An Open Letter to my Non-Black Latinx Community

This is a special blog post by our Paralegal Diana Mateo, who has been inspired to write by the Black Lives Matter movement  to speak out about anti-blackness in the Latino community.  A version in Spanish is available here.

Hi friends, this is Benach Collopy paralegal Diana. As a Latina immigration professional, I want to share some thoughts with our BC friends and clients on some troubling issues I’ve seen in our non-Black Latinx community and on ways we can be better allies to our Black siblings. The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are horrific acts of murder, and it’s part of our responsibility as immigrants to stand up against the genocide of Black people in the United States the same way that we stand up to the genocide at the border.

I would like to begin this blog post by directing everyone to this glossary, which defines some of the terms I’ll be using here. I want to make sure that this read is accessible to everyone, especially since I know that many in our community may not have a lot of experience in critical race thinking. So, if there’s any term here that you aren’t sure about, please be sure to check the glossary.

I write today because I am trying to cope and heal with the things happening within our communities. I am a non-Black Latina professional who sits on a hill of privileges, and right now I want to talk to my fellow non-Black Latinx friends. We benefit from many of the same privileges as white people, yet I see so few of us using those privileges to take action and make change. To be clear, my intent in this moment is not to condemn people for learned behaviors and unearned privileges. My intent today is to encourage our non-Black Latinx friends to put a stop to anti-Blackness in our community and join in the work of dismantling white supremacy.

Anyone who has worked with me knows that I am passionate about my job and pursing justice for the immigrant community. As part of those values, I recognize that the immigrant community does not end with those from the Central American triangle. Nor does it end with South Americans, and it certainly does not end with Europeans, many of whom see fewer consequences for immigration violations than any other population. But even though I can see it, the immigrant community has an issue: it consistently erases Black people from the immigrant experience. Sometimes it seems as if undocumented Black people don’t exist.

During one of the BC team’s trips to the southern border, I saw how the organization we were volunteering with and many of the volunteers (including myself) had not done enough to make our mission inclusive to Black immigrants. There was at least one entire hotel in Tijuana that was full of Black people on their way to seek refuge in the United States, who came from countries like Haiti, Cameroon, and Angola, among other places. Our team had been offering resources and immigration advice (from the attorneys) to every Brown immigrant we encountered at the organization’s office, but never once thought about how to make the space and resources inclusive for our Black siblings.

Once we recognized this, our team divided up and tried to make up for our earlier failings. Some of us would stay back at the organization’s office, continuing to work with the refugees who arrived there, while others went to the hotel to work with Black refugees. Even though we had only one week for our trip and none of us spoke Haitian-Creole or French, this was a way we tried to make up for our failure to serve our Black siblings up to that point. We were the only group of volunteers from the organization to have done so at the time, though I hope that our outreach continued even after we returned to DC.

After we began splitting up, a colleague who had volunteered at the hotel stated her frustration with the organization and volunteers at one of the end-of-day debriefs. She was angry with people for being nonchalant about the Black refugees, who she felt had been blatantly ignored by border activists. It was a pretty tense atmosphere. After the debrief, I heard white and Brown volunteers and staff talking about how it was unfair for her to scold the organization when it had limited resources, volunteers, people who spoke the necessary languages, etc. I heard them say that the organization was doing its best with what it had.

It was an impactful moment for me. The thing is, “doing the best with what it had” was not and is not acceptable. This moment reminded me how the Latinx immigrant community and the people who serve them consistently normalize the erasure of Black immigrants and their experiences and needs. I recognize that it is something that I should never forget, but I know that my privileges have all too often kept me from seeing issues like these until I am personally faced with them.

That trip was in December of 2018. So why am I writing about it now? Because my heart is hurting over the violent murder of Mr. George Floyd on Monday, May 25, 2020. I know he is not the first Black man to be murdered by police officers. I know anti-Blackness has been and will definitely continue to be a violent curse that drives people and institutions. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor separately demonstrate that – Black lives are at risk all day, every day.

In the wake of this brutality against Black people, I have been seeing far too much disregard from the non-Black Latinx community. We face discrimination and racism ourselves, but too often we fail to stand up when others are being harmed. Worse, we often perpetuate the erasure of Black experiences, the appropriation of Black culture, and the harmful stereotypes that are used as weapons against Black people. I have seen this not only in my work as a white passing Latina immigration paralegal, but in my personal life, too. I have seen the ways in which non-Black Latinx people perpetuate colorism, which is rooted in anti-Blackness and upholds white supremacy. We too often excuse the behavior and comments of our friends and family. For what? For continued comfort? For social acceptance? Who could we possibly be helping when we fail to stand up to injustice within our community? This type of behavior makes me sick.

I’m sick of hearing non-Black Latinx people use the N-word without acknowledging their Blackness nor the pain it carries. We know that racial slurs have an impact – that’s why we don’t say “beaner” or “wetback.” So why is the N-word okay?  I’m sick of hearing that Black people just “aren’t my preference” when talking about our romantic life, when if anyone said that about Latinx people, we would scream racism from the rooftops. I’m sick of hearing, “no te quemes mucho bajo el sol que te vas a poner negrito.” What is wrong with dark skin? I’m sick of hearing people start their stories with, “A Black guy/girl….” To emphasize a stereotype because otherwise, why is the race of the person relevant to the plot?

I’m sick of hearing overgeneralizations about Black people. Why can we say “All Black people do [x]” when the same phrase applied to Hispanic/Latinx people makes us shout that we aren’t all the same? I’m sick of us thinking a neighborhood is “ghetto” because it’s predominantly Black. Why is it okay for us to label communities that way? I’m sick of us referring to “Black on Black crime” when trying to justify violence against Black people as if crime doesn’t happen in low-income non-Black neighborhoods too. We don’t refer to “Latino on Latino crime” when we think about our family members back in Central America being targeted by MS-13 or Barrio 18; what makes it any different?

I’m sick of Latina women fetishizing Black men and I’m sick of Latino men thinking it is scandalous that a Latina is sleeping with a Black man. Why do we hypersexualize Black people? I’m sick of seeing the non-Black Latinx community reject Black accents, music, rhythms, and style as “uneducated” and “ghetto,” while Black people openly embrace that same culture from us (recognizing that much of that culture also comes from Black talent).

I am so sick of the silence from our non-Black Latinx community when our Black siblings are murdered. I am so sick of non-Black Latinx people thinking we are an entirely differently community than Black people as if we don’t share similar history and characteristics including a common enemy, racism and anti-Blackness. I am so sick of us thinking that Latinx people can’t be Black and erasing an entire population of AfroLatinx people. I am so sick of our community thinking the world revolves around us. I am so sick of us sitting on our hills of privileges in full comfort (and yes, the Latinx community does have privileges).

As part of my privilege as a non-Black Latina professional, I am committing to doing better for my Black siblings. The only way I can see to feel less sick is to work within my non-Black Latinx and immigrant communities to stop the racism toward Black people and the erasure of the Black immigrant experience. I wanted to share my thoughts here because I know that our BC clients who are Black/African deserve to know that we will fight with and for them not just as immigrants, but also as Black/African people. Colleagues and friends in the community, enough is enough. If we continue to be passive, both our community and the Black community will continue to face targeting and genocide fueled by white supremacy.

We all need to do the work of unlearning this disease. In fact, it is the bare minimum that should be expected of us as a community. I implore everyone to go further – donate to movements, go to protests, encourage others to go when you can’t, call your representatives, and speak up on social media. When you aren’t sure about how something affects Black people, Google it first to spare your Black friends and family from experiencing retraumatization from anti-Black violence. And always, always interrupt anti-Blackness in every space you occupy. This means that we have to educate ourselves so we can educate others.

We have to remember that the injustices and violence facing the Black, non-Black Latinx, and immigrant communities are something we share. And we must do better at fighting those injustices not just from external sources, but from within ourselves. Our privileges as non-Black people are not going anywhere, even if we accept the fact that we have them. But we also need to face the hard work that is needed to make sure that our Black friends can live without fear.

As for me, I pledge to continue to do anything in my power to interrupt anti-Blackness whether it’s through donations, marches, personal reflection, or any other means necessary. I know that my work alone will not end racism, but I am thankful for BC giving me this platform so that I can reach a wider audience and motivate others to commit to interrupting anti-Blackness. It is the least we can do.

Until Black lives matter,

Diana

Links to check out:

https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

https://minnesotafreedomfund.org

https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd

https://act.colorofchange.org/sign/justiceforbre-breonna-taylor-officers-fired?source=coc_main_website

https://www.gofundme.com/f/i-run-with-maud

https://ndcnews.org/2018/08/29/colorism-in-the-latino-community/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZX7EmIYdeKA

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