Some Recent Institutional Motion
This is the second post about recent meetings and events of migrants and Afro-descendants in Madrid. After the earlier- and below-blogged conference at the Reina Sofia museum in July of this year, city cultural institutions are moving on the issue. Although the city proper still hasn't done much for the mainly African street-sellers without working papers who are represented by the Sindicato de manteros y lateros de Madrid (@manteroslateros, #LaLeydeExtranjeriaMata) – much less anything for the many African beggars (or sellers of the weird La Farola newspaper) who aren't part of the union, there are now a slew of cultural programs appearing.
The Afroconciencia group, resident at the giant Matadero cultural center ("Black in Spain"), produced a festival recently. It included a big market. Another African market event is slated for CSA La Tabacalera (although that is regular; Tabacalera self-organized has had a Templo Afro collective since its beginnings). Another resident group of Americans (no, not USAians), Colectivo Ayllu, has an exhibition up at Matadero as well: "Devuélvannos el oro" -- "Give us back the gold." And the weirdly conceived Grigri Pixel residency project at Medialab Prado has begun (#grigripixel18), dynamized by a meeting with anti-racist groups and social center activists. I hope to report on some of this action in later posts.
Professor's Taylor's Listening Session
Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor was in Madrid in the summer touring her recent books on Black Lives Matter and the Combahee River Collective. Her lecture is discussed in the previous blog post. The later seminar was peopled by members of many of the same groups as the MAC4 session (also blogged earlier), along with many new ones. Both events were part of the Reina Sofia Museum's fascinating series "Six Contradictions and the End of the Present". My notes are from the simultaneous translation into English.
Beatriz García Dorado of Traficantes de Sueños introduced. She referenced a 2005 project of migrant solidarity which that editorial collective had done, the “Ferrocarril Clandestino” (underground railroad). This early initiative was prefigurative, as today today rescue ships, like Open Arms, ply the Mediterranean despite the fulminations of the Italian interior minister.
There is now an alliance, Beatriz García said, between the precarious worker and the migrants. It is anti-capitalist, and works against the way people are divided.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor said her interest in black feminism was spurred by the U.S. Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the women she met in it; especially the #SayHerName campaign to remember black female victims murdered by police, like Sandra Bland.
The Story of the Combahee River Collective
In the view of whites, Taylor said, black women are angry, aggressive, “impervious to pain.” “Slavery was far more terrible for women.” “Overlapping simultaneous oppressions explain the essence” of black feminist politics. In the 19th century there was both a “woman question and a “race problem.” Gender, race and class meet in the Combahee River Collective Statement.
The name of the group came from an 1863 U.S. army raid directed by Harriet Tubman which freed 750 slaves. While the Combahee River Collective paralleled the mostly white New Left of the 1960s, the slogan/idea “the personal is political” was not a retreat, but a description of their lives of oppression. Their “daily indignities” were not abstract.
Like the Black Panther Party, the CBC's program was misconstrued as a demand for separation. The idea was that if black women were to be free, everyone would be free. “Black women will never be free within capitalism.” Oppression is in the “marrow of the nation.”
Between today and 40 years ago, the class divide between black people has grown. As an example, in Ferguson – [the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Michael Brown] – black political figures urged young people “to get off the streets and vote for them.” BLM rejects that kind of politics, and the “pathetic tradition of currying favor.” The CBC, in contrast, were internationalists aligned with third world movements.
Muchas Quejas Importantes
The seminar was peopled by reps from many of the same groups as the MAC4 session, with many new ones.
NOTICE: I am sorry that I didn't get the names of people speaking, and sometimes not even their organizations. Please, if you know and can comment, I'll happily improve this and any other post. This is a rough report.
Discussant (Francesca?) – The NGOs [Non-governmental organizations] have been instrumentalized by the political parties. The Roma community [aka gypsies] has been criminalized. We seek cultural strategies both inside and outside the system.
[I thought about museums of the excluded, like the installation called the Culture and Art Museum of Migrant Workers in China I saw at the Principio Potosi show in 2010.]
Beatriz Garcia: Territorio Domestico is organizing care and domestic workers. Care work has been politicized. (Silvia Federici, author of Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, and an important theorist of 'women's work', has been to Madrid often to speak about this issue.) We are thinking of spaces we can build together.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor – I am here to listen.
Josh (?) of the collective of transgender migrants (also present and speaking in the earlier meeting at MAC4) – Sexual dissidence is also an issue among migrants seeking refuge in Spain. We are talking about the politics of social death inflicted on non-heterosexual bodies.
Ángela Muñoz of Las Kellys, a group that organizes hotel cleaners – Tourism is the engine of the Spanish economy. The last labor reform laws made our hard jobs miserable. Cleaners are paid two euros (about $2.35) for each room cleaned. There is overt discrimination against black workers. We also regularly confront sexual violence.
"We migrant women have an extra load on us."
K-YT – That it is seen as women's work allows it to be devalued. It's an excuse to keep wages low.
? – Europe was built on slavery and genocide, but hides behind a universalist humanist discourse. It is a sinister legacy. In Spain it is fascism and racism. Gender colonialism. An inferiorization of peoples. The nationalist idea is of a hetersexual nation. Other bodies don't matter.
K-YT – This is similar to the U.S. There is no national monument to slavery. A complete denial of racism in the USA.
[There is the Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit (est. 1965) with grand displays on slavery. There is the Black Holocaust Museum, founded by a lynching survivor in 1984, which lost its building in Milwaukee in '08, and is gimping along. In the '90s Colonial Williamsburg added a slave market to their recreation. Children cried. The very popular National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. is recent. Brand new is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, aka the Lynching Memorial in Alabama.]
To admit this history would legitimize black demands for reparations. By denying it the disparities [in income and wealth, education, etc.] can be seen as inherent to black people, as coming from them.
A Caribbean journalist Taylor talked to in London said, “We were there, so we are here.” People are here now to demand what is theirs. The expatriation continues. The past is not past.
[This was said in the shadow of the scandal of the Windrush generation in the UK, Caribbean immigrants to the island during the 1940s and '50s who had their UK citizenship revoked. This resurgent white nationalist policy abrogates the responsibility to negotiate the human legacy of imperialism in British society.]
? – A women's refugee network is forming. We need to make alliances to combat this socio-economic system.
K-YT – In the U.S. the police and ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency] have been unleashed.
[In June when she said this, I wrote in my notes, “I think she exaggerates, but not by much.” Now, in October, after a brutal summer which saw the incarceration of migrant families, which continues with 13,000 children in concentration camps (the figure is only estimated) and the threat to jail more, I can see that she was not exaggerating in the slightest. One thing this nakedly brutal Republican administration is eradicating is any residual belief among its citizens that the US government represents good or moral political behavior in any way, on any level.]
This is a normalization of the security state, which began with the “9/11 process”. It has affected everyone.
Start with the Most Oppressed
How to organize is to start with the most oppressed, and keep that struggle front and center. There is a lack of space in U.S. social movements to have these difficult conversations.
Man from SOS Racismo – As people who live in the margins, we are inside structures. There is a difference in the struggle around La Manada [a crew of rapists who were treated with leniency by a Spanish court, leading to mass protests by women against Spain's deep culture of male sexual aggression] and the struggles of the strawberry workers in the south of Spain who are mostly black. We are lonely in this struggle. The struggles of racialized people are always pushed to the margins.
The reception of the Aquarius [a boatload of rescued migrants which was rejected by the Italian government and welcomed in Spain] was very good, but it was atypical of what has been happening to other migrants arriving. Moroccan workers have been raped in factories.
Woman from the Vallekas PAH – I am Ecuadorian. To get documents we are often ignored by functionaries because they are racist. A Spanish person does not suffer this. The police stereotype us. In the PAH, we welcome everyone.
Another woman of the same group – I am from the Dominican Republic. I am here 21 years. But I am still being told, “Go back to your country.”
Malik of the Sindicato of Manteros [the union of blanket sellers, mostly Senegalese migrants] – We experience police abuse every day. This is institutional racism. There is a rising current of xenophobia. The white left has closed their eyes, because the anti-racist struggle does not give them votes. The racism of the Popular Party and the Ciudadanos [right-wing Spanish parties, old and new] does give them votes. We are subject to invisibilization as sin papeles [without papers, sans papiers in France]. We need papers.
Francisco of the Colectivo Ayllu now resident at the Matadero cultural complex criticized the institution of power. “Racism has a cultural dimension” in the “Indian” identity. The Museum of the Americas has to recognize this pain. In our daily life and our private life we must reckon with this memory of colonization and white violence. We have to find ways of healing this long memory of pain. “We don't need a white voice” to tell us who we are.
Borders Are Violent Spaces
A woman from Peru added, mistrust and rage have very deep historical roots. We are speaking about power, and how we participate in it. There is a lot of desire to take on these problems. Borders are violent spaces, more violent for some than for others.
“Eric” – Race, class and gender, yes. But where is coloniality? We are not here to perform a victimist narration. We want to conquer a political situation. The tension with the white left is causing us great problems.
Woman from Territorio Domestico – I was protesting alone in front of a hotel because they were disrespecting and smashing me. If you are a black woman they don't respect you.
Professor Taylor's Concluding Statement
K-Y Taylor concluded with a brief on the U.S. political situation:
The death toll from the hurricane in Puerto Rico, she said, shows what U.S. power looks like in a cultural context: 4,300 deaths. Black activists see cities as “internal colonies.” A small space opened up for the black elite – after all, the U.S. had a black president! So black people think they are American.
The presence of white people is an issue in the Black Lives Matter movement. BLM groups are not integrated, but the protests see many white people involved. [And, I'll add, victim support as well.] There is a long history of independent black organizing, with left white people, not liberals, involved. Black people are 12% of the U.S. population. Changing society in an anti-capitalist way won't be possible with segregated movements. To confront the Trump administration “we have to figure out how to do things together.” BLM is a young movement. It's not even four years since Michael Brown's murder. Now the U.S. government no longer counts people killed by police. Estimates are 1,000 a year. The biggest challenge now is “how does the movement get bigger?” There is no coalition organization for BLM. BLM doesn't have to manage diversity within their movement. Joining struggles seem like the obvious next step. For example, to connect to the immigration crisis, and attacks on Arabs and Muslims. But people are worried about their issue being subsumed. The funding streams of foundations tend to narrow the political perspectives of those involved. This makes people more conservative.
The rich are hoarding their wealth and we all have to scramble for what is left. Racism is the explanation for this, in “the way that it is explained away.” Blame the poor, “paint them as crminals.” The most vulnerable are blamed for their social problems. The center left political parties have failed to produce a change. Racism is a strategy the right has evolved to cover over their own failures to take care of society. “There is no post-Occupy autonomous organization in the U.S.” Occupy was effectively smashed by the U.S. state. This, and the legacy of horizontalism, of “leaderlessness” has amplified the lack of input people have in the decision-making processes.
Okay, it was a pretty bleak afternoon. And, as we head into the US midterm elections, it could get bleaker. Hope not! I voted! But the renewed desire to fucking do something to stem the white nationalist counter-revolution, both electorally and in schools, streets and workplaces, has to be the best thing in the USA today.
Grigri Pixel -- "Magical objects in urban spaces"
MNCARS, Reina Sofia Museum – "Six Contradictions and the End of the Present"
PDF The Combahee River Collective Statement - American Studies
Principio Potosi show in 2010.)
Black Holocaust Museum, Milwaukee (presently virtual)
Slavery and Remembrance -- Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Lynching Memorial -- account of an Englishman's tour
Thomas Laqueur, "Lynched for Drinking from a White Man’s Well"
London Review of Books