Thursday, October 23, 2008

Latinos & the N-Word

Click here to check Raquel Cepeda's article in this week's Village Voice titled "The N-Word is Flourishing Among Generation Hip-Hop Latinos." It brings up great points about race and class. For example: "The palpable racial tension that's been rearing its head this historic presidential election, the subject of race and who is truly considered black or white in this black-and-white race, is something Latinos need to pay attention to. For many of us, especially those of Caribbean descent who make up a sizable chunk of New York Latinos, race should matter, and so should that one particular word."

Then she has some amazing quotes, such as this gem from Immortal Technique: "The European Spaniards have left a legacy of self-hatred and racism among the Latino population; without acknowledging that, we will not evolve past our own inequity," says Immortal Technique, an Afro-Peruvian hip-hop artist who also uses the n-word. "Racism in America, as horrible and ugly as it may be, still isn't as bad as what it is in Latin America, and the sad part is that we are being racist against ourselves."

Immortal Technique

I'm extremely pleased by the always necessary reminder that the so-called Latin American racial democracy is just a myth. I also appreciate Cepeda's use of the term "Afro-Latino" to mean not just a child of African American and Latino parents... but a child of Latino parents who are also part of the African diaspora.

And, I can't lie, I was caught off guard (and got very happy) by the shoutout to my book: "With few exceptions within our community—Raquel Rivera's 2003 book New York Ricans From the Hip Hop Zone devoted prime real estate to the discussion of Latino identity in hip-hop—this is a conversation we've failed to have, whatever our personal feelings."

So what do you think? Do you agree that "the profusion of the word into the New York City Latino vocabulary is reaching an almost caricaturist quality"? Is the way Latinos are using the word today different from the way they used it years back? Why use the word at all? Why not use it?


AfroTaina Dominicana said...

I am troubled by the uncritical usage of Latino and the oppressive geographical construction known as "Latin America." What are these terms but political projects aimed at maintaining the social, cultural, and economic power at the hands of those descended from those Spanish who exploited us. While I may speak the same language as a mestizo from Mexico, is our commonality nothing more than an anachronistic attempt at reliving colonialism? At perpetuating the perverse desire that we are part of a hemispheric brotherhood united under the banner of white, Spanish descent? We must be critical. “Latino/Hispanic” is not our identity. “Latin America” does not exist; it is imaginary, real only in the minds of those who take the realities of the status quo as just and true scripture. “Latin America” is not a geographic identity like those of other landmasses; it is a construction uniting us in a 19th century creation: “Latin Americanness.” While my heart is with all those oppressed in the Caribbean and the Americas, I long for the day when “us Latinos” open up our eyes and realize that these terms homogenize our nations, push black and indigenous peoples to the periphery, and maintain a destructive colonial legacy: the Iberian control of our minds.

This problem is manifested in your use of the term "Afro-Latino," one that has been used to rightly mobilize the African-descended community. Unfortunately our nomenclature is problematic, for it submits to the standardized norms of the white supremacist culture of formerly Spanish-colonized states.

Walter Mignolo, the author of the great work The Idea of Latin America, eloquently points out the absurdity of all of this in a blog entry of his :
"In any case, if we have such a map (and I am sure there is one), the question that would arise is that we will have to call Latin-Africans all the people of European descent born, raise and proliferating in the Americas that co-existed with people from African descent.

Otherwise, it will not be fair to make Africans also Latins (unless they want) and to not make Europeans also Africans. Now, if we move this route, we have to address the question of the Indigenous population. Are Indians Indo-Latin? And, therefore, shall we call Africans also Afro-Indian, and Europeans Euro-Indians? See, it is a mess. "

Even though the Dominican Republic is almost 90% of African ancestry, why am I an Afro-Latino? Why I am a mere adjective, a mere signifier, when I am the base?

just some thoughts
progressive decolonial unity,
afro-taina dominicana

raquelzrivera said...

Great points you bring up. I'm no fan of the term "Latino" either (for many of the reasons you stated) though I understand and work together with folks that have been using the term "Afro-Latino."

Then again I also understand and work with folks (particularly on the musical tip) who are set against the "Afro-Latino" label, like many of the amazing musicans of Kalunga Neg Mawon and Alma Moyo.

Silvio Torres-Saillant put it well when he intervened during a heated discussion over terminology at an AfroLatin@ Forum held last year at the Schomburg Center in Harlem: “We don’t need to call ourselves the same name to forge strategies of liberation.”

afrotaina dominicana said...

Hey Raquel, thanks for the reply! I definitely hear you on that great quote by Torres-Saillant, and agree to some extent. I still think, however, that we should push towards employing language and rhetoric that is reflective of diversity, plurality, and, most importantly, decolonial liberation. All I mean to say with this is that one cannot completely fight against economic and political marginalization of the black and indigenous population when the ordering and implicit understanding of our region ("Latin" America) is rooted in one of the most brutal colonial empires in human history, ie fight marginalization without fighting the philosophical structure that caused said marginalization. And it is obvious how absurd it is. A Macushi woman in Guyana goes to visit some family in northern Brazil. The Machushi family in Guyana is considered caribbean while the family that lives in Brazil by virtue of postcolonial political boundaies is considered "Latino." Similarly, Dominican and Haitian boys on either side of the border are made to think that the other side is their enemy of opposite race when it is likely that at some pt their ancestors suffered from the same plight of slavery. Hopefully, you see what I'm saying. We should still strive towards liberation together, but I think we must be critical of these terms (Latin America and Latino) because they project a problematic understanding of history, society, and power.

Good looks on those musicians, will definitely check them out.

To the article that you linked, it is very interesting indeed. One point I wanted to raise was in reference to something Ms. Cepeda wrote: "In other words, Latino artists use the n-word as a reminder that they too have been oppressed and are products of the transatlantic slave trade."
I definitely think Ms. Cepeda is overanalyzing this phenomenon. The use of nigga/er obviously varies depending on people and group, but amongst those who use the word as a term of endearment, I think it is largely a class issue. I knew plenty of white and Asian people who grew up in the hood and used nigga just like any other "urban" black, Jamaican , or Puerto Rican person. These white and Asian people certainly weren't using it to claim some black identity; it was just life in the hood. Plus, many of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean people I knew that uses nigga would've rejected their blackness in a heartbeat; they just used the n-word reflexively without thinking. I have heard cocolo used though and that is very interesting. The processes behind it are different as cocolo is a product of our culture in DR that we are employing here in the US, while nigga has been used here before we migrated in huge waves. Not sure what I think about everything with cocolo...maybe that is a reclamation of African pride? or realizing the absurdity of the way our nation has treated Haitians? Not sure

raquelzrivera said...

Absolutely, I'm with you on pushing "towards employing language and rhetoric that is reflective of diversity, plurality, and, most importantly, decolonial liberation."

I'm just concerned that sometimes we get bogged down on terminology and don't respectfully agree to disagree.

I can't find it on the web right now, but yesterday I saw the new Caribbean Cultural Center's calendar and they have another "Who Is African American?" event coming up soon. I think that's a great example of folks pushing the terminology boundaries, trying to break down those barriers between so-called "Latinos" and so-called "African Americans". The challenge is how to popularize those questions and discussions when folks still think if you're Latino then you're cannot also be black or African American (also, when folks still use "Black and Brown" as substitutes for "African American and Latino"... color-coded terms I find even more problematic).

This prior blog post was my attempt to get a few things off my chest regarding "The Myth of Latino Browness":

Boima said...

Hey, I was pointed here, and wanted to say I'm feelin this discussion. I'm working on a related post myself, but wanted to throw a couple points out there.

In my experience in California, where people of Caribbean descent are significantly less in proportion to folks from Mexico and other non-African identifying parts of Central America, Nigga is no less prolific. Even in communities where there is tension between "Blacks" and "Latinos."

I kind of agree with both sides. I've experienced Africans all over the world from Europe to Central America to Africa use Nigga as a kind of I'm like you homie let's bond term.

But there is a danger to read too much into it and say everyone has this consciousness, especially when talking to other folks who aren't of African descent. Chinese kids in San Francisco, aren't displaying their black pride by using the term.

It's also funny that in perhaps a deconstruction attempt, I tell people that I identify Afro Latino, because I'm African-European and speak Spanish, even though I'm not descendant from any Spanish speaking country (although Sierra Leone was originally a Portuguese colony.) I think I've come to have an awareness of a greater American community besides the one in which I live, and I attempt to identify myself with a community which without national borders wouldn't be such a political minority. What if people's of African descent from Sao Paolo to Seattle formed a unified political group? Perhaps even uniting with a Billion Africans in Africa, in economic and cultural exchange.

Ethnically-Culturally specific, I am an African-European descendant born on the American side of the Atlantic, on the Gringo side of the border. Pero hablo Castellano bastante bien (por varias razones.) En cual grupo me pondrías?

raquelzrivera said...

Je, je... Boima, I like your deconstruction strategies in throwing folks a curveball by saying you are Afro-Latino.

On the personal tip, I am much more interested in destabilizing the either/or categories, than trying to establish how people "should" identify.

For example: I was once faced with ugly tension in my Latino Communities in NY class. It was the self-identified Latinos and African Americans versus the self-identified white students. The white students were pissed off that the Latinos and African Americans were holding the white students accountable for the sins of their ancestors. I almost didn't sleep that night trying to figure out how to start dealing with the tension. I decided to get them thinking about the way white privilege works even among Latinos, African Americans and Latin Americans. I asked the students if white and/or white-looking Latin Americans should also be held accountable for their ancestors' sins. Should their light-skinned light-eyed professor be held accountable for the sins of many of her own ancestors? That turned out to be a good strategy because then it wasn't an easy victim/victimizer split. Then it was possible to explore the nuances a bit more.

Check the parallel discussion on this same topic on my myspace version of this blog:

Boima said...

Yeah, I like that way of framing it for people, because you could also throw in the fact that most U.S. identified African Americans share blood with the folks whose ancestors were slave holders as well. So should those people be held accountable for their ancestors sins. (i.e. the black McCains.) My last name on my African side is English, and has been a name in that part of the world for 400 years, descendant from slave traders, all of my ancestors are not innocent either.