I ask myself most days how cruel the world can be.
As much as I try to maintain hope that a better world is possible, many days test my faith and my belief that there will be justice for those who need it.
I bring this up now as a response to two recent incidents of violence that add to the ongoing pain that Black and Muslim communities are currently facing. One is the recent acquittal of Officer Jeronimo Yanez in the murder of Philando Castile and the other is the murder of seventeen-year-old Nabra Hassanen by Darwin Martinez Torres, outside of a mosque in Virginia.
In both Castile’s and Hassanen’s cases, the perpetrators of violence were not white; both were of Latinx origin. While this may seem trivial in light of the more pressing details of violence (and assault in Hassanen’s case) that occurred, I think it merits asking what this means for non-black Latinx individuals and communities acting in support of Black and Muslim communities.
From a more personal standpoint, what does this mean for my own, and by extension my communities’, complicity in Hassanen and Castile’s deaths?
To be clear, I am not suggesting that I and every other non-black Latinx person should feel guilt about these deaths, as I believe guilt is an incredibly selfish emotion the majority of the time--more often than not guilt is a re-centering of one’s own feelings in place of those most affected by direct actions.
Rather, I want to interrogate the social conditions already in place in Latinx communities that have allowed us to believe Black and Muslim death are necessary parts of our lives.
Having grown up as Chicano (and now Chicana) and Bolivian my entire life, I can speak quite proudly of my background; despite my difficulties with accepting my own brownness throughout my life, I have grown to love it as much as I love my friends and community. Throughout college and the years following it, I have found a place for myself among my communities’ histories of struggle, particularly with brown women who have carried whole movements on their backs. In recent years, I have even been blessed to see many fellow brown women push for needed change in their own communities, often without ever receiving that love in return. For all their love and tireless efforts I will forever be grateful and would never seek to diminish the importance of their work. However, I cannot shy away from speaking on the unpleasant realities of these communities as well. As much as I know Latinx communities can unite to fight against waves of violence directed at them (such as the Obama administration’s deportation policies or the general onslaught of hatred which the Trump administration has unleashed) I can’t help but notice an unnerving silence on several issues:
Such practices remain part and parcel of our communities and have helped form the groundwork for Yanez and Torres taking it upon themselves to disregard Castile and Hassanen’s humanity.
Not a single day has gone by where I haven’t spoken on the need to confront white supremacy in both interpersonal and structural contexts. Ableism, Islamophobia, transmisogyny, classism. These are all things which, at this point in my life, are relatively simple to talk about with white friends and colleagues, regardless of whether the conversations prove uncomfortable.
However, I must confess a difficulty at times with holding my own communities to that same standard. I love my brown/Latinx community, both for its stories of struggle that have inspired me to keep fighting and the love it has shown me throughout recent years. But I can’t hide my disappointment with the misogyny I have seen directed to my fellow brown women. I can’t hide my frustration with the ableism and queerphobia so many, including some of my family, have taken part in.
My conscience cannot be at peace if I remain silent on the violence which members of my community have inflicted on other marginalized communities.
To remain silent on the harm we in Latinx communities continue to inflict on black communities as a whole is to remain complicit in their continued suffering, regardless of how many white people we call out in our spare time and organizing. We can do better. Hassanen and Castile deserved better.
It heartens me to see that people such as Mijente’s Marisa Franco are calling for Latinx folk to actively undo the anti-blackness that allowed Officer Yanez to murder Philando Castile.
It gives me hope to see that several friends have taken to social media and called for our Latinx community to be more proactive in supporting our fellow Black and Muslim communities.
These are signs that people are learning to reject the anti-blackness that has haunted our communities for decades, turning from complicit violence to active solidarity.
But this cannot be the end of the story. Noble words are a good start but, if Black lives (and all the other aspects of identity that compose them) are to matter, Latinx must take action to make that slogan come alive, not say it to avoid future accountability.
Because if we care to speak out against injustice when it is directed at our communities, we must also be willing to speak out when it affects the Black and Muslim members of our communities. Otherwise, we will continue to oppress the Afro-Latinx and Muslim Latinx who rightfully belong to our Latinx family as well.
In actuality, I do know how cruel the world, or at least the United States of America, can be. America possesses the cruelty to rob countless families of their children, to treat Black anger as “a luxury,” afforded only to those who avoid the violence of the police. America asks Black mothers to carry burdens that no parent should ever bear. America asks mothers like Valerie Castile to be “dignified,” holding to some phony air of calm that she should, and does, rightfully reject in anger. America asks us, the Latinx community, to believe any fear of Philando Castile and Nabra Hassanen is justified so long as we accept them as un-American, as undeserving of humanity. It asks us to believe the burden of drawing attention to these murders, of seeking reform when justice does not come judicially, should be the work of their families alone.
This can no longer be the case.
This must no longer be the case.
Black lives (and all the intersections which comprise them) matter. This is obvious.
It is time for brown complicity to be laid to rest. And for non-black Latinx to help make this slogan a reality.