Combating the New Black/White Binary:

The need for an indigenous school of thought within in Chicana/o Studies

By Ralph de Unamuno
Published on LatinoLA: July 16, 2003

Combating the New Black/White Binary:

?Today we command our children not to forget to inform their children, what will be, how we will be reunited again! How we will Rise! How our people will become strong again! And how our destiny of peace and harmony will be fulfilled!" Cuauhtemoc- the first chief of the Mexica resistance, 1521

Since the declaration of ?Hispanics? or Raza as the ?largest minority group? (although a mere erasure of the border would show that we are the majority of the continent) there have been many newspaper articles pondering what this means for race relations.

Many of these articles from around June 18th to early July of this year genuinely approached the subject with a keen interest in what this meant since debates on race no longer could solely revolve around the Black/ White Binary of race relations in the U.S. Then, in July, they hit a brick wall, the same brick wall that the U.S. media hits whenever the journalists feel that middle-America (or the journalists themselves) do not understand an issue--- the great barrier of American Journalistic Simplicity.

Issues that involve complex, global thinking usually do the trick in activating this phenomana. A couple of examples are California?s Prop.187 and the ?Battle in Seattle? around the World Trade Organization in 1999.

Take the debate around Proposition 187: How hard is it to understand that U.S. foreign policy, covert actions and neoliberal economics create a situation in which people have no other choice but to come and work in the U.S.? Unfortunately, California?s dominant society understood racist xenophobia much more clearly. The media jumped to inflammatory and racist ads by the Republicans that catered to the racism of San Diego and Orange County Anglos.

Another instance was the media coverage around the glorious global community/labor revolt that shut down the third World Trade Ministerial in Seattle, if only for a week, in 1999. People from all over the world converged on Seattle and stopped the multinational corporations -- led by the United States -- from carving up the world in the name of democracy, god, and free-market economies.

However, that message was far too complex for the American media. It must be noted that the primary reason it was covered in depth was because the mass rejection of corporate globalization and neoliberal economics was not anticipated by the U.S. or the corporate media. They had to cover the anti-globalization rebellion. It was right in front of their face!

Organizers from the global north and the global south had linked up and created a platform which rejected the WTO?s world wide advocacy for the harmful GMO foods, reduction of labor rights, massive IMF loans for economies of the global south, reduction of world-wide environmental protections, patenting of agricultural seeds, and many other issues that are part and parcel to the adverse effects of corporate globalization. After a few days it was realized by the US corporate media that the message of the protesters was just as negative for the corporate media as it was for the U.S. and the WTO/IMF wrecking crew.

The U.S. media then began to frame the protestors as either ?jobless hippies?, pinkos, or misguided anarchists. Later came the complaints from the talking heads: ?So many people, so many demands, their messages are muddled.? On air the newscasters would shrug their shoulders and ridicule the protestors for not having a clear message.

But the message was clear: People of conscious would not stand for corporate globalization and the corporate media would not be a vehicle for progressive forces to get this message out. It is certain that all of the issues brought up by progressive advocates between 30 November and 3 December in Seattle, WA in 1999 were interconnected. It was the corporate interests of the U.S. media who sought to muddle the discussion and keep these issues of international importance out of public debate.

American Journalistic Simplicity, and might I now add Intellectual simplicity, is now hovering over the dilemma of race in a society in which Chicana/o and Latina/os now outnumber African Americans. In a society that cannot even debate globalization in the public sphere, now the reality of initiating talks about race on a multiracial level may be too difficult for this society to comprehend.

The answer sought by the corporate media is simple and is now in effect. From a cursory view of the recent articles in major U.S. newspaper, I advise that you brace yourself because the brick wall is right in front of you!

The problem commences like this: If you talk about Black/White race relations you now must include Chicana/o and Latina/os, but if you include them then you need to talk about Asian Americans, and if you do that you have to talk about Native Americans and if you do that then who else will want to be included, the Pacific Islanders?

Americans will derail complex discussions using absolute relativism, effectively ending the discussions and reverting to the status quo.

In addition, media executives will be too afraid that you?ve created a story that is not at all as interesting as who won the tractor trailer pull competition or find out what Vin Diesel did last weekend. This is the brick wall, and from the looks of it the American media crushed into it a full speed---- remarkable since this discussion began on July 18th, 2003! No more new or complex ideas about the debates as to how Raza will be incorporated into discussions of race relations are surfacing.

Journalists were able to easily and quietly sweep the problem under rug. They repackaged it and are well on their way of getting away with it at this point.

Behold the solution: Latina/os are both Black and White!

Thus the discussions and approaches to race relations in the US are now back to the good ol? days of the Black/White Binary with added Latin American components. But what happened to the majority of Chicana/os and Latina/os of Abya Yala/Tawantinsuyo/Ixachitlan/Turtle Island, whom may have some descendents of African and European origin, but for the most part descend from a biology and culture that is overwhelmingly Indigenous to the Americas in origins and in present day?

Well, as noted earlier, this is too complicated of a debate.

Middle-America and others are not ready to hear that not only are Mexicans/Central Americans/ Peruanos/ Bolivians etc. living in the US of A, but if the same blood quantum level employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs were used as a racial determinant for Chicana/os, Mexicans, Central Americans, and those from the Quechua/Aymara- Core in South American, our nations of origins would have Native American populations of 80% and higher!

Our communities do overwhelming descend from and represent the ancient civilization of the past, and of the present, of the great South and North American continent. But this is too difficult to phantom for US society and the media.

I find ideas like those in the recent Washington Post article "Race Divides Hispanics, Report Says" (Monday, July 14, 2003 ) at by Darryl Fears interesting. While I don't refute the issues brought up in these articles, as many of us in our community know that lighter-skinned Raza do, in some cases, benefit from a sort of white privilege as a result of phenotype.

I do have great objections to the way the American media and American intellectuals are beginning to paint the "Latina/o" community in such a narrow Black/White Binary. This is the same lens that Anglos and African Americans approach race relations in the U.S. everyday. This leaves out all other people of color and denies Chicana/os, Central Americans, Asians and Native Americans of their history and legitimate grievances with the US government and Anglo racism.

But most of all, this is a clear act of what syndicated columnists Roberto Rodriguez and Patrisia Gonzalez call ?Indian Removal and Demographic Genocide.? The census and the American media both have committed the same act of colonization and assimilation with the pen, rather than with the sword of the U.S. Calvary.

While it is not solely the media to blame, we must recognize that other factors affect the debates of Raza and the Black/ White binary. It must be noted that many from within the Latina/o community do truly believe that they are Spanish by way of Cuba, or San Antonio. These people do ascend to position of power by hard work and ?white privilege? (I do believe that phenotype cuts them a break, but it is in no way the same as Anglo/White supremacy). And in some cases we may find that it is these people who also frame the debate in a way that stirs us away from shedding light on our Indigenous or African ancestry.

Lucky for us the Africanos in both the US and Latin America have stood steadfast to making sure they are represented and that the 400 years of African oppression/slavery and diaspora is not forgotten. This is why at this point it is now, in some sense, at least a Black/ White Latino-Latin American binary. If not for this group of African intellectuals, we would more than likely be having debates of ?Just how White are Latina/os? or ?What part of Spain are Mexicans from as opposed to Panamanians.? For their efforts of resistance I applaud my African brothers and sister. Tlazokamatli!

But what about the majority of us who are Indigenous and now find ourselves in the middle of a debate without representation? It is imperative that we create a school of Indigenous education and thought within Chicana and Chicano Studies that upholds Native thought. A field that seeks to defends itself from racist/ colonial Hispanophile thought, and one that no longer allows for Chicana/o Studies intellectuals from within the field to shun the Indigenous as a form of virulent nationalism, a romantic attempt to revive a long gone past, or as a trendy fad left over from the protests of the Columbus Quincentennial.

This is indeed racist, yes racist, and based in reactionary tendencies.

While this is not a treatise, it is a call to action. How is it that the Indigenous, people without borders or nation-states are labeled Nationalists? Why are people who venerate and look to Indigenous thought for inspiration labeled Romantics? American classrooms go back to Europe every day with Shakespeare, Camelot, and Greek mythology. I need not mention at this point the popularity of Medieval/ Renaissance Fairs and the cult-like status that middle-class Americans have bestowed upon Lord of the Rings, Xena, and Xena conferences.

Yet, Chicana/o intellectuals and professors make comments like these and other much more virulent and blatantly anti-indigenous statements in their writings and lectures. All this has helped to keep a school of thought from developing within the interdisciplinary field.

Much of this is to blame on the homogenizing force of class-based research (class is a factor that must be recognized, but it is often just as much an assimilating force as the melting pot theory) although it to has become too political for many ethnic studies professors these days. This is why it is now coded in the language of ?Socioeconomic Status.?

Turkish intellectual Arif Dirlik reminds us the we must recognize the devastating effects of Postmodernism and the ability of the right and the left to use it for nefarious purposes against Indigenous thought --- the constant attack on Indigenous thought within Chicana/o Studies by anti-activist scholars. Educated during the conservative periods of the 1980?s and at the height of the Postmodern epidemic, their attacks have taken a toll. It is now time to counteract these assaults and bring the representation of our community to the fore on a national level, especially at a time when the debate on race and racism has been shocked by the news of demographic shifts in national newspapers.

If Chicana/o studies acts as gatekeepers, than maybe a new field should be established. The great revolutionary of Cuba, Jos? Mart?, once said ?The European University must bow to the American University. The history of America, from the Incas to the present, must be taught in clear detail and to the letter, even if the archons of Greece are overlooked. Our Greece must take priority over the Greece which is not ours.?

It is imperative that we the children of the Inkas, Aymaras, Pipiles, Mayas, Zapotecas, Mexikas, Yaquis, and Tainos now move towards creating a liberatory, progressive, decolonial, intercontinental scholarship based in Indigenous thought that seeks to live up to the ideas aforementioned by Mart? and from the traditions of both the northern and southern hemisphere. A school of thought which smashes ideas that perpetuate human society in terms or binaries and draws a truly complete picture of race, racism, colonization, imperialism, and representation in the U.S. and indeed throughout out Turtle Island.

On January 1st, 1994 the Zapatistas rose up in Chiapas to expose the enduring legacy of racism that the Hispanic population had maintain in the nation-state of Mexico (a country where prior to 1994 the progressive forces shunned any talk that diverged from the proletariat struggle) and shouted "?Nunca m?s un M?xico sin nosotros!?

We must take this as our banner and proclaim "?Nunca m?s un mundo sin nosotros!?

In the spirit of our ancestors and in solidarity with the struggles against neoliberal global capital around the world, this is another step that must be taken by the Chicana/o- Indigenous movimientos of the northern hemisphere, the land of the eagle.

About Ralph de Unamuno:
Ralph de Unamuno is a Grad student at UCLA and can be reached at

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