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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
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

“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.

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

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