Translating Global Antiblackness: An Author’s Response

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

Translating Blackness comes from a very personal place—from my own subject position as a Black Latina immigrant and scholar living in the United States. As I researched and wrote each chapter, I thought intentionally about what I wanted this book to do in the world. My goals were simple: I wanted to start a conversation. I wanted people to think about how xenophobia and antiblackness operate together across the globe to exclude human beings, particularly those who identify as Black and migrant, from accessing basic human rights and recognition. I wanted us to trace together the histories, the legacies, the borders that shape antiblackness beyond the United States and I wanted us to think about hegemonic Blackness—about US dominance in the way we articulate and think about Black in the world. This roundtable is a dream come true. It feels very much like a wonderful conversation among brilliant and caring friends. The engagement that my interlocutors: April Mayes, Crystal Fleming, Robin DG Kelly and Shana Redmond, sustained with the book, their thoughtful reading of each chapter, their sensitive critique of my engagement with historical moments and figures, is the most beautiful gift. It is above and beyond what I hoped for the book. Your acompañamiento, your incisive and caring way of reading my work and seeing, bearing witness with me, of the people and stories that inform it is truly remarkable. I want to thank you all  for being in conversation with Translating Blackness, for helping me translate the book to others. I want to thank also Hettie Williams for convening us and Black Perspectives for hosting this incredible conversation.

One important call Translating Blackness makes is to think about xenophobia and antiblackness together. To confront them together. Having studied how anti-immigration and antiblackness operate together as the afterlife of colonialism in Latinx border sites such as Haiti-DR and US-Mexico, I was convinced of the need to think about these forms of exclusion as mutually constitutive of the project of citizenship and belonging. When we think about immigration, we inevitably think about the nation-state. After all, immigration is only an “issue” because national bordering is the rubric through which we measure human belonging and citizenship. But what happens when Blackness and immigration intersect through the lives and bodies of new minoritized citizens subjects? How does a Black Latinx subject living in Italy or the United States experience antiblackness? And (how) do they articulate their belonging? Through the stories of the Black migrants and their descendants in Italy I have shared in the second part of the book, I hope to convey that the nation is no longer sufficient to understand the expansiveness of what I call xenophobic antiblackness through which the violence of the state is mobilized to protect the borders of the nation from foreign intrusion (immigrants) to preserve the internal racial borders of the white supremacist nation (by excluding Black citizenship). Through the lives of the Black Latinx, especially, I want to highlight the need to think about Blackness and immigration beyond the nation-state, as global categories that shape people’s vaivenes across and beyond national borders. I focus on Black Latinidad in dialogue with other minoritized Black identities precisely because Black Latinx experience these vaivenes as they navigate multiple colonial regimes and racial systems at home and in the diaspora. Their experiences can teach us so much about how race and immigration intersect to reproduce violence and exclusion across national paradigms.

A second important call the book makes is to think about the role of The United States in shaping how we think about Black in the world. The US occupies a paramount place in the global imaginary of Blackness. The legacies of Black freedom struggles in the United States have shaped how Black communities across the globe think about revolution, anticolonial struggle, and liberation. While interpellating US history and radical struggles for freedom have afforded many people a lingua franca with which to articulate and translate Blackness, along with a global platform, what this book tries to do is to highlight that US centrality in the articulation of global Blackness exists in part because of US colonialism and cultural dominance around the world. As I think about my own process of translating Blackness, my radicalization in the struggles for racial justice and migrant rights, as well as my formation as a feminist scholar, I understand that none of what I am today would be had it not been for my own translation through US Blackness. It was in, through, against, and in contradiction to/with US hegemonic Blackness that my own ethic, political, and scholarly commitment to Black Latinidad and Global South Blackness came to be. In many ways, then, what this book critiques and posits is a dialogue with the multiple vaivenes of my own translated Blackness. One of my goals is then to push us to have uncomfortable, complicated, and imperfect conversations about how the hegemony of US Blackness shapes how the rest of the world understands and engages Black Global South peoples, and their art and histories, in ways that at times reproduce colonial structures of silencing and erasure and at others creates transnational representation and visibility of nonhegemonic Blackness. There is so much more to say about translating Blackness through US hegemonic ways of knowing—about the historical and contemporary dynamics that have shaped and continue to shape why and how we think about Black experiences around the world. This book is only an opening to what I hope will be a long and productive dialogue that brings us closer to rethinking our solidarity, struggles, and intellectual contributions to Black futurity, to Black possibility, to Black freedoms beyond national borders.

Thinking transnationally about Blackness is by no means a new venture. Rather, as the first part of this book shows, Black internationalism, Pan-Americanism, Afro-diasporic thought, and women of color feminisms all offered ways of thinking about transnational Blackness in ways that often challenged US hegemony and colonialism and centered Global South and minoritized knowledge. This book engages these earlier intellectual traditions through the works and lives of scholars and artists like Gregoria Fraser Goins, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, and Gregorio Luperón and through the spirit of the Combahee River Collective and women of color feminisms. Rather than offer a historical survey of these traditions, the goal of Translating Blackness has been to expand how we think transnationally about Blackness in the twenty-first century, inviting the reader to consider new places and lesser-studied epistemologies and histories that decenter hegemonic blackness while being in dialogue with the important legacies of US Black radical traditions. In this sense, Translating Blackness pushes the conversation forward not only in considering newer sites for theorizing blackness but most importantly by bringing attention to the urgency of confronting antiblackness and anti-immigration sentiment as intertwined categories of oppression. Black people and migrants of color are dying everywhere, and we can no longer continue to see these issues as local nor separate. Antiblackness is a pandemic that has been expanding and spreading across the globe since the fifteenth century colonization of the Americas. It is time to confront antiblackness and anti-immigrant racism together.  That confrontation is never easy, never welcomed, always in tension with capitalist ideas of progress and success. And yet, that confrontation is the only way to move forward: to truly become—a world—in which Black lives, Black futures, Black joy can be possible.

La lucha sigue.

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Lorgia García-Peña

Lorgia García-Peña is a professor of Latinx Studies in the Department of African American Studies and the Effron Center for the Study of America at Princeton University where she teaches courses that examine the legacies of colonialism and slavery as the shape the lives of Latinx people, particularly Black Latinx, in the diaspora.

Comments on “Translating Global Antiblackness: An Author’s Response

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    Very intresting and enlightening.

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