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“Brown Power”: Like Desert For Chocolate May 19, 2010

"African Tsunami" political cartoon by Alfredo Sabat of Argentina- won first prize in the United Nations Correspondent’s Association Ranan Lurie Political Cartoon Award 2006.

Such definitions as African American, Latino, Native American, Mexican American, Asian American, Hispanic- all encompass the multi-layered, mega population of America’s minorities. I failed to include women and gays because I’ve often been corrected and told the politically appropriate phrasing is: “women, gays and minorities”.
However you choose to characterize those who are not of white and men, minorities are all underdogs.

We are not the majority.

We are not privileged.

Please understand, I do not agree with the aforementioned reasoning but there are many who invest quite heavily into identity victims especially when it concerns people who are ethnically diverse and the politicians who claim they want to rescue them.

This Arizona controversy has many African Americans in the state of flux.  I am experiencing two responses.  Some blacks are ready to fight against the alleged racial profiling contained in the Arizona immigration reform law.  Others are unapologetic and rather apathetic concerning the fate of illegal immigrants.

“They are taking jobs from us,”  said one African American acquaintance of mine. “They outnumber us now and really many of them are just as racists as whites.”

Should African Americans be concerned about the Arizona law which enforces our federal law to protect its borders and clamp down on illegal immigration?

From this article in the Black Agenda Report:

Revisiting the Immigration Reform Debate: An African American Perspective
by Dr. Ron Daniels
Black Power will necessarily be affected by Brown Power.”
The anti-immigration law passed by the Arizona legislature, which essentially legalizes racial profiling of Latinos, has reignited the national debate over what to do about millions of undocumented people, the vast majority of whom entered through America’s porous southwestern borders. Despite the progressive stance of African American civil rights/human rights and political leaders on this issue, if you tune in to Black talk radio, one gets a sense that large numbers of Blacks are intensely opposed to granting legal status to the undocumented. This is an interesting phenomenon because in general Black people tend to advocate for the oppressed, particularly people of color. In this instance there appears to be a disconnect between Black leaders and a substantial segment of their constituency. I suspect this is because, in the legitimate quest to remain the “conscience of the nation” on matters of injustice to human beings, Black leaders reflexively and to a degree uncritically embrace a pro-legalization stance for the undocumented. The problem with this posture is that it does not take into account the serious concerns expressed by many Blacks on this complex issue.

For the record, I am absolutely in favor of fair, equitable and just immigration reform. And, as Africans in America, we certainly cannot accept the racial, ethnic or religious profiling of any group under any circumstances. So, I am totally opposed to the Arizona law – which should be rescinded or repealed immediately.

La Gran Tenochtitlán, 1945, Palacio Nacional, Mexico City by Diego Rivera

You see, I am not certain that I agree with Dr. Daniels.   I do not have a problem with the Arizona law because it only enforces what is already allowed by federal law.  If you are stopped for let’s say a traffic violation, even if you were a Caucasian, you would have to show some proof of identification.  Arizona is having huge problems with the lack of border security, I find it reasonable that the state is asserting its right to alleviate the problem.

Also, what is this “brown power”?  I assume that Dr. Daniels is referring to blacks and Latinos.  Are Middle Easterners included in the “brown power” movement?

Dr. Daniels continues:

...Despite the successes of the Black freedom struggle, large numbers of Black people are still confined to the bottom rungs of the social-economic ladder. In large measure this is because racism is alive and well — and Blacks are the least preferred people of color minority in this country. “If you’re White, you’re alright, Yellow mellow, Brown stick around but Black get back” is still a reality when it comes to the struggle for opportunity in this country. Therefore, Blacks are understandably nervous about anything that threatens to undermine our fragile social-economic and political gains, particularly when vast numbers of our people are still locked out and left out. To suggest that somehow millions of undocumented people have no impact on the social-economic and political standing of African Americans runs counter to what millions of our people see and experience in their daily lives.

Hmmm, do African Americans feel threatened by Latinos?

Why should we be? Aren’t we all on Underdog Island, Brown Island, Minority Island?

Or are Americans feeling threatened by people who are not Americans exhausting our resources?

Liberals believe that minority status is tracked back to antecedents of any American wrong doing canonized as exploitation of those who are somehow lesser than. Images of slave ships, shackles, internment camps, women’s suffrage, five and dime counter sit-ins, migrant workers all follow the American cookie cutter of the downtrodden minority figure.

Michael Tropea/National Museum of Mexican Art

But does one size necessarily fit all when it comes the the liberal victim caste system?

At a fairly young age I learned the answer.

When I was nine-years old, I was living in the North Lawndale section of Chicago.  My Catholic school was entirely African American as far as the students were concerned. Little fourth grade brown legs with knees barely covered by plaid skirts bought during the third grade.

The nuns and priests were all white. Old, wrinkled and white.  We all made quite a meeting of the minds.  Nubby pink hands twisting our black cheeks whenever we stepped out of line.  At times the nuns could be sort of maternalistic;  sparring the rod if they saw that your legs were covered in scabs from a whooping you received at home.

Those women in habits who swore there lives to God, were mostly of Czechoslovakian and Polish descent.  Sister Mary Ann who had been at the convent since the neighborhood was predominantly a Jewish ghetto,  and now since the mid 1950’s a black ghetto swayed back and forth from disdain to tolerance for her black students.  But if you were of the lighter persuasion say like my classmate Paulina, then Sister Mary Ann liked you.

Paulina was Mexican and the only person in my class who was not black.  All of the boys crushed on her.  They would chase her around the school yard just to grab at her long thick ponytails.  We, the common brown girls, were terribly jealous of her.

“Her face is not that pretty,” we would whisper during mass as Paulina giggled and squealed.

She passed notes back and forth with drooling little wolves like Thomas White that I had a terrible crush on. The nuns never caught Paulina.  She could do no wrong. If it were one of us, we would be in the corner faster than you can say teacher’s pet.

I became obsessed with the transfer from Immaculate.  This was my turf since the first grade. I was at the top of the class academically and Paulina was at the bottom.  So why does Tommy like her? He once walked me home faithfully everyday.  He would even take the long way when he could have chosen a shortcut through the vacant lots. Now he won’t  save his seat for me during lunch and ignores me.  What gives?

“She is not black.”  See I could always count on my mother to give me a great biased answer. “Black boys like white women anytime they can get one.”

“But she is not white. She is Spanish and lives on 26th street,” I corrected mother. ” She is like us – not a white person.”

“But she will be treated like a white person before you will ever be.”  she warned. ” The closer you look like a white person, the more you will be able to pretend to be one of them. “

"Portrait of Mrs. Natasha Gelman" by Diego Rivera, 1943

Great, I am doomed, I thought.  My hair was not straight like Paulina’s.  I had nothing going for myself except my good grades. That is the only reason why the nuns did not hit me as much as the others, because I did my best in school and won competitions.  Despite my brains, I am still gonna be alone when I grow up with no man in the house like my mother. All because I am not light-skinned. Oh no.

“Just like Lena Horn,”  Miss Mother lectured. ” If you are yellow skinned, whites love you.  Back in the 50’s some could pass for white. They would work in jobs where no one knew they were black.  At night they would take the train home long after everyone was gone…They did not want anyone to know that their family was black.”

“Can cousin Latrina pass for white?”  I asked.  Latrina was my mother’s sister’s youngest daughter. She was quite light complexioned, or “high yella” as grandmother would say. Latrina was a favorite among the family and like Paulina, could do no wrong. I was beginning to see a pattern here.

Mother shook her head.  Latrina had light skin but Negro features. ” Her nose bridge is too wide,” she surmised. Latrina was not a good candidate for passing.  “You must look like Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, be mixed with black and Puerto Rican.”

Certain that I was as black as a Hershey’s candy bar, I looked in the mirror.  I was not too dark, sort of orange-ish brown. “Could I ever pass you think momma?”  I asked as I pulled at to corners of my eyes to look Asian. “Even for a Mexican or Puerto Rican

Mother laughed out loud.  “No, you are a nice tan color. You know when you were born, you were very light.  So light that they mistook you for a Puerto Rican.”

“What happen to me?”

“You got darker and darker.”


From that point on, I decided to make Paulina my friend. Perhaps if she taught me Spanish, I could help her with her reading.  Seems fair enough. I can help her get better grades. In return she can help me seem more exotic and not just plain ol’ African American.

But there was a problem that I did not anticipate.  Something that mother hinted at but I did not understand or maybe I did not want to understand.  In my attempt to establish a friendship with Paulina, she made it obvious to me that while we were both not white, there was a minority totem pole. Guess what my position was on the pole?

“Don’t put your hands on my book,” Paulina said slapping my hand.  Our reading books all had numbers on the spine for identification. Paulina’s was #25.  I was only handing it to her so she would not have to reach on the book cart for it.  “You are all dirty and thieves.”

Immediate hurt and shock kept an emotionally bruised Afrocity standing in front of the book cart.  Did she just say I was dirty?  She is the one whose uniform collar had a black ring around it.   Thieves?  At least we don’t have as many kids as the Spanish people do. And they called them greasers like in West Side Story.

By afternoon, Paulina was my arch enemy.  I told the others what she said to me, knowing that some of the larger girls were just itching to pick a fight with her.

“She ain’t white,” said one classmate. “Mexicans stink anyway and they have roaches.”

Comic book featuring Memín Pinguín a character from Mexico. Created by Yolanda Vargas Dulché, popular during the 1940's

“The nuns only like Mexicans because they have so many kids because you can’t take the pill if your are Catholic and Mexicans are the only ones who listen to them,” said another classmate.

“I will mess her pretty face up to look like a taco…I wish she would say some shit like that to me,”

“They swim in the water on their backs to get here. That is why they call them wetbacks.”

” She had better take her Chico and the Man ass back to Me-hee-ko”

For days, tensions were high.  Paulina noticed that she was being stalked.  Her lunch tray would suddenly end up on the floor. “Ooops, did I do that?” from a snickering black classmate.

Reading Book #25 went missing.   “Maybe mi madre took it,” the students laughed. “Or her pet goat ate it like Julio’s on Sanford and Son.”

“CHILDREN!!!!”  yelled Sister Mary Ann.

Knowing that my spilling the beans about Paulina’s remark to me caused all of this sudden Paulina-cott,  I felt guilty.  Now there was no stopping it.   With the nuns in place, maybe it would die down.  Paulina’s mother did not want to take that chance, especially after her daughter was shoved several times in the bathroom.  They dared her to push back.

She did not.

Within a month. Paulina had been withdrawn and transferred back to a Catholic school in the Latino neighborhood near California Avenue.

None of us were white.  None of us were privileged or rich. But that did not keep us from talking down to one another. Later, I would learn that Paulina ended up in our school because the parochial schools in the black neighborhoods were cheaper than the ones in her own. Her father had left her mother. It was difficult for the family to pay Paulina’s tuition. This may have explained why Paulina felt she was above us because at one time perhaps she was- at least financially.  Now after the way we treated her, I can imagine the ways in which we affirmed her negative opinion of black people.

"Black Spanish Family" by Alice Neel

There was nothing I could do.  It was over. The wicked princess from 26th Street was gone. My classroom was back to normal.

A sea of chocolate and caramel. Fudge and cinnamon.  The boys began to chase us again. The white nun lorded over us as we learned about diphthongs and silent “e”.    One day, I would take my allowance and purchase a hula hoop and small book from Wool-worth’s  entitled “Say it in Spanish“.   It contained pictures of fruits and vegetables, cars, people, and animals with the Spanish words for them in bold black letters.

Mother looked at the book with not so approving eyes ” Why would you want to buy that? They should be reading “Say it in English

I shrugged my shoulders and sat at the bus stop reading the book, mouthing the words as we waited for the #52 Pulaski.  I just simply wanted to understand what the Spanish people were saying- that’s all. There was no harm in that.

Autographed Letter Signed,



25 Responses to ““Brown Power”: Like Desert For Chocolate”

  1. joanelle Says:

    Another great message, Afrocity. I have my great-grandfather’s citizenship papers framed on the wall in our hallway. It was unfolded so many times it is almost torn on those folds. Everytime he was stopped he had to show his “papers.” He had immigrated here from Italy. He wouldn’t allow his children to speak Italian in their home so he and my great-grandmother could learn English.

    I see nothing wrong with Arizona’s law – as you say it just supports and strengthen’s the Federal law.

    My great-grandfather did not resent having to show his citizenship papers – he was proud to be an American. He wasn’t an “Italian-American,” he was an American.

  2. jbjd Says:

    AC, when you were a child, you acted as a child. Here is what Barack Obama said about “Hispanics,” after he ‘grew up.’
    No Hispanics Encroaching in Black Areas

    When the 2000 census revealed dramatic growth in Chicago’s Hispanic and Asian populations alongside a decline in the number of African Americans, the Illinois black caucus was alarmed at the prospect that the number of blacks in the Illinois General Assembly might decline. At that point, Obama stepped to the forefront of the effort to preserve as many black seats as possible. The Defender quotes Obama as saying that, “while everyone agrees that the Hispanic population has grown, they cannot expand by taking African-American seats.”

    • afrocity Says:

      Jbjd. I have never seen this before. Amazing. Thank you.

      • jbjd Says:

        AC, I recently began ‘cleaning up’ my laptop. I found pages and pages of comments I had posted in the summer of 2008, when I was reading and researching everything Obama and trying to get the word out on him, still (naively) convinced I could prevent his nomination.

  3. yttik Says:

    I really wish we didn’t hyphenate Americans. People should be able to honor their culture, their heritage, but we are all Americans and I wish that was the first thing that mattered. I tell people I am an American, that is my ethnicity, that is my heritage. It’s amazing how uncomfortable people are with that answer. They’re like, no really what are you?? It’s as if you must identify yourself as some Other, so people can put you in the proper pecking order.

  4. afrocity Says:

    Hmmm. Guys, you know I have to think about the just calling myself American thing. Many conservatives especially would prefer things that way. I was told that blacks were tired of being called a color so in the 1980’s African American was adopted in order to show our heritage and give us equal standing with Caucasians. Italians would say Italian- American, Germans were German-American while we were just “BLACK”. There was an absence of heritage there. As someone who grew up in the 70’s, I can attest to the loss of identity I felt when I saw banners for Irish-American parades. Yes they were white Americans, but at least there was a further break down and they could trace their ancestry. Blacks felt that was lost for us during slavery. African American as a term was just a way of getting our dignity back.

    • yttik Says:

      It’s complicated Afrocity and I certainly wouldn’t presume to tell anybody else what to do. But consider the power behind the words of that one Tea Party guy when asked if he was uncomfortable who said, why? These are my people…..Americans.

      With those simple words he became part of a much larger group. He staked a claim to the country, to our history, he made himself a part of it all, and declared his right to be here.

      Part of the Arizona hysteria is about banning ethnic studies. I can see both sides of the issue, minorities, women, a whole lot of people have been left out of the history we teach. Perhaps we do need ethnic studies to catch up, but why do we allow those studies to be Othered? Is it not a valid part of Real History? Should we not be trying to include women, blacks, Hispanics in our history classes? I see a future where we continue to teach Real history in our schools and tuck the Others out in some portable across campus, next to the dumpsters. (LOL, been there and done that.) Here, you hyphenated kids go learn about Other’s history. You aren’t Real Americans, you’re a sub category with a separate history. Stuff and nonsense, black history, women’s history, Hispanic history, is American history.

      This is America, if you were born here, if your people live here, you have a right, even more, you are entitled to be a part of the country, of our history, our resources, our sins. The whole enchilada belongs to you, too.

    • Liz Says:

      “African American as a term was just a way of getting our dignity back.”

      I can understand that, but the “Africans in America” garbage that Dr. Daniels was writing in his article made my skin crawl.

      And personally, as an Irish person, I hate Irish Americans, or at least the label, and the Africans I know aren’t impressed at the African American label. It’s like they’re trying to misappropriate our cultures and claim a kinship where none exists.

    • Patti Says:

      Honestly, a lot of Caucasians are mutts, like myself. I’ve never felt a sense of identity with any other country but America. In the past, I envied the same groups you did (Italian-Americans, German-Americans, etc) as well as African-Americans. Now, I think it just separates us.

      Besides, I can’t go around calling myself Welsh/Norwegian/English/Irish/Swedish-American so just call me a plain old boring American. So there! 🙂

      • Holly Says:

        I agree with your sentiment. English, German, Russian here, but American is who I am.

        Afrocity, I completely understand your articulation of dignity and even identity in African-American, but I do not think the present use of the hyphenation serves as a unifer for a disenfranchised community, but rather a rebellion against Americans (aka white America). I’m not saying that all persons who identify as African-American, Mexican-American, Japanese-American, etc. have such a militant viewpoint against white America, but the liberal media and progressives (HEAVILY white) do share said viewpoint. The way to overcome what they see as an institution of racism by whites is to create an institution that celebrates otherness apart from whites; to have a uniformed identifier of “American” would dismantle the differences needed to thwart the system. Ironically, this system that they create will never allow for total equality because it constantly needs an enemy to feed the hunger of disenfranchised community fighting against its overlord.

  5. Truth For America Says:

    It is true that Mexicans do not care for blacks. Don’t fall for helping them.

  6. liontooth Says:

    Dr. Ron Daniels – “The anti-immigration law passed by the Arizona legislature”

    I just love the completely dishonest connection between legal immigration and trespassing into the US. Would Daniels call the police if he found me wandering around in his kitchen?

  7. Holly Says:

    I still do not understand how women are minorities when there are more women in this country than men. If we are going off of sheer statistics, this minority status would be an invalid claim.

    Your story is exactly what I have seen, just in more subtle formats. It would seem that the dislike between blacks and latinos is equal. Listening to my friends from California, whites and latinos get along very well, but blacks and latinos do not.

    • afrocity Says:

      Holly, I think a minority is no longer about numbers. Underdog is the meaning behind the term. Gays are minorities in the eyes of many.

      • Holly Says:

        Yes, but gays are considered minorities because of numbers. Gays are 5-percent of the population. I do not consider myself a minority though; people like to remind me that I am.

        I understand the notion of minorities in equation to a lack of power, but at the same time, minorities yeild more power right now because the white population, heterosexuals, Christians, conservatives have been completed neutered into thinking that anything that they say is wrong. So again, I go back to numbers; some people want a growing population of numbers in a certain color, a certain religion, a certain sexuality to enhance their already powerful rhetoric.

  8. Janelle Says:

    As always, Afrocity, a compelling read with superb illustrations.

  9. afrocity Says:

    Guys you know that you do not always have to hyphenate African American right? Mostly only when it is used as an adjective i.e.
    African-American dance.

    African American

    “Notice that African American contains no hyphen, but Italian-American does. There are no hard and fast rules about this, and social conventions change. (There is no hyphen in French Canadian.) Some groups have insisted that they do not want to be known as “hyphenated Americans” and resist, therefore, the use of a hyphen, preferring that the word “American” be used as an adjective. Some resources even suggest that a term like Italian-American should be used only when the individual thus referred to has parents of two different nationalities. That’s probably a stretch, but a writer must be aware that sensibilities can be aroused when using nationalities of any description. Consistency within a document is also important.”

    • yttik Says:

      True Afrocity, you don’t have to hyphenate the words. People should call themselves whatever they feel comfortable with, whatever honors their spirit.

      Myself, I find simply being an American with no farther explanation to be very freeing.

      Lloyd Marcus who has been involved in the Tea parties, he also likes to call himself an American, but he goes farther, he calls himself an unhyphenated American.

      • afrocity Says:

        I am aware of Lloyd’s characterization of himself as ” (black) unhyphenated American ”

        I am fine being African American. I have no problems with that. I am secure enough in being an American that I do not feel the need to drop anything regarding my heritage just to show I am.
        It is a free country and you can be called anything you like.

  10. liontooth Says:

    I thought something seemed ‘out of place’ when I read this and I just realized why. The #52 bus was the Kedzie, the #53 was the Pulaski.

    • afrocity Says:

      Ah, you are so right. Thank You!!!!!

      The main bus routes I took back then were

      66 Chicago
      21 Cermak
      72 North Ave.
      57 Laramie

      We got to grandma’s by taking the Pulaski from Cermak to Chicago Ave, bus, then we got off at Lockwood.

  11. Janelle Says:

    I am well, Afrocity, thank you. I returned to look again at African Tsunami. It is both beautiful and chilling at the same time. Alfredo Sabat is on my google search list – he is an artist I’ve never seen before and certainly the only plus worth noting from the U.N. in years.

    • afrocity Says:

      Janelle, it is good to know that people look at the pictures I post. I love art. I would like a poster of the African Tsunami.

  12. Janelle Says:

    Check his body of work out………paintings, sculpture, illustrations, murals – it’s a visual feast. Which may account for my appreciation of all of us in our glorious shades. My brain shifts directly into watercolor mode and how to capture them on cold press paper.

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