The Afro-Latin@s Now! Conference is taking place as I write. It began on Thursday at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture with the Plenary and continued through Friday with “traditional” presentations throughout the day and wraps up this Saturday with events targeting youth at El Museo del Barrio.
I was asked to participate in one of the sessions on sexuality but my workload didn’t allow me to attend any of the events except for the Plenary. I’ve included some notes I took on the plenary and some other reflections from other folks who did attend Friday.
The plenary had four extremely well-known people doing work within the Afr@Latin@ community in various capacities. The panelists included Educardo Bonilla-Silva, sociologist at Duke University and author of several texts on white supremacy, Maria Rosario Jackson a researcher and professor who works in urban planning and development and , Evelyne Laurent-Perrault a biologist and historian and founder of the annual Arturo Schomburg Symposium at Taller Puertorriqueno in Philidelphia, and Silvio Torres-Saillant a professor of English and founder of the Dominican Studies Institute at City College and the author of several texts about Dominican identity. The facilitator for the evening was James Counts Early the Director of the Cultural Heritage Policy Center at the Smithsonian instituion. You may read more about each panelist and a fuller bio at the Afro-Latin@ Now! Conference site.
The first question that was posed to the panelist were “why is there this interest in Black Latin@s at this time?” Responses included an increased interest in Blackness, the diaspora. Torres-Saillant shared that when he was growing up Blackness was something one had to apologize for in the Dominican Republic. Rosario Jackson shared that with the browning of the US being more local yet there is still a crisis which she believes may lead to more creative opportunity. Laurent-Perrault mentioned the term “coyuntura” and how there is an increase in energy within particular communities that is leading to this attention. Bonilla-Silva shared that we are living in a “new racial order” which is how the US is moving towards a more Latin Americanist perspective on race, which he believes is NOT a good thing. He states we, in the US, are living in a “multi-racial white supremacist regime” and that there is a three point racial consciousness for Black Latin@s which includes: being racially Black, being ethnically Latino and being US citizens as well.
The next question was about being proactive. Torres-Saillant began by indicating how mestizaje is connected to the “multi-racial white supremacist regime” where the US hides racism under mestizaje in the US in the same way that Latin American’s are currently finding themselves in crisis regarding their mestizaje. Rosario Jackson shared that we must begin to claim racially Black people as a strategy to be proactive. At this point the facilitator Early shared how many Black Latin@s Anglicized their names to pass just as Blacks in the US. He gave the example of actor and producer Terry Carter and several Black Latin@ baseball players who changed their names to simply be in the Negro Leagues and be Black only. Laurent-Perrault indicates this is why she loves history because it already gives us some of the answers we need. It’s at this time that the panelists indicate that Black US folks can learn from LatiNegr@s as we have 100 years longer of Blackness in our countries compared to the US (based on documentation of when the first African slaves were brought to the areas in the 1500s). Bonilla-Silva mentions the connections to the ideas of mixing among Black Latin@s in an effort to “better” (i.e. whiten) the family and community. He also mentions this being connected to a myth of nation building where we validate whiteness by using the same categories and structures that were created by whites to identify and label/mark Latin@s worldwide.