was fast-becoming no more than a political choice due to generations of miscegination. This is surely true for my grandchildren and my nieces and nephews who -- over the past generation of growing up in the relatively enlightened S.F. Bay Area -- brought Asian genes into our already exotic blend of racial and cultural genetic jambalaya.

But there's a darker side to this change in racial identification. Within a few weeks after the census results were analyzed we learned that (Aha!) African Americans would soon no longer be the largest racial minority, but were fast being overtaken by Latinos. Stories about the need to pay attention to the Latino vote grew, and politicians gradually began to cast their eyes toward the barrios instead of the projects in order to increase their political power among the "unwashed". It was during those years that we began to see a lessening of attention paid to illegal immigration and noticeable changes in hiring policies that now saw a major displacement of the country's black service workers.

Black hotel maids, janitors, day laborers, porters, nurses aides, gardeners, etc., all were now replaced by immigrant labor. They were now doing those "jobs nobody else wanted" but that had supported black families for generations and built a bridge into the middle class for many, including mine. Where did the black service workers go? Some improved their lot through education and increased opportunity, but many dropped into the underground economy fueled by the illegal drug trade. Given the new time restrictions on welfare and little education and/or training that might move them out of poverty, the outcomes were highly predictable. People will feed their children in whatever ways necessary. The streets got meaner over time, and the continuing violence that naturally feeds on desparation and hopelessness is now cutting down our young in frightening numbers. There is the growing concern that our young have internalized the race-hatred and have become suicidal -- and that homicide is but one manifestation of that truth.

Blacks had lost political power through the simple act of taking advantage of the opportunity to identify as "other." We lost significant political power by reducing our numbers through the census analysis. The truth is that -- under the old one drop rule -- there are actually more of us now than ever before in history! The Latino population, despite growing numbers, cannot begin to overtake the numbers of us who are mastiso, creole, and every other black blend love can create and has over many generations. We tend to forget that where schools, housing, and workplaces have been resistant to racial integration, we've had integrated bedrooms since before the days of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings! And not exclusively through sexual exploitation, but through at least some courageous people crossing those lines of separation for the sake of love.

It's a game of semantics that has proven devastating to our ability to bring together our people toward the unification needed in order to truly overcome. With help of the census designers, we hardly know who our people are! We've been successfully splintered into a thousand racial bits and atomized into a meaningless blob no one needs pay attention to, politically. With each generation that blends into the whole, we lose potential leadership, energy, and the sense of belonging to something beyond ourselves that we must have in order to give substance to the kind of demonstration attempted on the Mall in Washington yesterday. I would predict that by the twentieth anniversary of the Million Man March, we'll have all but disappeared into some multicultural-multiracial gumbo! And it will have all started with a seemingly simple change in statistical language.

This is surely not to say that Latinos have entered this country in great numbers to purposely steal away the work of African Americans. To the contrary. Everyone of us is trying desparately to make life better for our children than it has been for ourselves, especially those from below the border. But it is to say that Latinos are the benificiaries of white racism by default with little reason to be aware of or any incentive to resist the rewards it brings to an equally needful people.

One day as we all progress inexorably toward a more just society, we'll have those critical conversations and black and brown Americans will begin to recognize the ways in which we're competing for space on the bottom rung of the economic ladder and will unite toward change -- together -- change that will begin to move all of our children out of poverty and into economic viability. That is when the demographics of our prisons will no longer reflect the inadequacies of our seriously flawed systems of education and governance. But first we need to begin to control the language that controls us -- by recognizing the manipulation and challenging the distortions when they threaten our mutual well-being.

Since when was "75% minority" not the majority?

Photo: Andrés Soto of the Richmond Progressive Alliance shown here at an event to save Breuner's Marsh, a wetlands adjacent to the East Bay Regional Park's Point Pinole. It is currently under threat by private development that will limit public access and destroy habitat for endangered species.