An Open Letter to the Immigrant Rights Movement:
In light of the brutal murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Delrawn Smalls Dempsey, Alva Braziel, Joyce Quaweay, Skye Mockabee and Korryn Gaines, anti-Blackness, patriarchy and transphobia need to profoundly and urgently be addressed within immigrant rights organizing, now more than ever. Although non-Black Latinx solidarity with Black lives has increased and grown, there is still a lot of work to be done.
How do Latinxs and the immigrant rights movement navigate anti-Blackness? First of all what is anti-Blackness?
“Anti-Blackness is not simply the racist actions of a white man with a grudge nor is it only a structure of racist discrimination—anti-blackness is the paradigm that binds blackness and death together so much so that one cannot think of one without the other," according to Nicholas Brady in the Progressive.
Moreover, white supremacy is not a system of oppression that operates under a "one size fits all" approach. Instead, it targets people differently depending on how much capital it takes from a particular community and how much power and brutality it wields over them. In other words, the difference between anti-Blackness and white supremacy is that anti-Blackness is a more pervasive, systematic and brutal form of white supremacy.
Furthermore, Black author and professor Frank B. Wilderson argues that U.S. economy, society and “democracy” is possible only by holding Black bodies captive—historically through chattel slavery and today through the prison industrial complex.
Subconsciously, non-Black immigrants equate Blackness to holding a non-human status and consequently seek to distance themselves from the terror and bullets Blackness magnetizes; non-Black immigrants invest in asserting their dehumanized brown selves to be subjects by rejecting the status of the non-human Black object.
Clear examples of how non-Black Latinx have unintentionally internalized this include the anti-Blackness within our own families and the once common immigrant rights slogan: “We are not the criminals,” where Latinxs have thrown the Black community under the bus in marches, rallies, media interviews and negotiations and collaboration with the government.
Latinx people have the privilege of going back and forth between being perceived as a subhuman whitewashed category and, on the other hand, being politically relegated to the undocumented shadows of Blackness. Here is where the denial begins and where being non-Black Latinx immigrants gets complicated.
Although Latinx are complicit to and benefit from anti-Blackness, undocumented status also casts immigrants in a position of invisibility. Undocumented people do not exist within civil society, because they are a subterraneous underclass—and by extension the Latinx community with papers as well. Brown bodies are persecuted, terrorized and subordinated by the same anti-Black, capitalist, patriarchal, transphobic system they seek to be a part of.
However, this happens to Latinxs at a different degree because the Latinx community has a different relation to the U.S. than the Black community. Although there are parallels, there are clear non-Black privileges and differences that Latinx must consistently recognize and check before making vague calls for unity.
It is important to highlight that the full weight of anti-Blackness and anti-immigrant xenophobia collides upon the undocumented Black immigrant body. First, the undocumented Black immigrant is subjugated to a perpetual state of ghettoization, according to Patricia Hill Collins in “Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge,Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment," fed by the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade, Jim Crow laws and our current school-to-prison pipeline.
This ghettoization makes it so that non-Black society understands the Black body as “lazy,” “criminal” and “violent.” Through this perspective, the non-Black undocumented immigrant benefits from a societal anti-Blackness that deems their brown/white body as “hard working,” more “trustworthy” than Blacks, and by default, “less violent and lazy.”
Here is where we see the Black undocumented experience as one that cannot be compared to the experience of other undocumented populations, especially when Black immigrants are five times more likely to be deported than their non-Black immigrant counterparts.
Furthermore, non-Black immigrants do not share the experience of being Black, yet often share the terrorism of white supremacy that originated with the kidnapping, forced transportation and enslavement of Black people and the genocide of Indigenous peoples and the occupation of their land.
Unequivocally, the Latinx community experiences unemployment, poverty, mass incarceration, detention, deportation, health and education. However, immigrants of all backgrounds benefit from centuries of anti-Blackness and genocide of Indigenous peoples. Although diasporic communities share stories of displacement, that cannot be used as an excuse to dehumanize Black people and perpetuate erasure of the anti-Black foundations of U.S. empire, capitalism and citizenship.
It is only a matter of time and work before we, as an immigrant rights movement, come to terms with the fact that law enforcement terrorism is also a Latinx issue. Doing so will require us to fully abandon the "good" immigrant narrative that leads to fantasies that papers grant liberation. This is a callout for ridding ourselves of criminality being a taboo issue we avoid and deny so that non-Black Latinx can practice transformative solidarity with Black lives.
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The following 9 points are critical for non-Black Latinx communities and movements to consider and explore:
1. Law enforcement is inherently white supremacist and cannot be reformed with dashboard and body cameras, Department of Justice oversight, police accountability, citizenship or relief. Police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol must be altogether demilitarized, defunded and dismantled.
2. Latinx, migrant, trans and queer liberation is impossible to achieve as long as anti-Blackness is the paradigm and Black people are assassinated in cold-blood by law enforcement.
3. We must rise in solidarity with our Black and undocumented Black immigrant siblings and embrace our proximity to Blackness by recognizing law enforcement terrorism as an issue that also impacts Latinx directly. While at the same time recognizing our differences and non-Black privilege and not claim or co-opt the Black struggle that is not our own.
4. It is key to develop and grow a political analysis that identifies anti-Blackness, white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, misogyny, transphobia, law enforcement, mass incarceration, borders, citizenship and imperialism as systems that need to be dismantled.
5. We must organize around class not identity, all while understanding that the dehumanization of Black people will keep us all from liberation. We must be inclusive of UndocuBlack experiences, demands and leadership and expand the narrative of who is an immigrant to include and uplift UndocuBlack, UndocuAsian, UndocuTrans/Queer and UndocuFemme experiences and political analysis.
6. As non-Black Latinx and non-Black Indigenous people are killed, let’s uplift their names and stories without comparing it to Black deaths and without expressing resentment about the lack of attention they receive by the corporate media; let’s not compare deaths at the expense of or on the backs of the Black community. This is not oppression olympics.
7. Let’s only use #BlackLivesMatter and not change that hashtag to be about Latinx or brown lives because that is an example of co-opting and making it more about us.
8. We must show-up, build relationships and be in coalition with our local Black-led organizations under the Movement for Black Lives and assist and follow their leadership.
9. We must respond, speak-out and organize every time a Black, brown, Indigenous, trans, queer, undocumented person in our community is killed by the police.
Fundamentally, Latinx/brown people are also killed by law enforcement because Black lives don’t matter to this system and our proximity to Blackness, mixed with anti-immigrant xenophobia, attracts bullets. Essentially, all lives won’t matter until Black Lives Matter. It happens to us because it happens to them.
As award-winning Afro-Dominican, feminist poet, Elizabeth Acevedo, shared on Instagram, “One time for those of us who don’t think we are complicit through our silence. One time for those of us who pass in this society and don’t think these issues affect us because we live under the guise of: Latino, Hispanic, light-skinned, Trigueño, Indio, mestizo, or any other term that doesn’t mean sh*t because they will come for us too.”
Needless to say, following July 4, at least eight Latinx have also been assassinated by cops. Here are their names: Pedro Erick Villanueva, Anthony Nuñez, Scott Ramirez, Melissa Ventura, Raul Saavedra-Vargas, Vinson Ramos, Fermin Vincent Valenzuela and Javier Garcia Gaona.
As an immigrant rights movement, we must consistently mourn, uplift and immortalize, as a movement, our Black siblings that are disproportionately murdered by police alongside the names of these Latinx family members also executed by law enforcement. They cannot die anonymously. They need vigils, protests, statements, hashtags, but more importantly our collective outrage and indignation.
Abandoning anti-Blackness means Latinx embrace their own political proximity to minute aspects of Blackness. This does not mean they co-opt a Black struggle as their own, because it is an experience non-Black people will never understand, but rather, they come to recognize the differences and similarities rooted in anti-Blackness and white supremacy, and the ways in which those who are not Black benefit from that on a daily basis.
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The work we need to do is both difficult and messy: because Latinx must acknowledge that they are both privileged and oppressed. This is a prerequisite to actual and real solidarity work with Black, undocumented Black immigrant and Afro-Latinx communities.
To conclude, as long as anti-Blackness exists, structurally and interpersonally, and Black people are targeted for murder, Latinxs will never, ever be free. Beyond just solidarity work with Black communities, non-Black Latinx also have a personal and collective stake in eradicating anti-Blackness. We must learn from and follow the courage and interventions of the Movement for Black Lives.
Latinxs must shut it down too alongside our undocumented Black, African-American, Indigenous, trans, queer, Muslim and Asian siblings. We must shift our analysis and consciousness in order to birth a new reality— our own dreams and visions on our own terms.
#BlackLivesMatter #NotOneMore #IdleNoMore #DefundthePolice #DismantleICE