A blog by Amanda Alcantara

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Hate has already trumped love: thoughts on the election

Photo by Amanda Alcantara, December 2015

i believe in living
i believe in birth.
i believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.
And i believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home to port.
- i believe in living, Assata Shakur
I wasn't a Hillary supporter, and because I don't live in a swing state, the threat of Trump winning in New York wasn't as imminent so I voted with my heart for Jill Stein.

Yet I truly didn't expect that so many other people's hearts would be with Trump. I guess I'd like to think of people as loving, and though Hillary Clinton wasn't always pushing for a loving rhetoric (see superpredators comment), the Democrats co-opt movement language so they come off as the most loving of all, as the ones who protect everyone, as the ones with the most inspirational videos from celebrities urging people to vote against hate.

Many other organizers who I'm surrounded by have expressed that they aren't at all surprised, and I respect them and admire them for not having held back from understanding the reality of the racism we're in, other folks who constantly experience outward hate and racism like Muslim sisters, trans-sisters, weren't surprised either. I can't help but still be heartbroken that people chose to keep pushing for this racist agenda. I was definitely falling for the illusion of inclusion: there's growing diversity on TV, and a black family has been in the White House for 8 years.

Yet diversity on TV hasn't stopped police from shooting black people,
it hasn't stopped Obama from dividing families via deportations,
it hasn't ended the prison industrial complex,
and it hasn't provided any sort of monetary relief for the economic violence our people are enduring.

With this election, there's this doom that feels like a darkness approaching, knowing that the harm inflicted on our people is now being validated. We're being gaslit: told that we're the ones to blame for the poverty that plagues this country.

I thought of my plans for this upcoming year and how they might change, I thought of the people in my immediate family who don't have private insurance. I've been feeling pressure to stop hiding parts of me because of the significance in showing our full selves and showing all parts of who we are, including the not-always visible parts that could be discriminated against or marginalized ranging from mental health to sexuality.

I was in New Hampshire the weekend before the elections to visit Dartmouth College and while I was there I understood what it was like to live in a swing state. The man sitting next to me on the bus on the way there seemed so bothered by my presence, I had to yell at him just so that he could move and I could use the restroom. My ambiguity made some folks not know how to react towards me at first, perhaps the people there thought I was mixed race black and white (which I am), but people reacted differently towards me when they found out that I was also Latina. The man driving me to the hotel completely stopped talking to me when I shared what I went to do there: give a speech at a Latin gala. He then did a double take when he handed me my bag which has the word "Mexico" on it in big colorful letters.

I was reminded that New York truly is a bubble in its own way--though hate lives here too and this past week the holes in the bubble have made it to the public eye (partly due to media's sensationalism which got us here and not necessarily that these holes weren't already there): people are committing hate crimes, people are drawing hate symbols like swastikas on NYC student campuses, and maps showing the different places that voted red prove that Trump supporters live among us. There are probably white people in my life who voted for Trump silently. And there are people of color with selective hearing who might feel included and activated by his message of "Make America Great Again"... Living in poverty under capitalism can do that, it can make you see others like you as competitors and not members of your own community. It doesn't create room for an environment of solidarity and for some immigrants here who are documented (for example) just that tiny tinge of privilege is enough to feel superior.

The reaction by many self-labeled allies has been exhausting. The slogan "Love trumps hate" is becoming the new message to combat this Republican win, to show solidarity with those who will hurt the most. Perhaps it is also a safe message for the many liberals hurting from knowing they won't see a woman as president this time around. New York, like I said before, is it's liberal own bubble so liberals here have been showing outrage or having actions like posting loving notes on the 42nd street train.

"Notes of Hope for America" seen on Times Square subway

But unfortunately, hate already trumped love. And it has, and it will continue to do so unless we take action. A movement for love isn't enough because it could easily lead to lack of accountability, and it could lead to the continued illusion of a post-racial society. The reality is the white working class, including over 50% of white women, have already shown that love as a movement isn't enough.

Safe words like "Multiculturalism" need to become "decolonize", "Diversity" needs to become "anti-oppression", "Inclusion" needs to become "Reparations", and "Love" needs to become explicitly "Anti-hate". We must name the ills in our society, understand them and strategize against them...hugs and kisses aren't a cure.

Because of this safe liberal discourse that makes white allies and those who enjoy privilege comfortable, the need to build a strong third party that isn't afraid to speak up against this is more important now than ever: the rest of the people in this country are seeing how the Democratic party has failed us by deliberately and irresponsibly uplifting Trump's image without care for how his rhetoric of hate would affect Muslims, LGBTQ folks, immigrant families, disable folks, and so many other marginalized communities. The DNC has been irresponsibly lifting Trump's message without thinking of the effect it was having in the heart[lessness] of the white supremacist class (who is now being blatantly legitimized). People have seen how time and time again the democrats will co-opt our movements to create reforms that don't lead to real change, meanwhile many keep choosing them as the party of their choice out of fear of the lesser of two-evils.

Well, check this out: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, and the third-party candidate that got the most votes wasn't even the most left-leaning one, but rather socially liberal yet fiscally conservative economically Gary Johnson. Your fear of lesser of two-evils wasn't enough to keep blatant and outward HATE from winning within this system. Proof that the system must be dismantled. (And I don't necessarily believe in the popular vote, because it can easily lead to minority interests being completely disregarded...I believe in discussions, and in a government that leads from the bottom up, in people owning the means of production, in dismantling the 1%, I believe in a government that protects the people and not corporations).

And all of this is exhausting. It's demoralizing. To be honest I've already been exhausted and when this election happened, my body had an adverse reaction to it. I'm still trying to grasp not what a Trump presidency could mean, because the 100 days have already been laid out by his campaign, because he's already started selecting white supremacists to be in his team, because he's been clear about his goals and his target. What I am trying to grasp is simply that it happened, that hate trumped love, and that now we have to do the work on the ground to truly protect ourselves from a government that won't even pretend to protect us. What I'm trying to grasp is the ridiculous reaction by politicians to be tolerant of Donald Trump, to accept his message. The call to be understanding to Trump supporters when Trump is a rapist who also doesn't care for women, the call for love and unity when what we need is to call-out the ridiculousness of having someone so OPENLY sinister take the key to the most powerful imperialist country in the world.

Hell no. Like 2008 Green Party VP Candidate Rosa Clemente has said, I'm ready to be #ungovernable.

Michelle Alexander wrote the following message on Facebook last night:

"The truth is we are stumbling badly in large part because we are just beginning to learn to walk. Roughly 50 years ago, we still had an explicitly racist system of laws and government: a racial caste system. It was not a true democracy by any stretch. We still don’t have a real democracy. And we’ve managed to rebirth a new caste-like system in recent years, a new Jim Crow. In the words of William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

What many of us have been attempting to do — build a thriving multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-faith, egalitarian democracy out of the rubble of slavery and genocide — has never been achieved in the history of the world. Some say it can never be done.

Is America Possible?"
Like I said before, I'm really still trying to grasp it. I can't reconcile that there's that much hate brewing. Racism backed by capitalism is a truly strong driving force since the days when the first slaves were brought to the Americas to do forced labor.

 I wish anger could continue being my response, but I'm honestly saddened by everything. I feel despair. I remember always wondering when do revolutions happen: is it in times of difficulty or in times of some relief? And the assumption is always that it's in times of difficulty. I've heard thoughts sharing that maybe it's a good thing that Trump won, in order to galvanize the interest of those who haven't been involved in community organizing. I personally think it's horrible that he won, and with the normalizing of his presidency that's already happening like President Obama meeting with him and the aforementioned call for unity, also the media's complete shift from sensationalizing Trump to this weekend's cover on People magazine, I worry that people do let him govern, and that people don't come out to raise hell when his presidency is set to begin. I worry that the times of difficulty may not be so clear. That the masses will not be activated.

Yes, racism is real in America, I know that. And many blatant examples like the ongoing attack on the water protectors at Standing Rock, and the lack of accountability for the contamination of water in Flint, Michigan show that this racism is already legitimized by the state. But like I said before, to have people actively choose that hurts.

There's a Super Moon, a record breaking one, lighting up the sky tonight, decorating the beginning of the week. And I need her more than ever, I need her motivation more than ever. And I need to realize too that that actually does also come from within...we are our own moons. And like I mentioned, many have been here doing this work. But now it needs to be done harder, and at least in New York we can only brace ourselves to fight blatant racism on the hands now of civilians (as opposed to just NYPD); in a city where micro-aggressions have been normalized (and are often internalized), let's not allow the same to be said of macroaggressions.

This weekend I didn't do anything that I had set out to do in terms of work. I just partied at night and slept during the day. And it reminded me of the safe spaces we have carved out for ourselves like in queer spaces in Brooklyn, Dominican restaurants in Queens. I saw little girls dancing to music from central america, and my heart swelled with the need to protect them. This reminded me of why we fight, it reminded me of what there is to be lost, but also the need for liberation we have been fighting for that is still to be gained.

Community altar at Mystica Roots Farmraiser in Brooklyn, New York

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Afro-Latinidad and Redefining Resilience in the Latinx Community: A Speech

Lyrics are from Calle 13's song Latinoamérica. Mural found in Villa Soldati, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Recently, I was asked to give a speech at Dartmouth College's first Latinx Heritage Month Gala. That speech is below: 

The question that was posed to me before coming here was to speak about my work as an AfroLatina and tie it into the theme of Resilient Identities.

Not to sound cliché, but when I think of resilience I think of Tupac Shakur’s poem The Rose that Grew From Concrete.

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.”

When I think of resilience I actually think of burden- and the burden that so many of us carry as people of color, which forces us to have to be resilient- otherwise we will remain under the concrete.

When I think of resiliency I think of the fact that afrolatinx are alive and well in Latin America. That my curly hair and olive skin survived the trans-atlantic slave trade, and colonization and the constant messages from white supremacy that i have to

And so many parts of who I am. And who we are as the descendants of one of the worst crimes in humanity in Latin America.

But before I got to that understanding, a lot had to happen within myself and my own consciousness.

When I was a little girl growing up in the Dominican Republic, I remember someone called me “morenita”. And my response was “Yo no soy morenita, yo soy indiecita”. I’m not black, I’m indian. The myth of mestizaje and reclaiming of indigeneity to serve nationalist and independist purposes from previous centuries somehow managed to survive to the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when I already learned that to be black was a bad thing. And so I almost lived in this disconnected, outside of my body internalizing self-hatred and learning that the best things about me were those that were close to whiteness. And that is my experience as a light-skinned afrolatina, other afrolatinxs with darkskin cannot walk away from the stigma.

The afrodescendents of the Dominican Republic and many other Latin American countries experience this denial which others call self-denial of blackness, but I concur that it’s blackness denied by the state because blackness cannot exist without it being in direct resistance to what the state unfortunately continues to uphold: capitalism and white supremacy.

And while denial of blackness is one of the things that many speak of when speaking of AfroLatinxs, the truth is there is a denial of humanity and dignity tied to this as well. And this is what I mean by blackness being in direct resistance to the state.  Black people in latin america are some of the poorest across the continent- you have displacement happening in Afro-Colombian communities, chemical studies against people taking place in Puerto Rico, anti-Haitianism across the continent, and an unwillingness to name that racism is causing this—because of, again, the myth of mestizaje--that is that we are all somehow a joyous amalgamation of different races living together in harmony.

We’re not.

Because although there is a harmonious way in which sticks caress drums to the sound of the Spanish guitar to create salsa, and in the way in which rice and beans are so perfectly complimented by sweet plantains, the African-influence in these dishes and our music are practically invisible in the larger narrative of Latinidad. We don’t celebrate Afro-latinidad.

Although I was not consciously black and I embraced the Latina label, the reality is Latina never truly claimed me.

In one of many conversations at a Rutgers dorm during my undergraduate career, my friend told me something that explained why I wasn’t included in the Latina label and why this dislike of Dominicanness existed in Latinx culture: she told me that they don’t like us because a lot of Dominicans are black. And immediately it all clicked, it all made sense. Immediately I could see how the things disliked about Dominicans that I thought were tied to a culture of joy, a culture of resistance, a culture that embraces music and that speaks loudly with mouth wide open as if every word was the beginning of a song, were seen by others as loud, of low class, ugly, and essentially synonymous with a warped, negative view of blackness.

I immediately understood why Univision never had a Latina with hair like mine, or big natural kinky curls. Immediately I understood why when travelling, I related more to my Caribbean peers from non-Spanish speaking countries than white upper class Latinx exchange students who spoke my same language.

And this doesn’t only happen to Black latinxs, the truth is black and brown struggles are deeply tied.  

Within Latinidad, it is common to celebrate European Descendency as a way of othering from other people of color, and sometimes we celebrate indigenous heritage but only as a vehicle for achieving independence and hypernationalism, and only as a gimmick--like during el Dia de la Raza, known in the US as Columbus Day.

And the issue with that is that Latinidad is so much more than a myth of mestizaje. And that must be recognized in order to include the elderly man who is working selling paletas past what is deemed as regular retirement age—you can see him struggling in the streets to push his cart, the black Latina teacher making a difference in student’s lives by encouraging them to be their best, the little girl who is told she is Latina but she doesn’t see her afro or dark skin represented on the media, farm workers and laborers across the continent.

When we talk about resilience in the Latinx community, let’s include those people as well.

You see, people who are born with privilege, not living in poverty, don’t need to be resilient—they have connections, and if they’re white, they don’t have stereotypes or microagression attached to them, they are financially in a better place and from a young age go to schools with resources dedicated to putting them on a path to success –in special cases, they can easily get loans from their fathers and even pay their way into a presidential election.

I wrote in a blogpost years ago about my difficulties being a woman of color in journalism, about the many micro-aggressions I experienced as the only woman, sometimes the only person of color, sometimes both in spaces dominated by white men like behind the scenes of the journalism industry. About how I was tired of fighting so hard to find my place. I thought I had done everything right: I graduated from a good school, had a decent GPA, did two internships, spoke three languages fluently, worked in the school newspaper, RUTV, and radio station. And yet after graduating I found myself taking a job at a clothing store: a reality many millennials find themselves in. I found myself sleeping in my sister’s couch. I found myself barely making it and with shattered dreams realizing at that moment that the American Dream I thought of when riding back on a plane to the US at age 15 is a myth.

In September, renowned author Junot Diaz was one of the recipients of the 29th Hispanic Heritage Awards. During his speech he said, I quote, “Our community is the paragon of strength, of resilience, of creativity…We in the Latino community are among the greatest heroes our world has known. And yet despite all we do and all we are, we find ourselves attacked and demonized and endangered. Not just in this country, either. All over the world communities like ours are under assault.” End quote.

When I came back to the United States, and I say “back” because I was born here but left at the young age of three, I wanted to believe that working hard was enough, that fighting was enough. I wanted to believe that just being positive was enough. Because believing that, is often easier than accepting that our community is under assault. And it wasn’t until my own graduation, when my dreams were shattered and the myth that places the United States as the home of freedom and equal opportunity for all fell apart, that I was able to see the inequalities surrounding us.

I bring this up to say that I ended up getting into the work that I do as Radical Latina because I was hurting. I started writing about this pain, I started getting into community organizing, I started voicing these concerns, and seeking to put a dent in this narrative from the perspective of a millennial Afro-Latina from the Caribbean and a 1st generation college graduate.

And now, there’s many ways in which pain is romanticized and resiliency romanticized with it—quotes that say you must hit rock bottom to go up, or we can only be made stronger through suffering and hardships. And while some of these may be true for many, for people of color there is no choice. If you want to get ahead, you have to be resilient. If your family is already in a good place, it’s because someone in the past was resilient. You have to work twice as hard, you have to get through hoops, sometimes you have to assimilate—and if you spend enough time in spaces away from home you actually do change and have to fight to stay true to your roots.

So I invite us all to redefine resiliency.

I have been thinking about my grandmother a lot. She passed away in 2012, the night after I graduated from Rutgers University with my undergraduate degree.

I think of all the questions I should’ve and could’ve asked, of all the stories I didn’t hear.

Lately, she’s been showing up in my poetry too.

There’s this saying that everyone in Latin America, particularly Caribbean countries has a black grandmother, like you’re not black pero “y tu abuela”.

For many of us, we might have darker skin than our grandmothers, or share her skin complexion like I do.

And yet still when I think of my grandmother, I can’t think of a better example of someone who was black though she herself might not have been aware of it—I guess it’s a question I’ll never know the answer to.

My grandmother spoke English as if her tongue was a machete slicing through centuries of English and Spanish colonialism. She renamed a lot of stores like Chorai instead of Shop Rite. Pajmai instead of pathmark. And she would smoke a cigar every night, something that I learned recently at least in Cuba was tied to indigeneity.

And when I think of resilience, no better example comes to mind than her. You see, there’s the example of the rose that grows from concrete—and usually for those examples we think of college graduates, we think of first generation doctors, lawyers, we think of the one who managed to own property. We think of those who get out of the hood.

But there are people like my grandmother who were roses too.  And tonight I want to direct my attention to those people, those black and brown folks who find themselves excluded from Latinidad, the ones in struggle, the ones who are undeniably black and know it, the ones who might not be aware of their blackness and yet are unapologetically black in their actions and words and culture and music and dance and sometimes even their politics. I want to direct my attention to all people of color from Latin America, the ones not in this space, the señora selling mango with chili by my job in Union Square, the single mother collecting food stamps who’s image is used by conservatives as a way of perpetuating negatives stereotypes against us, yet she is in many ways the backbone of our communities.

Resilience is in us because it must be.

And tonight I want to celebrate the resilience that exists simply because it can, even in the moments where we are okay, even in the moments where a payment was made on time and we get into the school of our choice and dad gets out of work early. The resilience that should be there, the one that we should be fighting for—I want to celebrate the resilience that comes from within and the fire that exists in us because we are a people who not only excel in difficulties but also celebrate life so powerfully and magestically. Like the elderly man who sold paletas, his name is Fidencio Sanchez, and he had an indiegogo for him that raised over $300,000 and he has decided to share that with others. Like Nadia Lopez, an afrolatina educator making huge strides as the principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy—instead of suspending her students, Lopez brings them into her office and motivates them to keep going. Like Sulma Arzu-Brown, a garifuna woman from Honduras who wrote a bilingual book called “Pelo Malo No Existe”, “Bad Hair Does No Exist”, for her two daughters to read. Like Mama Tingó, a guerrera who fought for land workers in the Dominican Republic. Like my grandmother who fed everyone every night in her home, and who would caress me softly while singing as she put me to sleep.

As we continue pushing for our community to be free of the shackles of residues and left overs of colonization, let these moments be the main course—let this loving resilience be what helps us heal, let this resilience lead us in the path towards a better future and liberation. Let the resilience of the kind that must exist so that we can survive have no need in our lives anymore.

Thank you.
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