Click here to go to the Home Page "Nationality" or "Race" Which is the Trump Card? - By Dr. Carlos E. Russell, PhD - Guest Commentator

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Over the past few years I have written a number of open letters to “Mis Paisanos y Paisanas.” In all honesty most of them, if not all, have been directed to those of “African Ancestry.” BC Question: What will it take to bring Obama home?To be more specific they were addressed to those Panamanians whose forefathers journeyed to Panama for the construction of the railroad (mostly Jamaicans) and the canal.

I make this “distinction” - even though accurately there is none - because I have heard some of my brothers and sisters proclaim that they are not “Africans.” When this I hear, I have often cringed and muttered softly- generally to myself- especially if I do not want to engage in any prolonged non-productive verbal fisticuffs: “How ignorant!” I say.” Condemned are they to eternal servitude to the sons and daughters of those who enslaved, abused and maligned our people.” Ignorance is rarely bliss!

This piece, thanks to this publication, is in lieu of another letter.

As in my previous writings I make the following statement which is made not as an apology but for ideological specificity and to clearly position myself in the debate of “Who are we?” Nothing else!

Note, then, that I write from the position of one who defines himself as an “African” whose forefathers were enslaved, brought in chains to the Caribbean islands where they were subdued and their past knowledge of selves were obliterated as they were indoctrinated into a European value system. They gave birth to my great-great grandparents and who in turn gave birth to my great grandparents whose son and daughter came to Panama where I was born and raised. I became a “man” on the teeming streets of Chicago and of Brooklyn where I learned who I am and where I believe that we, as a people, ideologically speaking, need to be. We are an African people! Anything I say or write comes from that perspective. As they say in Spanish “Punto!”

Recently there has been much talk of us being “Afro-Latinos”. While, in my view, this is an expression that recognizes our “African” heritage I am concerned that it could be - operative words “could be” - used, if we are not collectively very, very careful, as an instrument of fragmentation of any movement towards the development of African Diasporan Solidarity. Here is my concern: If one defines as “Latinos” anyone who first saw light in what is a “Latino” county then all “black people” born under such circumstances are “Latinos”. If however, the notion is promoted and promulgated that as such their interests as a people is different from other people of African ancestry born elsewhere since they are of a different “nationality” then Garvey’s concept of “One Race, One Destiny” is fractured. I agree with Garvey’s dictum.

I make this point because from my perspective, too many of our “paisanos/as” of dark hue - as happened in the last Panamanian census - suffer from the “Yo no soy Africano … soy Panameno” syndrome, failing to recognize that they are indeed “both.” Sadly, many do so as a means of denying their blackness and their Caribbean ancestral connection. They may dance the tamborito or wear a mean montuno hat or a pollera at every national celebration, as they generally do, but as Felipe Luciano formerly of the Last Poets, the Young Lords and yes, a former student of mine, warns us in his opening remarks on “You Tube” before the reading of his poem “Jibaro… My pretty Nigger,” which I strongly suggest you try to see. I will paraphrase his opening remarks:

“There is a movement afoot to divide two nations … Blacks and Latinos… on the basis of language… be careful…. There is no difference between Buford South Carolina and Ponce Puerto Rico… Mambo is Black, Merengue is Black, Flamenco is Black, R&B is Black … be careful.”

It is that movement that concerns me. We cannot let them divide us. Some may ask “what is Carlos talking about?... That is not really important.” Others may simply say: “It does not matter what they call themselves as long as they do what needs to be done.” To me it does matter! Here is an example. Given the demographic shift here in New York City, new political lines are being re-drawn. These are the lines from which political “leaders” are elected. As this is being written - the lines have not yet been drawn - there is much discussion of carving up Brooklyn into a seat for Latinos, a seat for African-American, a seat for Caribbean people, and a seat for Haitians. If we assume that lines so drawn does, in effect, produce a “Latino” leader; an “African-American” leader; a Caribbean “leader” and a Haitian “leader,” with each vying to meet the needs of his or her “constituency” then the collective strength that we politically could have is fragmented, if not decimated. One’s “Latino” roots, “African-American” roots, “Caribbean” roots or “Haitian” roots will take precedence over the commonality of our “Africaness.”

It seems to me that some of us may be suffering from selective amnesia and have “forgotten” that one of the “tricks” that has been played on us, as a people, by the European is the historical “divide and conquer” rule for retaining economic power and control. Whenever they, the Europeans, are in the minority, but still wield the derivative powers of their forefathers, they attempt, often with great success, to split the majority. They act as if the playing field is level; believe me, it is not! From our arrival in the Americas they have held the reins of power. It is they who have ruled and controlled the nations where once the Native Americans lived with dignity and often in peace; developed civilizations e.g. The Mohawks, the Seneca, the Mayas, the Incas, the Aztecs and those “native nations” that existed on the Isthmus of Panama to name only a few. Today, they are decimated and relegated to “reservations” and “Comarcas” by the European and their offspring whether pure or hybrid.

Tragically, people of African ancestry have also been marginalized and relegated to urban ghettoes such as the “arrabales” in many of our alleged “Latino” nations.

Please understand, as I said at the offset, the concept of Afro-Latino, by definition, recognizes one’s African heritage and it is one that I can fully embrace, but I am fearful that the “Latino” portion of the ideological construct could take primacy over the “African” and could be become preeminent, the rallying point of a movement that could place “nationality” over race. If however those at the forefront of the “Afro-Latino” movement fully recognize the symbiotic relationship and nature between the “African” and the “Latino” elements that comprise the ideological construct then, as we said in the 60s and 70s “Straight ahead” or in Spanish “Pa’lante”

From my perspective we need to develop an “African Diasporan Solidarity Movement,” one that is founded on Garvey’s concept of “One Race one Destiny.” It should be one that recognizes, respects and responds to the reality of the many elements that comprises the African Diaspora without sacrificing our heritage for the “safety” of the nation where we may have been born. Without exception, in all those nations where Africans were born, - this includes the U.S.A. and Spain and all of the European nations - those who sit at the pinnacle of power and continue to wield its baton are Europeans or of European extraction. Sadly, their social, economic, and cultural institutions are still racist in nature. If they were not so, there would not be a need of a movement of any kind. As I write these words a thought came to mind which caused me to smile. Trinidadians have a saying “Trini to the bone.” The nations in which we live are still, in my opinion. “Racist to the bone.”

Finally, the African Diasporan Solidarity Movement” would have as its primary mission the political, economic, social, and cultural transformation of those nations wherein we reside who continue with their present modus operandi. It would raise its collective voice and use its economic and human resources in the pursuit, defense and maintenance of the interests of all those movements that adhere to the principle of “one race one destiny” and functionally accept the centrality of being African, whether they speak English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese or German and yes, even Russian and Chinese.

Within the movement there will be disagreements and perhaps contradictions. However, I believe that if we believe as Dr. John Henrik Clarke once said and I paraphrase, “The role of the African academic and intellectual (I add socio-political activists) is to keep African people on the Planet,” then these differences and even contradictions could be resolved. Our mission is to avoid re-enslavement, whether physical or psychological and to create, if possible, what Dr. King called “A Beloved Community.” To achieve this we must have the necessary power to reach that end, as Malcolm once said, “By any means necessary” for as Frederick Douglass, the Black abolitionist, told us so many years ago, “Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will… Without struggle there is no progress.”

For me Race trumps nationality! Guest Commentator, Carlos E. Russell, PhD is Professor Emeritus C.U.N.Y. - Brooklyn College. In the sixties, he served as an Associate Editor of the Liberator magazine. As such, he was one of the first to interview Malcolm X after he left the Nation. He is best remembered as the founder of Black Solidarity Day in New York in 1969 and as the Chair of the Black Caucus of the Conference on New Politics in 1967. In addition, he was a consultant to Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. during the planning for the Poor Peoples March. Excerpts of his participation can be seen in Citizen King and Eyes on the Prize (PBS Mini Series Boxed Set). Born in the Republic of Panama he has served as that country's representative to the U.N and the O.A.S. with the rank of Ambassador. He has also served as the nightly host ofThinking it Through” a talk show that was aired on WLIB in New York. He is a playwright and poet as well. Click here to contact Dr. Russell.

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June 2, 2011 - Issue 429
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