If there’s one thing missing in our country, it’s an acknowledgment of the broad humanity of Black folks. Racism—and anti-Black racism in particular—is the belief that there’s something wrong with Black people.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates
A few years ago, I got called to account for the impact of my unconscious anti-Black prejudice, and it finally sank in. I was on a team with all Black women. The experience was disorienting, identity-shattering, and it hurt like hell.
Someone pointed out to me that I often had opinions to share whenever a dark-skinned Black woman spoke. It was like a mirror got held to my face and predictably, I responded defensively. My first reaction was to deny this violation was happening; then I turned to anger and to self-victimization. I refused to accept responsibility. I insisted that the problem was “really their inability to work with an Indigenous person.”
All these responses were rooted in anti-Black prejudice and in my fragility at looking at my behavior. It took me months to fully understand how anti-Black prejudice was operating inside me. When I talk of anti-Blackness, I’m referring to the historical and current violence exercised against Black people at all levels of personal, interpersonal, cultural, political, and economic life. I define violence here broadly, from undermining and not respecting Black leadership to mass incarceration and police murder of Black people.
Eight years ago, Janvieve Williams Comrie, a human rights strategist with AfroResistance, and I founded the Latinx Racial Equity Project, with the stated goal of supporting efforts by Latinx people to stop replicating oppression dynamics that negatively affect Black and Indigenous communities.
Our project has engaged thousands of Latinx people. And now, in the wake of this new global uprising over the killing of Black people, we decided to create two new workshops focused on Challenging anti-Blackness in the Latinx Community and a Black Brilliance space for Black Latinx. I want to share what I’ve learned through my experiences, so that we Indigenous and POC folks together can confront, tackle, and unlearn the anti-Blackness that allows us unconsciously to comply with maintaining structural anti-Black racism.
While Indigenous and other people of color traditionally lack the power to enact racism toward other marginalized groups, we can and do exercise clear racial prejudice against Black people.
Because I grew up in a white supremacist environment, I know that I have been programmed to see Black bodies as criminal, undeserving, not belonging, and suspect. I also know that I have internalized messages about mine and my people’s lack of worth, intelligence, and right to belong. Since I embrace my own oppression, by not challenging internalized oppression in my own life, I know that unconsciously I behave in ways that feed and replicate that anti-Blackness.
People like me, with roots in Latin America, have a rich and diverse racial history. But because of white supremacy and colonization, anti-Blackness is particularly strong among many Latinx people. So challenging it must begin with acknowledging the presence of Black people in Latinx communities.
Anti-Blackness is a product of white supremacy and cannot exist outside the social construct of a hierarchy based on skin color. Brown and Black communities exist under this paradigm and, as a result, are pitted against each other.
This dynamic is rooted in the way that white supremacy informed the founding of the U.S. When it came to Native Americans, the goal of White settlers was to kill all Native people to take their land. When killing every single one of us was not possible, it became necessary to erase us—by forcing us to assimilate and contesting our “Nativeness.” For Black people, it was the opposite, because the goal was to “own” as many Black bodies as possible.
In their book, Decolonization is not a Metaphor, Indigenous scholars Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang wrote, “Through the one-drop rule, Blackness in settler colonial context is expansive, ensuring that a slave/criminal status will be inherited by an expanding number of ‘Black’ descendants. Yet, Indigenous peoples have been racialized in a profoundly different way. Native Americanness is subtractive: Native Americans are constructed to become fewer in number and less Native but over time never exactly White.”
White supremacy and capitalism have done a great job at dividing us to conquer us; we must interrupt this pattern. In tackling anti-Blackness as a person of color, I must recognize and challenge a deeply held urge to pit the fight for justice for my particular group of people against the fight for justice for Black people—the feeling that only one of us can win justice at a time if ever, or the feelings about who must win justice the first.
The Council for Democratizing Education defines anti-Blackness as being a two-part formation that both voids Blackness of value, while systematically marginalizing Black people and their issues. The first form of anti-Blackness is overt racism. Beneath it is the covert structural and systemic racism that categorically predetermines the socioeconomic status of Black people in this country. The structure is held in place by anti-Black policies, institutions, and ideologies.
The Movement for Black Lives adds to this definition a second form of anti-Blackness, which is the “unethical disregard for anti-Black institutions and policies—a product of class, race, and/or gender privilege certain individuals experience due to anti-Black institutions and policies. This form of anti-Blackness is protected by the first form of overt racism.”
Anti-Black prejudice is an unconscious response to internalized oppression—survival behavior under white supremacy. These behaviors are rooted in competition for limited resources and are structural setups intended to perpetuate the power of White people. I want to address and shed light on the many ways anti-Blackness plays out between individuals and within groups in people of color spaces, making us complicit in maintaining anti-Blackness.
I do this to support myself and others to change what we most have control over—our behaviors. Too often, we are guilty of:
• Avoiding real contact with Black people, failing to learn about the history and ethnic richness of Black culture or their struggles and victories.
• Voiding the value of Black people by often not seeking their opinions and expertise, not inviting Black colleagues to partner on projects, not fully listening and integrating the contributions of Black people, or asking them to perform stereotypical “natural talent” roles.
• Systematically marginalizing Black people and their issues and not giving space for those issues to be fully understood and centered but instead moving too quickly to claim that other POC communities face similar challenges.
• Minimizing the impact of enslavement or not acknowledging the ways in which the daily micro- and macro-aggressions Black people face affect their spiritual and emotional well-being.
• Not following Black leadership by over-questioning the direction, work, and style of Black leaders.
• Assuming intimacy and relationship without putting in the work and being overly demonstrative or using “hey sister, or hey girl,” when little to no work has been done to build a real relationship.
As a Native person, working against anti-Blackness requires me to understand that creating environments where Black people thrive creates the possibility for more Native visibility. And that when we transform systems such as criminal justice, or education, to reverse outcome disparities on Black communities, we are ensuring the fairer treatment of all people.
It is time to tackle the barriers that get in the way of building the deep connections needed to transform our country by ending racism and creating communities that hold Black people’s dignity and therefore all of our dignity.
It is time to understand the differential impact of racism in our communities and heal from it—both as individuals and as groups of people and at the same time turn to and witness each other.
Doing so will allow us to see our commonality that is rooted in spirit and in our connection to each other. From negro spirituals to Native American songs, believing in a greater force for good has kept us alive. That is the awareness we must constantly seek.
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