Black Women, Violence, and the Territory of Global Antiblackness

This post is part of our online roundtable on Lorgia García Peña’s Translating Blackness.

Anti-Racisme protest Erasmus brug, 2020 (Shutterstock).

The violence is irrepressible. The names of those taken become a synecdoche for a reality that we can’t tolerate and a toll that we can’t fathom. If we don’t (or won’t allow ourselves to) know the scale of siege, Lorgia García Peña has created a devastating and intimate portrait in guidance of the map and the territory of global antiblackness. She has not abandoned us there, but we must linger, nonetheless. There is much to say, and we have much to learn.

Readers become witnesses who move through Translating Blackness: Latinx Colonialities in Global Perspective in uneven proximity to the people who’ve survived only to be made vulnerable and vulnerable again. From Haiti to the Dominican Republic, the Dominican Republic to Italy, we—who may also share in the danger by virtue of our migrations, our bodies, our vulnerabilities and visions—travel in the wake of the bibliophiles and scholars, revolutionaries, queer and working women whose paths both render and trouble the durability of the nation as “colonial power” and “bordering agent” (13). The “continuing intersections of antiblackness and anti-immigrant sentiment” (16) require a resistance grown from impossibility —impossible subjects, impossible futures beyond a “hegemonic blackness” (19). As García Peña’s reading of Frederick Douglas and others details, entrenched forms of Blackness encoded by the conditions and demands of U.S. empire fail to account for the “ambivalence and uprootedness” of vaivén, a practice of “coming and going to and from the nation and hegemonic notions of belonging [that] challenge the social order, the structures of the market, and the ideologies of national identifications” (20).

This contest requires all armaments, including the incomplete yet lasting representational and symbolic powers of U.S. Blackness. The raised fist of Tess Asplund, an Afro-Latina Swede who faced down Swedish neo-Nazis in the streets of Borlänge, and the chants of “Black Lives Matter” in a dozen languages all over the hemisphere in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and more signal shared forms of address but also the inherited and intractable structures to which they respond. The detail of the structure may only take shape, however, through an effort at translation, as García Peña reminds us. Literary attunement to the “multiplicity of experiences amassed by the word/text over time” must inspire the material, multimodal craft “that seeks to conjure unbelonging: to make visible the colonial/colonizing process that engenders human exclusion” (6, 7). As a “contradiction to European colonialism and U.S. expansion,” Black Latinidad demands something other than citizenship, something other than a rights paradigm that is inevitably exclusive and contingent (84). Something other than what they can and will take away.

Arturo Schomburg’s “conviction that Black futurity was possible” was braced by the collection and curation of a new world of evidence against the nation’s ways of knowing (93). Writing a riptide of historical treatises in response to the normative currents of “global anti-Haitianism,” his narratives of that world-creating nation were a “discursive strategy” that debunked slavery as the singular foundation of Black relation (95). What if we were bound to one another by catharsis instead of chains? Songs instead of ships? What could Blackness be without capture? Could it be cultivated and nurtured like the tilled land of which Schomburg was so fond? Could it be more durable than the systems meant to ensure its impossibility?

Following the middle-century “mari-macha” labor radical and guerilla fighter Augustina Rivas, a.k.a. Tina Bazuca, from the Dominican Republic into exile in Puerto Rico through deportation and every subsequent iteration of movement in between suggests something of an answer but, through no fault of her own, too little of a solution. Supplanted by a light-skinned Dominican girl in her deserved title of constitutionalist revolutionary in the popular imagination, Rivas “lived an extraordinary life against death from birth” yet one prematurely exhausted, ultimately, by what it takes to daily imagine and practice a life of/in contradiction (131). This mother of people and technique did not receive the nine-day mourning ritual that met the passing of another island daughter, Dr. Sarah Loguen, but neither did she fall into quiet submission. Like Sagrario Díaz, she lives on tongues as a mantra against “the single most important reality that would shape my life and those of so many other Black and Brown women at home and in the diaspora: we are in terrible danger, every day, everywhere” (114-15). And while our mouths are active in chant of her name, let’s continue to search for and rescue others, even if we can no longer offer a set of willing arms in embrace of their children. 

Joane Florvil, a Black mother and Haitian immigrant to Chile arrested for needing and asking for assistance. She died a month later while still in the custody of the state. 

We “re-member” in order to keep the archive open, to live in antagonism to—which is to refuse the durability of—the state and its desire for control and violence. García Peña recognizes that, “For those of us living the cost of global antiblackness, Florvil died—and keeps dying—everywhere; her death echoes the deaths of other Black women across the globe. It haunts us” (235). For those whose “blackness [is] always foreign, exotic, ahistorical, and unbelonging to the nation-state,” there is no port of entry by which escape from this awareness is made real (239). No outer world in which I might live comfortably ignorant of my precarity or that of my precious sister across the water. There is only the possibility of collective, collaborative harbor, which we make by doing, drawing, like brave Carmen, from a “repertoire…as immense as the Caribbean Sea” in order to create the conditions of belonging robust enough to hold Us All (151).

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Shana L. Redmond

Shana L. Redmond is Professor of English and Comparative Literature and the Center for the Study of Ethnicity & Race (CSER) at Columbia University. A writer and interdisciplinary scholar of race, culture, and power, she is the author of Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora (NYU Press, 2014) and Everything Man: The Form and Function of Paul Robeson (Duke UP, 2020), which received a 2021 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation with the special citation of the Walter & Lillian Lowenfels Award for Criticism.