As a cishet Caribbean immigrant who is both Black and considered Brown —depending on where I am at and in front of whom— in the United States, I exist in numerous intersections of privilege and discrimination. I have seen, first-hand, how the system and individuals treat us, and how we treat each other. It ain’t good.
Whatever anybody says to the contrary, though, we’ve inspired, learned, interchanged, and borrowed ideas, rhetoric, tactics, and liberation language from each other —across time, nations, and continents— since we started fighting back against our oppressor. Special shout-out to Haiti. No amount of Americentric hypervisibility at any given moment should be used to erase that in some sick Highlander “there can be only one” battle to the death just so one can be in the toxic graces of liberal and conservative White America for restitution and access to power.
Everybody has the right to bat for their own people, that’s a given, but revisionism can boomerang back to your neck. There are legit culture vultures, for sure. There are plenty of parasitic “people of color” who have straight-up plagiarized and jacked Black thought, for instance, while being anti-Black so they can win the grand prize of white acceptance.
(I can guarantee you that behind a lot of your famous faves who may or may not be handsomely getting paid, there’s a ghostwriter on Black or Brown Twitter who may be oblivious that they’re guiding national conversations, that their observations, their rhetoric, their creativity are getting stolen by someone who looks and sounds just like them —speaking on panels and boardrooms, getting book deals and becoming showrunners, being profiled here, there and everywhere— and sometimes, some of those famous someones gaslight the shit out of us by getting ahead of a scandal, throw a smoke bomb in the room by accusing others of stealing their work because of the way egos are set up, status is set up, capitalism is set up, and their refusal to believe that multiple people can come up with the same idea, invention, theory, with no relation or access to each other just because they exist during the same time as others and experience the same joys and pains.)
That said, check the bookcases of the people our communities and the system have propped up to speak for us. I bet you most of them will have a book of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Assata Shakur, Simón Bolívar, Che Guevara, Emiliano Zapata, the Mirabal sisters, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, Patrice Lumumba, Gandhi… tucked in between others. Just because there is no documentation (and it’s not because of a lack of trying from the marginalized) that’s readily and easily available for mass consumption and education, it doesn’t mean that one group has experienced more pain and suffering than the other.
Many of our thought leaders warn us about dueling in Oppression Olympics and for good reasons—others, as many of us in the trenches know, bring it up as a dismissal, as a shield from valid grievances and criticisms from those they oppress in this sinister caste system, this hierarchy of evils we’ve been forced to live in. Ojo con ellos. Millions of Black folks have been murdered, enslaved, used and abused, exploited, and framed… in the past and today. And so have millions of Brown people. Genocide was committed against both groups. And to the ignorance of many, sometimes willful, many of our Brown Latinx brothers and sisters, those born in the United States and those who fled to it because of European and North American imperialism, aren’t considered Native Americans. It’s convenient but ahistorical. They are still natives to this hemisphere, even if their great-great-grandchildren are the progeny of white supremacy, of rape, of displacement, of love and hate, just like the Black diaspora is today. A diaspora many Africans don’t consider Black or African.
We are all owed reparations—from our conquistadores and from the United States. We must also acknowledge that African Americans did most of the legwork for the rights and access to spaces a lot of us enjoy today, even if the system and individual people with privileges constantly violate those rights and deny us accessibility and opportunities for upward mobility. Brown people must also be given credit for the workers’ rights we have today, even if those rights are constantly violated and dismissed by those in power and those seeking it.
However, when it comes to how we interact with each other, as Black and Brown people who both have been and are being highly discriminated against, there have been inroads with certain movements, orgs, small groups of people (in a musical play, for instance), but that doesn’t usually translate into a grand-scale shift of consciousness—of a tight-knit allyship. We might see it in social media spaces, conferences, galas, award shows, among people who work in the multicultural department of whatever entity that’s trying to seem progressive by filling up a quota with us, but once we go back to our enclaves, depending on what coast we live in, things are depressingly different. Hell, many times we don’t even need to go back to our neighborhoods to treat each other as mortal enemies.
Sometimes it isn’t just Brad or Becky who are making our lives hell at work, at that org, in the media… Many times it is us: be it in the form of racism, anti-Blackness, or xenophobia and cultural racism. Biases that also manifest themselves, because of our proximity to each other due to systemic discrimination, as intra-racial and intra-ethnic conflicts: West Indians vs. African Americans, Africans vs. the Black diaspora, Central Americans vs. Mexicentrism, White Latinx vs. Black and/or Brown Latinx, Puerto Ricans’ treatment of Dominicans, Dominicans’ treatment of Haitians… All those beefs are either pulled back or exacerbated depending on the coast we live in.
For instance, the relationship between African Americans and people of Caribbean descent, including Latinx, is more junta y revuelta in New York City than the African American and Brown communities is in Los Angeles. The ones in New York are, perhaps, friendlier to each other, for the most part, because most of us are of African descent—xenophobia and cultural racism still exists, though, given and received from all angles. In California, African Americans and Latinx folks are more segregated and that separation, along with the anti-Blackness and racism inculcated by Europeans on Brown people, brings about a tribalism that’s violent and deadly. Did Latinx gangs in NYC beef with African American ones? Sure, but there came a point that they welcomed each other to join their ranks, when they had a bit more influence and pull in our neighborhoods, before “America’s Mayor” Rudy Giuliani and his successors came and whisked them away along with the rest of us that weren’t involved in any gang activity.
And that gang activity, even after it’s gone down because of numerous factors (and please don’t thank the draconian, unconstitutional practices of stop and frisk, over-policing, our penal system, and militarization for it), is constantly covered in local media in both English and Spanish.
I’m sure many of you are acquainted with the term “If it bleeds, it leads.” Well, many local papers and news channels can thank the biases white supremacy birthed and our American addiction to violence for their ratings. Their coverage (we have few places to turn to) mostly tends to be of us being violent with each other—Black and Brown people assaulting, robbing, killing… each other. (If you cared to notice, most in-studio hosts tend to be white, especially in Spanish-speaking programming, while the field reporter may be Black or Brown—the contrast of skin hues of the people sitting behind a desk reporting and their street subjects, those they cover and interview, is stunning.) They don’t present any of our intra-community conflicts with nuance—as the result of proximity, the effects of classism and racism, misogyny, as crimes of passion… No. We’re covered like we are savages, superpredators that have no conscience and no empathy—even with each other.
And many of our people internalize that because of course they will. It’s what the hosts, newscasters, pundits, and journalists, people with systemic authority they see every single day from the comfort of their homes (which breeds a nasty bond through familiarity), are telling them so it must be true.
So when a Brown person assaults a Black one, when a Black person assaults a Brown one, the story is so sensationalized that few of us can pull back (from the hate we have for each other—the hate that’s been instilled in us by white supremacy and xenophobia) and see that we do these things to each other because we’ve been forced to live in such inhumane conditions that we lash out on those who cross our path, those who have been banished to the same ghettoes as us. So besides taking out our self-hate (the one that was ingrained at literal gunpoint) on our loved ones, we also take it out on other groups, and those other groups happen to be Black, Brown, and the poor. God forbid we jog or whistle or blink or breathe next to any other group. We’re beyond superpredators then. Then we deserve the death penalty.
We, Black and Brown people, are not and should not be each other’s enemy. We are fighting the same forces, some more than others, and each other and for what? We just become more self-destructive. That’s part of the plan. I navigate both worlds, and from what I’ve seen and heard, Black folks are more on code, to our detriment, with solidarity with Brown people and others. Non-Black Latinx people and “people of color” are slacking. Of course there are Black American folks who are xenophobic but do they have the collective, systemic power to oppress us? Do Brown people have the collective, systemic power to oppress Black people in the States? Please provide the evidence besides single experiences and anecdotes.
Certain people think that ousting Black or Brown people from the United States would make things better for them, for us, but I believe they suffer from a lack of imagination of how brutal white supremacy can be when you are the only one facing it.
No es lo mismo llamar al diablo que verlo venir.
We best check our biases now, drop ‘em, during a global pandemic that’s affecting and killing our people faster than any other group.This world is hell to us. Let’s not be hell to each other.
Like many of our real predecessors, I dream of the day Black and Brown people truly unite. Not through prisms of fame, celebrity worship, hypervisibility, paternalism, fetishism, forced speeches of solidarity in front of corporate masters and the donor class. But truly, through proactive reciprocity.
We must—if we want to survive this American thing.
Thanks for reading and sharing with your family and friends.
A mainstream or indie magazine would usually pay me between $250-$450 for one of my pieces. Since I decided to go solo for the sake of keeping my voice unedited and uncensored, I created this website. Keeping it afloat and these pieces coming is not just time-consuming, but it’s also costly because it angers a lot of those same mainstream papers and magazines (along with their donors) for calling them out—so their favorite retaliation tactic is deplatforming. Especially of unapologetic and unhypocritical Black and Brown voices. Ideally, I’d like to raise between $250-$450 per piece and many of you have actually stepped-up to the plate and helped me accomplish that. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you would like to see more of these and support one of the few unbought indie voices, please contribute:
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César Vargas is an award-winning writer, advocate, strategist, speaker, and social critic with a loyal following and a robust social capital that spans from coast to coast: Editors, journalists, celebrities, activists, artists, executives, politicians, and multiple communities. He was named one of 40 Under 40: Latinos in American Politics by the Huffington Post. He’s written about internal and external community affairs to several news outlets and quoted in others: The Huffington Post, NBC, Fox News, Voxxi, Okayafrica, Okayplayer, Sky News, Salon, The Guardian, Latino Magazine, Vibe, The Hill, BET, and his own online magazine —which has a fan base of over 25,000 people and has reached over a million— UPLIFTT. He’s familiar with having a voice that informs, invigorates, and inspires people—creating content that usually goes viral. He recently won two awards from Fusion and the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts for his films Some Kind of Spanish and Black Latina Unapologetically. He attained a degree in Films Studies from Queens College, CUNY. He is currently raising and distributing funds for Haitians in Sosúa.