(Photo credit: Andreya Tho)
Like so many of you, I’m doing my best to process the tragic loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the many more Black lives that have been unjustifiably taken. Our Black communities are rightfully hurt, upset, and outraged. Across the country, millions of peaceful protesters have marched, held vigils and kneeled as they demand justice for George Floyd.
This weekend, I felt so proud to be an Afro-Dominican from Washington Heights, as I saw crowds gathering and chanting: Black Lives Matter and Vidas Negras Importan in Spanish. Through photos on social media, I witnessed the unification of Dominicans and Haitians, walking side by side, yelling “No justice, No peace!”My heart swelled, and damn, I’m proud to see my community joining together to demand change.
I can’t say I feel the same pride when I enter certain Dominican spaces. Time and time again I’m met with silence when it comes to the violent murders of Black lives. When will they understand that silence is a deadly weapon used for centuries against Black people? Silence is the same as upholding white supremacy and systemic racism. The anti-Black sentiment across Latinx communities has been prevalent. Internalized oppression has led society and still does today to believe the European standard of beauty is having straight hair, narrow noses and white skin. My hair was chemically relaxed early on. I still don’t know the exact age, but I never knew what my natural hair texture was, until I reached adulthood.
This anti-Blackness created a division in the Latinx community. Many who are of the Black diaspora from Latin America don’t feel seen within the Latinx community. We feel as if there isn’t a true understanding that we exist and that we are Black Lives or Vidas Negras and that we matter. As a Dominican American woman, I also identify as a Black woman. But, this is not true for all Afro-Dominicans. Race, nationality and ethnicity are complicated, and many of us weren’t taught this at home. One of the reasons many Afro Domincans don’t identify as Black is because they equate being Black with being African American.
Being a second-generation Dominican-American, I’ve had my own struggles when it came to how I identified myself; I felt like I had no identity. I wasn’t taught about my history, my ancestors, nor my Blackness. Unfortunately, this is the same story for so many within the Black Diaspora. Growing up with one belief about your identity, to then discover that you weren’t taught the truth, because those who came before you were programmed by colonizers which enforced self-hate and anti-Blackness.
Yet, even with this internalized oppression, there is hope. Afro Latinos have been working tirelessly to increase awareness and educate the community so people (like me) can claim our Blackness with pride.
Those doing the work understand that everyone has a role in the Black Lives Matter movement. Globally, across the Black Diaspora, they are protesting in the streets to demand justice. Others are behind the scenes organizing and then there are those like me. My role is to proactively dismantle anti-Blackness at home with my daughter, my partner, and with my relatives. My partner is Haitian, and a Black man in America. We are teaching our daughter the real story of Hispaniola and its colonization. It’s important that she understands her roots, her truth. This way, no one will ever have the power to tell our daughter who she is and who she isn’t. In our home, we emphasize self-love, self-respect, to question everything and to seek knowledge. We teach her about the connection to our ancestors and Black pride. Even as a child, she understands that no one has the right to mistreat others based on the color of their skin.
This movement has made me realize that it’s time for introspection and to take accountability for the actions, or lack thereof, which contributed to my own anti-Blackness. I reflect on the times I stayed silent when I witnessed micro-aggressions. I had to unlearn so much in order to better understand how my silence only contributed to the anti-blackness in our society. It’s rough and oftentimes feels like a lonely ride. It’s more difficult to have conversations about anti-Blackness with my relatives than it is with strangers. When it comes to the people we love and who have a significant role in our lives, emotions tend to run high. We fear upsetting each other, or damaging our bonds. Yet, these hard conversations are the most important; they taught me how to be more self-aware and compassionate.
My work is to mindfully invite my relatives into a dialogue where we can address anti-Blackness. This creates a space for us to connect, heal, and educate one another on the impact anti-Blackness has in our community, and together to acknowledge that Black Lives not only matter but our lives are worthy of dignity.