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Neither Enemies Nor Friends

Neither Enemies Nor Friends
New book explores relationships among Latinos, Blacks and Afro-Latinos
By Dina M. Horwedel

Neither Enemies Nor Friends
Latinos, Blacks, Afro-Latinos
Edited by Anani Dzidzienyo and Suzanne Oboler
Palgrave Macmillan, April 2005
336 pp., 1-4039-6567-6: $79.95 hardcover;
1-4039-6568-4: $24.95 paperback

In Neither Enemies Nor Friends: Latinos, Blacks, Afro-Latinos, the 15 contributing authors explore relationships between Blacks, Latinos and Afro-Latinos, and point out both the striking similarities and differences in the racial politics of the Americas — North, Central and South — and the Caribbean.

Those ethnic groups have been a hot topic in news reports since the 2000 U.S. Census revealed that Latinos had become the largest minority in the United States. But the book’s editors, Drs. Anani Dzidzienyo and Suzanne Oboler, say the media and the government are missing the point when they focus on numbers rather than relationships.

“Our objective was to show [that] we need to stop demonizing or idealizing parts of the Americas,” says Dzidzienyo, an associate professor of Africana studies and Portuguese and Brazilian studies
at Brown University. “By looking specifically at the history and practices of each country, as well as what happens when immigrants migrate from South to North, we see that it is almost impossible to separate race and class.”

“In the U.S., there is the myth of social mobility,” says Oboler, an associate professor of Latin American and Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the founding editor of the academic journal, Latino Studies. “There is so much fluidity, it is impossible to talk about class here, but race is an issue. [Hurricane] Katrina is an example of this. One reason we can focus on class so totally in Latin America is there is more of a caste system entrenched there and much less social mobility.”

Many of the contributing authors of Neither Enemies Nor Friends deny that racism exists in the Southern hemisphere. In Latin America, the official policies include “mestizaje”—“Whitening,” or mixing the races. One exception is in the southern cone of South America, where the celebration of Whiteness has been more prevalent. Race as an aspect of social difference has been neglected, however, while people and governments emphasize gender and class as the reasons for discrimination.

“Family background, who you are, and where you come from” are cited as more important than race, Oboler says. The argument “We are all Peruvians here” is an example of the way the question of race is treated in South America.

Dzidzienyo notes in his essay that Blackness remains largely undefined and unacknowledged, even in Brazil, one of the most ethnically diverse countries in South America. He points to a landmark census that provided  solid evidence of racial discrimination, countering a long-held argument that the practice didn’t exist in the country. Yet Brazilians remain suspicious of the policy of affirmative action to remedy discrimination, largely because the policy is a U.S. concept.

There is a sharp contrast between the historical racial philosophies of North and South America, say the editors. In the United States, they argue, race is the first component of identity. Interracial intimacy was illegal in the southern United States, Jim Crow laws firmly segregated the races and the “one-drop rule” — as in one drop of Black blood makes one Black — governed legal and social relations.

As Dzidzienyo says, in North America, “ultimately what I look like is going to factor in to how I am treated. The Whiter you are, the better it is.

“After the abolition of slavery, no other country institutionalized the separation of races with the law as did the U.S.,” he adds. But “because the law was used to stigmatize and at the same time the law was operational, groups could go to the law from time to time to challenge and correct disadvantages,” he says.

This is in contrast to the Southern hemisphere, as indicated in Carlos de la Torre’s essay on Afro-Ecuadorian responses to racism. Like most Latin American nations, Ecuador has no rule of law regarding race, and common people do not have civil rights. As a result, the law does not provide equality, “nor does it give stability and regularity to relationships among citizens and between citizens and the state,” de la Torre writes. The consequence then, according to de la Torre, is that the privileged use laws for their convenience while the poor and non-White perceive the law as an instrument of oppression.

Oboler notes that prior to the Great Society programs of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the concept of Hispanic or Latino was unknown in the United States. In the implementation of those programs, the government divided the population into four racial and ethnic categories and then had to count them to determine how the racial equality laws were being implemented and enforced. During this era, says Oboler, Chicanos and Puerto Ricans banded together to build a political coalition despite their distinctly different historical, political and social backgrounds “to create alliances and struggle for social justice.” She also notes that they did not choose to call themselves Hispanic, but rather were lumped into this category.

Taking that logic one step further, the authors of the volume note that interesting things happen when Blacks from Latin American countries immigrate to the United States.

“In the U.S., when someone meets a Black person, their initial response is not to ask if the person is from Africa; the English-speaking Caribbean; Haiti, which came to its own independence as a Black nation in 1804; or from Biloxi, Miss.,” Dzidzienyo says, adding that the inference is merely that the person is Black. “Put all of these people together and there is a powerful opportunity for understanding and misunderstanding.”

For example, if a Black Mexican immigrates to the United States and learns English quickly, he or she could assimilate into the Black American community and may therefore not be targeted as Mexican. This may create tension within the Mexican community, and, as a result, the person immigrating has to negotiate their culture as well as the context of their new home.

The authors also ask whether Hispanics who see themselves as White will accommodate Afro-Latinos and include them as their equals, or whether this process will lead to the development of a distinct Black Hispanic identity.

“With this book we are trying to get readers to go beyond the myths and perceive that common citizenship is much more possible for us, but not before we get beyond the fault lines of race. [The book] is about politics, alliances and creating possibilities for everyone,” Oboler says.

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