I recently observed, and slightly participated in a conversation, that, in my opinion, has the potential to be transformative for Black folks. For those of you not aware, a Black Haitian man was murdered in the Dominican Republic, in plain sight. In response this violence, someone likened the Dominican and Haitian history to the Bloods and Crips gang violence. The person who made the comparison was bombarded with accusations about his insensitivity and lack of understanding of the Haitian experience. Black American privilege and ignorance seemed to blame.
Now let me point out that I do not necessarily agree with the comparison between Black American gang violence and violence against countries of Black folks by non-Black folks (and those Black folks who wish to disassociate themselves with their own Blackness). I do not know exactly what the individual who made the comment meant to highlight when he made the comparison, so I neither support nor dismiss his comment. I viewed his comment as an attempt to understand an experience in the context of one he did understand.
This conversation and the reaction to his comment, shocked for me. I tend to let many conversations run their course, especially if they did not initially involve me, or if they seem circular in nature, but I had to step in here for a few reasons. First, of the many conversations regarding Black folks and race (on twitter anyway), this one at least involved a conversation between Black folks and our ability to understand Black experiences outside of our own. I view these types of dialogues as an essential breeding ground for transformation, new understanding, and building solidarity among Black folks.
What struck me about this conversation was that no one, who spoke out against his comparison, acknowledged that the violence Black Americans experience and the violence against Black Haitians is cut from the same cloth. There is a structural and systematic framework in play that hates, and devalues Black life wherever it exists, and that is the motivating factor behind all violence against Black folks ( internal and external). With regard to Black on Black violence, I am strictly speaking along the lines of race and ethnicity right now. When we include gender, class, religion, sexual orientation and so on, then we have to acknowledge that inter-communal violence is an attempt to mirror a system founded upon a hatred of anything non-White and heterosexual male.
I do also want to acknowledge, what was referred to as African American privilege. The story that often is the only expression of the Black experience is that of Black Americans. Let us make no mistake about that. That is why even in this day of global connectivity, I still hear conversations of disdain and distrust of Black folks outside of our own experience. That is why, the term African American is still in use by many to capture all Black folks. That is why the history many Black folks learn about themselves and their sisters and brothers, begins with slavery. It is an attempt to lump us all into one insignificant ball of Blackness, it is the systematic destruction of us, and it is effective.
My question was, and still is, if we as Black folks cannot see how our own experiences are related to one another then hasn’t this system of oppression, domination, and separation from the truth that we are all connected, won? How then do we relate to each other in a way that builds solidarity? Should our connection only happen when some White person, says or does something that many Black folks find offensive? How is that transformative? How does that build community? These are very real questions for me, and I hope the dialogue continues in a way that brings us closer.
- Dominicans and Black American Roots? (theroot.com)
- Caribbean leaders defend Haiti, denounce Dominican decision (miamiherald.com)