Ramón Del Castillo, PhD
Chicanos/ Latinos and African Americans should never assume that because both groups are growing in numbers that this automatically translates into political power. Political power comes not just from growth in populations but from building intra and inter group coalitions with an intentionality to work together for the common good. Chicanos/ Latinos and African Americans seem to be in a prime position through the development of a mutual association to form a coalition that would ultimately benefit both communities.
Both groups have communal experience to draw from; therefore, empathy is present and can become a bridge building connector used to create solidarity. The experience of historical colonization and the long lasting social and psychological ramifications of this malady are also common denominators. The excruciating pains of historic racism and labor exploitation were transformed into instruments of production for the wealthy in society, one group tolerating chattel slavery—being treated as property—and the other suffering from an economic system that forced them to pay tribute while simultaneously exploiting their labor under the treacherous rule of the Spaniards. Segregation can also be placed as an additional form of oppression that both groups tolerated as they were placed in ethnic and racial enclaves in American cities that kept them in perceived historical powerlessness.
Coalitions are difficult, heart wrenching processes but can reap wonderful rewards if core values some of which include trust, mutuality, collective self-esteem, authentic dialogue, intentionality, and solidarity are practiced with the deepest of respect by both groups.
The Emancipation Proclamation passed in 1893 during the Civil War may have literally freed African slaves; but many stayed in captivity for years. Psychological enslavement persisted, manifesting itself in a variety of oppressive forms as the souls of Black people suffered. The minds of the enslaved were never freed due to the long term devastation of colonialism. Hence, historical trauma and intergenerational lingers on in the Black collective consciousness. The Chicano experience includes similar pervasive anguish from two profound experiences of colonialism, the Spanish Conquest in the 15th Century and the colonization imposed by the United States of America following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. A strict Americanization policy completely dismantled its culture, causing identity conflicts and a hodgepodge of other social and psychological problems that remain.
History has shown us that it has always been in the best interests of political parties and power mongers to pit one minority group against another in order to set the stage for conflict; thereby, prohibiting coalition building. Effective coalitions represent power to the people and cannot be tolerated by the power structure—usually dismantled in systemic and institutional ways.
African Americans and Chicanos should not allow power brokers to portray them as natural enemies, at the whims of old Roman style “divide and conquer” tactics that have been used to separate the two groups. African American Reconstruction was never fully achieved as the need for cheap labor—pitted against the question of race—kept both groups in perpetual domination.
Coalitions are difficult, heart wrenching processes but can reap wonderful rewards if core values some of which include trust, mutuality, collective self-esteem, authentic dialogue, intentionality, and solidarity are practiced with the deepest of respect by both groups. I recollect during the Chicano Movement that leaders from both liberation movements made attempts to create coalitions. African Americans and Chicanos have never been able to successfully sustain their collective agencies; often becoming window-dressers for political parties put on display as mannequins in malls and businesses.
Oppression has a way of infiltrating the collective conscious of a group as it tries to survive under oppressive regimes—trying to move forward. Galvanizing both groups was challenging. Grassroots organizing and activism are two key components that bind the groups together, but when pitted against each other, the reverse occurs. Mistrust, competition, envy and a variety of other phenomena are developed. Some coalitions worked to certain degrees, others did not.
What research has shared is that Latinos/Chicanas/os have lost ground since the 1960’s social revolution when both groups organized and took to the streets, in what were, gallant stands against the many perils they were facing. In a recent Atlantic Monthly article, the author Adam Serwer quotes Pew stating, “in 2016, lower-income white households had a net worth of $22,900 compared with only $5,000 for Black households and $7,00 for Hispanic households in this income tier.” Research also informs us that the miniscule victories gained during that tumultuous period have dwindled down, forcing both groups into similar positions that they occupied prior the Black Panther and Chicano Movements.
Serwer in the Atlantic (2020) draws from further PEW Studies and states, “From 2005 to 2009, the median new worth of Black households dropped by 53%, while white households net worth dropped by 16%.” Referred to as social erosion, competition for the almighty dollar, coupled with the 2008 recession, drove both groups into an economic down spiral—adding to the persistent issues of economic injustice and white supremacy. Currently, our communities are well aware that beneath an illusion of equity and social justice lies a profound sense of injustice, an underlying grid of high unemployment, growing educational gaps that has fed the school to prison pipeline, police brutality, and undue poverty that has incessantly grown into civil unrest in both communities. State sanctioned terrorism is always in the minds and hearts of both groups as racial stereotypes are used by police officers on the street, leading to slayings and gruesome murders.
The politics of self-determination can be a liberating force for the oppressed, but is a definite threat to the oppressor, who uses his imagination of superiority to subvert any activity that might free the oppressed from the system’s ironclad control. The development of de-colonial knowledge aimed at freeing the oppressed from self-imposed inferiority is a constant threat, especially when it is guided by authentic resistance. It is if paramount importance for the man to superimpose the cloak of inferiority, especially when the seeds of resistance have been planted into the minds of the oppressed.
What has awakened the collective conscience of both groups is the Black Lives Matter Movement—incidentally a movement that has attracted diverse groups. What this movement has accomplished—albeit something that could be of a temporary nature—is tearing down the wall of denial regarding racism in American society who had been hoodwinked into believing that the question of race had been addressed when Barack Obama won the presidency. Watching assassinations on telephone cameras brought another dimension to the minds and hearts of Americans. As the Atlantic Monthly emphatically states, “Six years ago, people were not using the phrase systemic racism beyond activist circles and academic circles. And now we are in a place where it is readily on people’s lips, where folks from CEOs to grandmothers up the street are talking about it, reading about it, researching on it, listening to conversations about it.”
Trump, who many believe has adopted a mantra of genocide against people of color, assisted in developing the social conscience of his own enemies—youth who took to the streets in unity. Blaming the victim was resurrected as blame was externalized but was no longer an appropriate rationalization that carried any weight regarding the misfortunes of Black men killed on América’s streets. What emerged was a new thesis, police murdering innocent black men.
The intent is not for Chicanos or any other group to ride on the coattails of this movement, but to add energy, ongoing activism and value; perhaps, in some creative way, a town hall meeting can be generated—to add dynamism and authentic dialogue to discuss issues, practice transparency, and transform America into what it was intended to be—a free nation. Perhaps it is time for both groups to create their own agencies. It may be time to build a coalition to protect our families and communities from the oncoming onslaught of white supremacy.
¡Que Viva La Independencia de México!
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. © 9-16-2020 Ramón Del Castillo.
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