Learning from History: History is a tool for effective organizing. Understanding the lessons of history allows us to create a more humane future.
Image Credit: Emmett Wigglesworth, Photographed by Anton Kerklua Photography
Living Cities' has been on a journey to understand what it looks like to operationalize the PISAB anti-racist principle: learning from history.
In our Employee Resource Groups, we've grounded many of our conversations in the the principle of "learning from history."
The ideologies used to justify the enslavement and servitude of Black and indigenous people in service of Colonialism are ever-lasting.
Mestizaje is a narrative built on the colonial assumption and belief of Spanish/white supremacy and Black inferiority based upon a caste system that was designed and upheld by the Spanish in Spain and in all Spanish colonies in present-day Latin America. This narrative has led many to believe that all Latinx people of the world are those who are "mixed blood" particularly Spanish descent. Although the indigenous people of Latin America were enslaved and seen as inferior in the height of colonization, Indigeneity continued to be weaponized to further cement the Anti-Blackness rooted in the narratives that were being carefully crafted and are present in the current day narratives of who "Latinx" people are.
This same narrative purposely excludes Africans from nationhood, and obliterates African and Black contributions to Latin Americans history. The institutional denial of Black legitimacy influences the citizen’s conception of Blackness as undesirable for upward mobility and unworthy of respect, which over time and through generations, has resulted in internalized conceptions of Blackness as inferior, while Whiteness, is seen as superior.
Mestizaje: “racial mixture”; a political ideology that recognizes the racial mixture between indio and blanco in Latin American countries. Built off on the colonial assumption of Spanish/white supremacy and black inferiority, claims of colorblindness and racial equality obscure the presence of racism and racial discrimination.
Source: Afro-Latinx Podcast/ Episode 1
Before 1970, the US Census Bureau classified Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants as white. Each community of Latin American origin would go by their nationality and by the region where they lived in the United States. In the seventies, activists began lobbying the US Census Bureau to create a broad, national category that included all these communities. The result was the creation of the term “Hispanic”, first introduced in the US Census in 1970.
Source: The Invention of Hispanics
This new ethnic label also increased desire to assimilate into American culture to make life as Americans easier. This further advanced the myth of the monolith or mestizaje because many "Hispanics" or Latinx people quickly learned that aligning themselves with whiteness in America would benefit them. This further advanced the narrative of what Latinx people look like and who they are.
Source: The Making of a People
Photo: ROBERT NEUBECKER for LA Times
Latinx people comprise different demographics that vary along the lines of race, class, political histories, region, and more. Latinx identity is also a political construct, because it is only in relation to the historical marginalization of peoples of Latin American backgrounds in the U.S. that ethnic categories and identities such as Hispanic, Latino, and, now, Latinx have had any social and political currency. Grouping together all Spanish-speaking people—is a mischaracterization that ignores differences of race, class, language and other issues that are at the heart of Latinx people's identities and political beliefs.
Latinx is not a race, but is made up of groups who have different racial and ethnic backgrounds and have different experiences with racism.
“Philanthropy is commendable,” said Martin Luther King, “but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice, which make philanthropy necessary.”
A framework rooted in charity alone ignores past realities and narratives that have forced communities into oppressive situations, and risks reinforcing givers’ lack of understanding with rewards that recognize their benevolence.
The field should seek to reclaim charitable giving by supporting practices that liberate—and that change the attitudes, beliefs, and policies of—society as a whole. It should seek to break down longstanding, intentional, institutional practices and narratives that have shaped social divides in the United States and that continue to promote inequality today.
Philanthropy has a responsibility to reframe their giving strategies and the stories they tell about the communities they serve.
This might look like:
- Disrupting Grantee/Grantor Relationships
- Empower communities to tell their own stories and shape their narrative
- Commit to shifting the narrative and stories about the communities you're serving and the impact you're making by asking questions like:
- In what ways is your organization upholding colonial, extractive, and exploitative practices?
- How can you, as a gatekeeper of resources, in the choices you make, minimizing the inherent power imbalance in the grantee/grantor relationship?
- Are your strategies and measures of "impact" rooted in culturally congruent approaches?
Resources from Living Cities work:
Image Credit: Rommy Torrico