As crisis in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico continue to manifest in the wake of several hurricanes, our Blackness and understanding of it in America, and globally is now being put to the test. This test, of whether as a diaspora of Black folk who have been spread far and wide, are ready to combat the original sins of the Americas which turned us from one family, to distant relatives several times removed.
Our current understanding of Blackness and what it should encompass was stolen from us; turned into an alt-history tale built on our differences rather than our intersections.
The African Diaspora is a term coined in the 1990s that explains how Black people were enslaved from Africa and displaced in over 15 different areas across the globe including Brazil, the United States, and Haiti between 1500s and 1900s. This displacement creating intersections of Black people and native people; extending Blackness throughout the world and many nations which aided in the failed understanding of our connectedness.
Unfortunately, global anti-Blackness has lent a hand in this failed understanding of how Blacks view other Blacks with unshared ethnicities and cultures; pitting us against one another as foreigners, erasing our shared origin of existence.
The crisis in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands shouldn’t have been my wake-up call to an existence where I didn’t fully understand the intersections of my Blackness, yet here we are. As we have watched the destruction of these islands and territories, many of us have failed to recognize the anti-Blackness that is going into the lacking recovery efforts for these citizens. Citizens, who are part of the diaspora and therefore included in the narrative of shared Blackness that many of us should be fighting for.
As African Americans, our plight is hard and often vacuumed into the issues we have been fighting against in America for 400-plus years, leaving us little room for concern for people we have always been taught to treat as different from us.
Anti-Blackness is a global issue, and in America as much as many of us fight against it, we are also conditioned to play a major role in supporting it. The most recent issues come in the form of a divide between African Americans and the Latinx community. From topics, as large as racial injustice, and as less magnified as Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone, our understanding of how Blackness and Latinx intersect has become more apparent as our oppression is becoming more shared. Even more recent, the arguments of Cardi B being a Black woman vs. being a Latina women have flared dissension amongst us; many failing to understand that both can exist together and separately, with her intersections giving her a justifiable right to own her Blackness.
I’ve played a role in the flat understandings of colorism, reduced nuance around Afro-Latinx, and the poor understanding of how one can own their Blackness. At times, African Americans have a way of determining what Blackness is for others, and what checkboxes are necessary for one to be able to claim it. However, much of this thinking was based on how we were conditioned and colonized into a structure of white imperialism, which we in turn used to create our own hierarchal structures within the Black community. These recent events, which have brought the views of anti-Blackness to the forefront of global conversations make it that much more necessary that we, as Black folk begin understanding our shared origins.
This burden, however, isn’t just on the shoulders of African Americans. Global anti-Blackness is a problem and the views on us as descendants of slaves haven’t always been seen as favorable in the eyes of other Black folks from various nations. African-American oppression runs deep in this country and the views of us as having it better than, are often misguided and unfounded to the true oppression we face.
As the race in this country with the most marginalized person—the Black trans woman whose life expectancy is 35—we justifiably have a plight that needs be recognized and protected by those who share in Blackness globally. Many nations of Black folks have deemed it us vs. them, and turned a blind eye to our oppression; quick to separate the African American from the African. A disservice to all who share in the origin of our existence.
Blackness as we know needs a reset. Globally, we all need to understand that division of our ancestry was not of our own doing, and unlearn the taught behaviors to view the qualification of Blackness based on our differences; these differences including skin color, language, country of origin. As Black folk globally, we need to take back the ownership of the origin that was stolen from many us and be willing to learn, appreciate, and find the commonalities we all share, rather than be divisive in our differences. This understanding being inclusive of the conditioning many of us have faced due to American culture, which was forced through assimilation of whiteness, and not at the denial of our shared Blackness.
These differences, which make us view the Latinx community as “other” rather than our brothers and sisters in the fight against anti-Blackness we all are facing. Our shared origins have to be more than “we all started from a Black woman.” It’s time we all started to live that notion, and fight against the internalized anti-Blackness that has kept us apart for so long.
We all need to take time and unlearn the alt-history we have been forced to accept as our own for far too long. The pain of the Latinx, Afro-Latinx, and Afro-Caribbean, must become one recognizable as our own. It’s time we stopped fighting over the ownership of Blackness, and learn to take power back in an origin we all share.
George M. Johnson is the Managing Editor of BroadwayBlack.com. He has written for Ebony, TheGrio, TeenVogue, NBC News and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram