Friday, August 7, 2015

Haiti, Racism, the Dominican Republic & Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric...Why it is, what it is...#Legalization4ALL #SinFronteras

While the media has moved on from the controversy of the Dominican Republic’s recent immigration legislation, there are many that have not…I am one of them. The rhetoric of the issue needs to be addressed and that starts with my stance, which is the following: The “Plan de Regularización de Extranjeros de la República Dominicana” or the Plan of regularization of foreigners in the Dominican Republic—aka, the DR’s new immigration policy—is anti-immigrant in nature and built upon the institutional and colorblind racism of the country...pure and simple...Now, let’s talk about why…
The rhetoric of Dominicans who are in favor of or who have arrived to the staunch defense of their country’s actions in the recent immigration legislation is strikingly similar to the anti-immigrant speech found in the United States; and just like the U.S. and its fairy-tailed demonization of Mexico—thanks Trump—there is also a target in mind of the DR’s new immigration policy, Black bodies: Trujillo’s legacy against darkness and an Afrocentric Haiti manifested as rule of law.
The recent Dominican anti-immigration laws against Haitians aren’t new. In fact, we knew about it last year and the year before as announcements were made from the Dominican government about its inevitable approach of border control. The first announcement came in 2013 as the Medina administration claimed an enforcement process that would result in deportation of ALL non-naturalized bodies with a presence in the country from 1929 till this day. In 2014, Dominican courts reviewed their legislation and adjusted it to permit Dominican-born Haitians to apply for naturalization; something assured as simple and accessible on the surface. Unfortunately, such a claim was inaccurate as bureaucracy, human error and the lack of outreach and transparency made such a process unattainable.
The uproar from the international community, human rights organizations, and even Dominican expatriates has been LOUD. Recently however, Dominicans in the island and others who have felt their national identities, culture, and government persecuted and attacked have rallied on social media with an arrangement of arguments that sadly lack in humanity, simple logic, and are full of colorblind racist intention. Alas, not all Dominicans have catered to such racist and prejudiced sentiments. Many Dominicans have organized in defense of their Black brothers and sisters on the island of Hispaniola. However, I have come to realize that colonialism is an infection not easily purged, nor eradicated, but is something which must be healed, and we can only heal when we break the symptoms one by one and address them.
The following are the common arguments taken from various social media testimonials of Dominicans along with news editorials (with some notable exceptions) in the DR that I hope to clarify—yes, this is for Manuel Pimentel (@thatsDominican) who has sadly used his comic influence to perpetuate white supremacy…
1)      Do not criticize our country if you are not there and do not know the facts…
It is problematic when Western affiliated activists critique a social issue in a non-Western country because it can be another form of imperialism. Many are weary of U.S. interventions, since historically, it has been used to benefit the U.S. and not the non-Western nations. To say that because one lives in the U.S., therefore one functions under a White imperialist gaze is not always accurate. For instance, I am Chicano Newyorquino; I am pretty radical in my politics; I love reading Marx; I am Mormon; I am a student of Critical Race Studies; I am an anarchist; I follow Indigenous thought; and I am a local activist. My neighbor is a White male who is Mormon; anti-immigrant; conservative; a racist; would love to see me burn in hell where I supposedly belong; and thinks that big business is the greatest thing to ever happen to our country and practices of freedom and democracy. We could not be more different and yet I live next to the man. Thus, because I live in a Western place, in an occupied Atzlan, I do not always fall in with Western imperialist thought—because I live in Gringo-landia doesn’t mean I operate under the rules of Gringo-landia. In other words, I call it as it is, where it is and when it starts, because I’m “still a stranger in the country of my birth” as a person of Color in the United States and I think plenty of Dominicans outside the island have that same validity.
2)      The facts of the immigration law are misunderstood and this is actually a humane process compared to the rest of the world, even in the United States.
If giving someone a choice to pack up and leave peacefully or forcibly, from a place they have always known as home, is humane then we really need to think twice about the meaning of the word. Better yet, why are we comparing which immigration policy is the worst and which is the most lenient? Are we trying to justify our nation’s policies because others ENFORCE IT BETTER?
The facts are not misunderstood. The situation originally demonstrated is exactly what is happening. The truth is that thousands have already been forced out. Thousands more have self-deported to avoid forceful reprisals, and close to 200,000 more are waiting for what happens next. Only close to 9,000 have actually passed through a formal process of naturalization. We also have to remember the most important aspect of this law: people are not being asked to leave, they are being TOLD to leave, #NOCHOICE.
What’s worse is that people did begin showing up and reaching out for help but the bureaucracy and confusion of such a process seemed intentional, as hundreds sought aid with constant rejection, errors, and misinformation. So people have been trying and when it became apparent that it wasn’t helping, many just stopped trying altogether. The outreach to distribute and administer relevant information was also another serious bureaucratic mishap. There were hardly enough staff to cater to the thousands of people needing services, nor were there outside agencies offering assistance, nor local infrastructure set up to assist anyone with these developments prior to actual implementation of the law.
3)      The Dominican Republic is not a racist place with racist people. We are all Black and mixed.
No one, and let me repeat, NO ONE is born a racist. No one carries racism in their biology or genome. Racism, however, can become a societal genealogy; something sustained socially and acted out. Therefore, the Dominican Republic is not a place where people are just born racists; however, it is a place where people are NOT BORN A RACIST, but BORN INTO A RACIST SOCIETY & CULTURE.
The history of Dominican attitude towards Blackness stems back to the island’s revolution by Black slaves and the world’s attempt to devalue this revolution and limit its influence, because many Western Powers feared that if a Black country became successful after a slave revolt, it might just influence all other oppressed peoples. Means of racial oppression to Blackness in the DR has been in effect a lot more recent than presumed. The era of Trujillo didn’t just act out a severe repression towards all Dominicans; it also meant genocidal violence towards Black Dominicans and Haitians. It was also one of the largest attempts in the DR to de-Africanize the country, which meant to deny Blackness among Dominicans and to dehumanize Haiti, a very Afrocentric place. This also meant constant migratory proposals and policy encouragement throughout the 1900’s for White migrants to the DR from Spain and other countries were highly encouraged to “better the race.”
Understanding the past of race relations in the Dominican Republic reveals the development of racism and colonialism on the island and its current impact; regardless of the fact that the majority of the country can identify as Black in the United States (this is why to be referred to as Haitian in the DR is more or less a racial slur for Blackness and why local activists like @MissRizos work so hard to instill Afrocentric beauty by reclaiming afros or pajones among Dominican@s).
Considering the past, it is obvious how these kinds of sentiments and social issues became part of institutions, or institutional racism. Institutional racism is understood as racism that isn’t as overt or open as the racism of the past—we aren’t lynching Black people anymore, although there have been at least 2 cases of lynching in the DR since this law passed—nor are we hosing Black people down in the streets for the simple fact that they are of a different race. Instead, institutional racism works as policy and legal practices that disproportionately impact people of Color. We can look at immigration laws in the U.S. for further evidence of institutional racism. When the U.S. commits to immigration policy, they aren’t thinking of White people and probably not Black people, they are thinking of the “Mexican Invasion” but it is never framed that way and instead it is looked at as immigration policy that impacts all people coming to the U.S., but let’s be honest, we all know better.
This then brings up Colorblind Racism, where people no longer admit racial difference and even find racism to be a terrible thing, but instead of focusing on race, they focus on “cultural” and “social” differences that make people inferior to them. For example, many Dominicans mention that they’re not racist towards Haitians for being Black, but find them to be a “bad” people, reproducing at an exceptional rate, and that “they rape our women.” Instead of saying one or two people are like this, the whole ethnic group is subjected to this characterization. It is literary the kind of racism where color or race is not admitted, but implied by focusing on supposed cultural and social deficits. The idea that because ‘we’re all Black,’ therefore we can’t be racist to fellow Black people, is complicated because people of color can definitely adopt racist ideologies and act them out; this is especially true in a place like the DR where most people do not happen to identify as Black but as White in the United States and Indio in the DR.
4)      The Dominican Republic is a place with almost no resources. The DR has to check its population because it cannot sustain more. Haitians use resources without giving back.   
This is another argument that parallels White anti-immigration sentiments in the U.S.—right down to the wording! In fact, almost every immigrant group in the world faces this dilemma, whether it’s to a developing 3rd world, or Western nation. The Irish faced extreme prejudice when they first arrived in the U.S. and met the same kind of resistance: “We don’t have the resources; we can’t support more foreign groups; they’re criminals!” In Africa, the more developed countries reject nationals of poorer ones: “They take all of our jobs; they use too many of our resources.”
Currently in the United States, many think that every Latino south of the border, namely Mexicans, come and deplete every resource from medical care, to education, to social security benefits, to actual geographic space, and would have them expelled for that reason. Just watch the following Trump has garnered due to his anti-Mexican rhetoric; “They’re all rapists and criminals!”
So I’m sorry if you as an anti-immigrant in the DR feel that your country is being robbed by under-qualified immigrants, because it’s really not; and I’m sorry that you feel that we in the U.S. have all the space in the world, but we do and so do you! Unfortunately, this kind of speech is based in fear tactics—Remember, presidential candidate Trump does this. More importantly, why are we not more concerned with the corruption that’s rampant in Latin America that steals mountains of money from the public? When did expelling innocent people become priority over checking political corruption?
What I’m really trying to say is that this argument is not new. It’s been reused and recycled horribly through hundreds of years of xenophobia, anti-immigrant hysteria, racially and ethnically charged nativism, and fear. The world uses these same excuses and it doesn’t justify use by the DR either for an anti-immigrant policy against a subjugated people.
5)      The DR helps Haiti and Haitians inside the DR constantly so it’s time they respect that and go back home.
This argument sadly, is just too ridiculous, too ignorantly framed, and too desperate for justification to even attend to. This is like The Golden Rule gone wrong. This demand for RESPECT begs the question: if this ethic of supporting your neighbor demands that you fall into favor with them, but not just any favor, the kind of favor (aka, ultimatum) that they leave because it’s in your best interest, kind of favor, is it really a JUST deal? What’s funny though is that the DR has always promoted immigration and immigration incentives from Haiti whenever it needed to cut sugar cane, and then expelled them whenever they didn’t. Of course, they pay Haitians for their plantation labor far less and treat them far worse than Dominican naturalized employees. So in the end, and in many ways, Haitian migrant labor has always economically and historically  sustained the DR…interesting…so whom owes whom?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Ferguson...a Necessary Violence...

“A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect”
                          - W.E.B Dubois

 “Porque cuando la tiranía es ley, la revolución es orden [because when tyranny is law, revolution is order]”
                           - Calle 13 (Residente)

On November 24th, 2014 a St. Louis grand jury did not indict officer Darin Wilson for the murder of Black youth Michael Brown. Responses on social media ranged from salutes of victory to disappointment and ultimately, rage. Oftentimes, this response was colored by race between Black communities and other people of Color, and then Whites. However, before the assorted reactions on social media, there loomed the threat from Ferguson activists that if the Grand Jury would not indict, that there would be hell to pay. Ferguson activists kept their word. Violence, protesting, looting, state terror and militarized police all culminated into events that have been described as a “war zone” by mainstream media and personal accounts, and while deficit conversations develop about rioting and violence as committed by Ferguson activists, we should realize that these particular consequences serve a purpose in their intricate nature and are done not without reason.

I write this with the hope of providing context behind the violence and to unveil a multilayered process that can be fully appreciated as we decolonize and challenge OUR approach to Ferguson. Firstly, we should not assume that Ferguson activists and locals are involved in looting as part of rioting. To assume such a portrayal is irresponsible of mainstream media forums and highly deficit of the complexity that’s occurring in Ferguson. Second, while I avoid an essentialized frame of resistance in Ferguson, violence and looting are part of the reality of what’s occurring. That needs be admitted and understood, but must be done so in the context of what has happened, the emotional trauma of locals, their response, and even their resistance. The states reaction to Ferguson also reveals power dynamics and how far activists must go to truly be recognized and valued, because “a riot is the language of the unheard” (Dr. Martin Luther King, 1963) and one can only remain unheard for so long. Lastly, we must decolonize our lens as we see Ferguson unfold because resistance is complicated and cannot be forced into a discourse of what is progressive or regressive. Neither the liberal, nor the Eurocentric deserve a say in what is occurring and how. In the end, what arises from Ferguson is an inconclusive framework developed out of resistance and revolution, but very much valuable to the entire discussion particularly speaking as a person of Color myself.

Looting and violence is happening in Ferugson as a response to no indictment of the murder of Michael Brown. That is one reality, but it is the one that mainstream media will tell you and many participants on social media will distribute. Other realities have difficulty coming to the surface. For example, the fact that Ferguson activists have mobilized groups to protect local businesses from looting and robbery is one that has just recently arisen. Another is that peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience continue as part of the reactionary process to no indictment. Just as much as violence has been a response, so has peaceful protest. So not everyone is involved in the violence and looting as mass media suggests.

However, what about the intense and forceful response of militarized police to both violent and peaceful protests in Ferguson? Why are they not put under the scope, at least to the degree by which Ferguson activists are constantly placed under with regards to violence and chaos? Why are people telling Ferguson activists to calm down when police on steroids show up in Ferguson ready to wage war?

Che Guevara, the Argentine revolutionary, wrote in a piece titled Guerilla Warfare: A Method, the following: “Violence is not the monopoly of the exploiters and as such the exploited can use it too and, moreover, ought to use it when the moment arrives.” Violence against oppressed communities ought to be dealt back with violence. Too often we excuse violence as a cheap form of resistance that is not deserved by either party. But why is it okay for the police to arrive as a militarized force, ready and capable with equipment utilized from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to counter protests in Ferguson, but it’s not okay for the Ferguson activists to resist with their own violent strategies? Already there is a power dynamic set. The oppressor may counter insurgency with militarized weapons but the oppressed cannot. Mainstream media has promoted this deficit tone, that Ferguson activists have rallied to a violent cause, one with no purpose, without context, and destructive to their respective community; but this isn’t new. Rebellion and violence as an act by oppressed communities has always been misunderstood, undervalued, and silenced.

For generations poor communities of Color, specifically Indigenous and African-American, have been subject to a host of violent methods and acts that have sought to displace them. From the disappearing of Black males through the Prison Industrial Complex to the silencing of Indigenous identities by film and media, people of Color experience violence from the physical to the intellectual. As we become recipients to a generational continuity of violence it is then wondered whether anybody has heard us before or even cares? The great civil rights leaders have spoken countless times, marched in so many directions, and printed so many papers that demand recognition as well as advocacy. But maybe instead of getting along, and moving past pain and guilt, what we need, what we want, is not a spot at the table of the master, but to create our own table or decide whether there should even be one! Autonomy and self-determination does not come by coordination and collaboration, compromise or forgetting, it must be claimed and owned. What this looks like should not be defined by Eurocentric standards, especially with regards to violence because the response will most likely be that destructive or violent means do not achieve anything for anyone.

President Obama and other civic members claim countless times that violent reactions to the no-indictment verdict does not move the conversation or the cause in the right direction. Many social media supporters of Michael Brown say the same. However, what is occurring instead is a mitigated advocacy of a divisive issue that is more or less political neutrality, this is talking versus walking; this is providing lip service versus actual engagement. Counter to their arguments that violence has not done anything to change society or move it in a just and equitable position, are countless acts and events that have shown the contrary.

ALJAZEERA journalist Ned Resnikoff writes that at times “the crisis caused by riots and property destruction has had a significant role in forcing authorities to respond to demands for political change.” Specific events such as the Watts Riot, Stonewall Inn, Selma, Haymarket, and Blair Mountain are events where violence was met with social acknowledgment and political consequences. Each pushed an issue to the forefront by the sheer violence of what happened. Sometimes something loud has to happen, really LOUD in order to be heard and recognized. This is a tragic truth; sometimes violence is required.

Violence as resistance, among other misunderstood methods, has its place from what we expect of communities and what sometimes communities hope to achieve on their own. Who are we to foreordain how a community harnesses its resistive energy and unleashes it? Eve Tuck is a youth resistance scholar who suggests that there are contradictions within the framework of schooling that are intended on progressing students towards completion, but are actually foundational to students being held back or marginalized. This results with identities that are often described by Tuck as Dangerous Dignities which comprehends resistance as a multi-faceted process, riddled with complicating discourses and something that goes beyond the whole reproductive and resistance argument; as a dangerous dignity sometimes we expect youth to resist in certain ways to transform oppressive structures, but frankly, the resistant outcomes are unpredictable and sometimes not transformative according to our lens.

Tuck’s research findings tend to “complicate, extend, and sometimes explode current conceptualizations of youth resistance.” What needs to happen is an approach to Ferguson with a serious critique of resistance through the relationship of Humiliating Ironies and Dangerous Dignities, and of liberal and Eurocentric notions of progress. Why can’t progress be an entire community rising up? According to Tuck, resistance can play out in the following:

Does resistance do what we think it does? No, almost never. And it doesn’t go in the directions that we anticipate it will go…We also learn that the material realities of resistance can be dramatically different; the consequences may be muffled or delayed in some scenarios, while the consequences may be simultaneous/immediate in others. But resistance does do something, it does produce, or prompt, or prevent something.”

Resistance does something, regardless of the shape or form it takes. It produces knowledge, even if it is violent!

A recent article by Cheryl Corley at NPR suggests that Ferguson has become the Arab Spring to a whole new generation of activists local to their struggle. Robynn Haas from the Catholic Voice further demonstrates this with a profound account of Ferguson youth activists taking the stage at a mass meeting in October with national civic, community and faith leaders and critiquing their engagement while motivating the crowd. Haas reports the following commentary by Ashley Yates at the meeting:

“‘Ashley Yates, a young activist and a leader of the movement in Ferguson, also took the podium. "People take our anger and they try to make it violent, when the real violence is the AK-47s and the M16s that are pointed at us," Yates lamented to the audience. Violence is "when you see a sniper pop out of the top of a tank with a smile on his face, when all you have is your hands and your words and your anger," she said. "I am OK with being angry," she continued. "If you can see a dead black body lying in the street for four and a half hours and that doesn't make you angry, then you lack humanity…’”

The resistance occurring in Ferguson is peaceful; it is civil disobedience; it is marching; it is talking; but it is also violent. And in its violence it is being recognized; at the same time, tragically it is being misinterpreted by so many leaders and media organizations, by so many of us. Nevertheless, we must admire Ferguson activists for putting a face to the issue and reacting in ways that could not be ignored by the country, by us. We had to come face to face with it. Where that takes us? I don’t know. But at least it exists in our minds now, and with it, an obligation to not paint the violence and resistance of Ferguson as backward or regressive, but as something much more profound in the making.


“Critique is resistance; Resistance is Revolution”
                     - L'lerrét Jazelle Ailith (Black TransGender Activist)