Centering Interracial Solidarity

Over the summer of 2020, I observed many social media posts forged in the weeks after the murder of George Floyd which made discussing anti-blackness in non-black communities of color paramount. In June, a main artery of Instagram posts which seemed well-intentioned on the surface to discuss anti-blackness made a lateral move in this endeavor; instead of discussing white supremacy as the centrifugal force in the killing of Black people, these posts turned their attention, often exclusively, to address anti-blackness in Latinx, South Asian and Indigenous communities. These posts included phrases and captions that claimed that Latinx, South Asian and Indigenous communities held privilege and that it needed to be “checked.” Some disregarded the legacy of Spanish and American colonization in creating a racial caste system and the persistent discourse and practice of rendering Latinx communities as a threat to Western civilization and claimed Latinx communities were automatically anti-black.

Other posts disregarded the history of genocide, war, and dispossession of Indigenous people and claimed non-Black Indigenous people should not take up space. Another post disregarded the U.S. and the West’s wars on the Global South and of most recent against Muslims and suggested that Black people are the only people who get victim-blamed for their own murders. Another disregarded the British colonization of India and claimed that Desi-Americans owe their immigration to the US to the civil rights movement. These posts nationalize race as an exclusively U.S. structure, and simultaneously disavow the internationalist and insurgent movements from the Global South that inspired, spawned, and supported U.S.-based struggles for liberation, sovereignty and solidarity. Instead of doing the messy work of the ways Black, Latinx, Chicanx, American Indians and Asian-Americans are and have worked to generate dialogue and activist practice together, they erase critical histories, practices and theorizations that could otherwise spark capacious interracial solidarities.

The posts I observed in the summer of 2020 made it excruciatingly clear that the work of interracial solidarity in activist work and the intellectual spaces of comparative and relational ethnic studies is often overlooked when state-sanctioned violence is read through an ethnocentric critique. These critiques often rely too heavily on overlooking the very historical structures of white supremacy that produce violence against racialized and Indigenous bodies via domination through recruitment and inclusion into the ranks of power. These posts are also reflective of a move that resituates the conversation of white supremacist violence as a structure that somehow is inherent in communities of color and thereby through the viral nature of social media concoct a narrative that too heavily weighs culpability on racialized and Indigenous communities for the world white people built and continue exacting violence upon us.

While the work of solidarity is messy and uneven, its beauty lies in not working towards a perfect fit of ideal comparison and/or relationality but in the muddy waters where the locusts grow. It is critical to ground ourselves in practice just as much as in scholarly theorization. Communities of color do not exist in a vacuum and, as Juana María Rodríguez writes in Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures and Other Latina Longings, are instead “bonded through blood, sex, tears and scholarly theorization to other racialized bodies of abjection, bound together through relations of power, filtered through colonialism, slavery, conquest, subjugation, migration, exile and the insidious architectures of power that permeate heteropatriarchy across cultural sites.”[1] It is critical to see our differences as spaces to forge intimacy and solidarity and as such, reveal the way power works and as a result, the ways we work against it. Martha Vanessa Saldívar writes that “crossing boundaries, making connections and taking elements from different disciplines, different histories and different communities and bringing them into the same analytical space allows us to better understand questions of power.”[2]

In the brilliant Otherwise Worlds: Against Settler Colonialism and Anti-Blackness, Tiffany King and Jenell Navarro write that we “have to create strategies with our communities as they actually are” and acknowledge “racial hostility” within Native and Black communities not in a “blaming way” but “in order to acknowledge that no community has escaped the violence of white supremacy unscathed.”[3] Making use of the work of Fred Moten, they write that to generate relations across racialized and Indigenous communities we should work towards “improvising what the ‘foundations’ of these relations entail.”[4] Working with the brilliance of Christina Sharpe, they also point us to move otherwise from the point of spectacle and the event of violence and how it constitutes a certain “specialness” of experience; they write “there is also commonality that is part of everyday life in a settler state…”[5] What does it mean to see our shared experiences in not just the events of state-sanctioned violence but also in the ways we endure these structures on a daily basis?

It is therefore critical to remember the struggles that racialized communities have confronted together. Abigail Rosas’ South Central is Home: Race and the Power of Community Investment in Los Angeles argues that amidst “deindustrialization, racial discrimination, increased law and immigration enforcement and the decline in the welfare state”[6] Black and Latina/o residents in South Central “at every turn…advocated for investment and care for the community” rooted in a community formations that are “relational” and “seminal to the creation of multiracial spaces of shared grievance and belonging..”[7] In Black-Brown Solidarity: Racial Politics in the New Gulf South, John Márquez reminds us that the discourses of a Black/Latina/o antagonism is a sociological model that contends to pit Black and Latinx communities over the battle of resources, housing, jobs, etc…”[8] In practice then, the Black-Latina/o conflict discourse actually maintains white hegemony.[9] Márquez argues that these discourses stereotype Black and Latina/o individuals and communities; to oppose the idea that communities have no capacity to overcome hostility, Márquez reminds us to “emphasize complex personhoods of Black and Latina/os” as communities do “negotiate their similarities and differences in shaping a collective oppositional consciousness and culture.”[10]

It is critical to read and study together the work of Gaye Theresa Johnson’s Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity: Music, Race and Spatial Entitlement in Los Angeles  and Tiya Miles’ Ties that Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom to on the one hand, acknowledge how no one is unscathed by the history of white supremacy while also, how we have the capacity and energy to imagine and enact worlds beyond it. In Blacktino Queer Performance by Patrick Johnson and Ramón H. Rivera-Servera remind us that if we move “beyond the bourgeois academic ivory tower and engage the material conditions of the projects, barrios, and other sites of the quotidian forms of racialized queerness” we can find the ways Blackness and Latindad “always already engage—on the streets and in the sheets.”[11] Their work reminds us of the abundant evidence of Black, Latinx and Afro-Latinx “playing up and feeling up—that is, erotically touching” and Blacktino, as they conceptualize, performance, aesthetics and erotics do not simply produce “an assumed continuum of identity but perhaps, more significantly, as purposeful practice.”[12] Ignoring these histories, practices and ways of being is not just outright outrageous but intentionally dismissive of the beauty of interracial solidarity, love and intimacy that exists and blossoms in our communities.

Considering the erasure of histories of interracial solidarity over the summer of 2020, it is critical to ask: how could communities who faced ongoing genocide, displacement, war, colonization and who have some of the highest numbers of incarceration, detention and state-sanctioned violence have “privilege”? How were these posts defining race and relational politics? And, perhaps a question that cannot be immediately answered—who or what was behind this discourse? On the one hand, these posts encouraged reflection, introspection and accountability within non-Black communities of color for anti-blackness. This demonstrates how willing many communities of color are to work through the ways communities are pitted against one another and in turn, be the transformation in action that we seek. The project of empathy and accountability is without question a well-intentioned endeavor. However, it is also imperative to ask why do these discourses in fact emerge so quickly as if organic in-formation? Or in other words, what would it mean to ask if we considered white supremacy as an agent in the accountability moves we make? Why does this reflective space of accountability within our communities hold more space in our psyche and spirit than holding white people accountable to their demands to uphold white supremacy? I wonder how these specific discourses of anti-blackness evade the root of the problem—white supremacy—and instead, endeavor a mirage world where it is Latinx, Chicanx, Asian and Indigenous communities that are the root causes for the killing of Black folks and therefore, putting into full motion one of the most effective strategies of white supremacy, conquest and domination through division?

To respond to these posts and discourse, I humbly suggest a generative countermove that activates the energies of the productive flows that emerge out of empathetic accountability and aim to sustain those vibrations towards abolitionist and insurgent critiques and ways of being against white supremacy. This countermove could encourage more internationalist and global solidarities whereby we situate state-sanctioned violence that occurs within the borders of the US state as not just events of anti-blackness in the U.S. but as structures within a global context of racial capitalism, neocolonialism and imperialist war. Instead of moving away from urgent intimacies together, this countermove demands and necessitates solidarities. Solidarities that in fact does not naturalize anti-blackness in communities of color but rather centers it as a part and parcel of the insidious violence of white supremacy on racialized and Indigenous people.

[1] Juana María Rodríguez. Sexual futures, queer gestures, and other Latina longings (New York, NY: NYU Press, 2014), 21.

[2] Martha Vanessa Saldívar, “From Mexico to Palestine: An Occupation of Knowledge, a ‘Mestizaje of Methods’, American Quarterly, 62 no.4, (December 2010): 827.

[3] Tiffany Lethabo King, Jenell Navarro, and Andrea Smith. Otherwise worlds: against settler colonialism and anti-Blackness, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press 2020),9.

[4] Ibid., 9.

[5] Ibid., 10.

[6] Abigal Rosas, South Central is Home: Race and the Power of Community Investment in Los Angeles, (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019), 6.

[7] Ibid., 19.

[8] John Márquez, Black-Brown Solidarity: John Márquez: Racial Politics in the New Gulf South, (Austin TX: University of Texas-Austin, 2013), 24.

[9] Ibid., 25.

[10] Ibid., 25.

[11] Patrick E. Johnson, and Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, Blacktino queer performance. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2016), 3.

[12] Ibid., 3.

Photo: “Black Lives Matter Plaza [Explored]” by Geoff Livingston is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Mario Alberto Obando is an Assistant Professor of Chicana/o Studies at California State University, Fullerton

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